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The Global Rise of Medical Cannabis, Expectations in 2020

Undeniably, medical cannabis is going through a rapid period of transition. Heading into 2020, what new revelations can be expected? Only a few short years ago, it remained an ‘alternative’ medicine, relegated to the fringes of modern medicine.

 

Today, the plant is a rising star, touted for a laundry list of potential applications. The number of advocates pushing for wider legal and societal acceptance of cannabinoid medicine outnumbers the dissenters. As the Pew Center for Research published in November 2019, 91 percent of Americans now support the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis — a number that’s hard to argue with.


In 2019, the rise of medical cannabis may have finally reached a tipping point. Patient-led demand, combined with growing scientific support, could finally develop into a global policy shift. There were increasing signs at both the international and state levels that more countries and international regulators were experiencing a change of opinion. So, what’s next in the growing global medical cannabis economy?


In the Country with the Largest Market, What’s Next?


In the US, there are currently 33 states with medical cannabis programs (all in various stages of development). Furthermore, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands have also approved programs within their territories. Recreational cannabis is slowly moving into the fray as well, with 11 states on board. 

Federally, the opinion of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) remains mostly unchanged. Still, national policymakers continue to make incremental adjustments all moving towards legalizing the plant in the near future. The last few years have witnessed cannabis-based medicines finally getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), heralding a new era of American hemp farming, and recently the passage of several Democratic-led bills through the House. 


The Green Fund predicts, if legalized by 2024, the US will continue to be the largest market on the planet for cannabis. Both the recreational and medical markets may hit $50 billion annually. 


In 2020, Americans can expect several more states (some of the few remaining holdouts) to launch medical cannabis initiatives, including South Dakota, Idaho, Mississippi, and Nebraska. Several cannabis-focused bills will also finally head to the Republican-led Senate, including the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, also known as the MORE Act. Expectations are not high for this bill, but at the very least it brings the topic up for discussion among policymakers.


Because of the continued discrepancies between federal and state legislation on cannabis, Canadian companies will continue their slow and steady encroachment into US territory. Aurora, Tilray, and Canopy Growth are top global players, and they are banking on cannabis-positive changes within the US in short order. American companies will remain at a disadvantage as these international players move in.


A Global Demand Creating an International Marketplace


International markets are rapidly coming online, even if the US stubbornly continues to stand in the way of change. In Europe, as previously reported on, many of the most influential markets have launched into medical cannabis. Germany is the largest, but changes to regulations in the UK, Denmark, and other countries are creating a wave of change. There are also exciting new opportunities in Thailand and Australia, markets that came online in 2019.


It’s safe to say there is now a voracious demand for medical cannabis on an international scale. With many new medical cannabis programs evolving in Europe, Asia, and South America, these countries will look beyond their borders to fill the demand. Already, European markets are pulling in shipments from Canadian companies, including Canadian-based Aurora and Avicanna.


In 2020, the economic potential of intercontinental shipments is too large to be ignored. Cannabis is flowing from developed markets, like Canada, into developing ones like Germany and the UK. Although substantial regulatory barriers remain, there is no better way to push through these hurdles than with insatiable market demand. There are already signs heading into 2020 that the international cannabis economy can expect improvements to the fluidity of cross-border shipments.


One such sign is from the United Nations (UN). In march 2020, the UN will review the latest recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the scheduling of the plant. The European Union (EU) may only update regulations following any changes within the UN. With a patchwork of regulations across Europe and no policies guiding the development of the immature medical cannabis programs, the EU market likely won’t come into full bloom until after 2020.


As Markets Mature, Issues with Supply and Demand Level Out


Although imports and exports of medical cannabis are alleviating some issues with supply, the immature market will continue to struggle through shortages and problems of oversupply in the coming year. 


The most glaring example of this issue is in the Canadian recreational space. In the words of the National Review, “Canada’s Weed Industry Gets a Tough Lesson in Supply and Demand.” In a single year, the country has bounced from serious issues with product shortages to over 400 tonnes of excess product. By some estimates, that is enough that the current stockpile of cannabis could last the next two and a half years.


Smaller regional markets are also facing comparable issues, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, which are struggling to keep pace with incredible local demand. Germany’s medical cannabis program, which has consistently relied on imported products (mainly from Canada), is finally getting its head above water to supply nationally grown flower. 


In 2020, new and developing state medical cannabis programs will very likely parallel supply dilemmas experienced elsewhere. Time and time again, it has proven impossible to bring medical cannabis out of the black market without hiccups in the supply chain. Although international shipments have helped alleviate some of the shortages, there are still far too many regulatory controls in place to make this a surefire option for smooth transitions into fully-realized medical cannabis programs. 


The international trajectory of medical cannabis is clear, and 2020 will likely see some pretty big adjustments, especially following the 6th Intersessional meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs this coming March. 


Should the UN move to reschedule the plant, it will begin a rapid domino effect around the globe. Policy changes within the EU may follow, and perhaps even the US federal agencies will be more willing to reconsider their controls. A lot is resting on the upcoming UN intersessional meeting, driven partially by a better scientific understanding about the therapeutic potential, and a growing acceptance of the plant among physicians and healthcare providers. 2020 is going to be a significant year in the modern history of medical cannabis, that much is certain.

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