Here is the first thing you should know about the Polish cannabis discussion: People here go through extreme lengths to obtain cannabis if not set up shop. It sounds a lot like North America circa several years ago. That includes going to jail.
The country technically has passed medical reform, but this has mostly been driven by lobbyists and representatives of two large Canadian companies—namely Aurora and Canopy Growth. Indeed, Poland was on the map of both by 2018. Aurora announced its market entry, in fact, within a week of going public in New York. Canopy saw it as a market for its Danish product.
However, it is precisely this approach, namely as an afterthought, that is one of the reasons so far that Poland has languished in the entire European cannabis reform discussion. With the announcement of the closure of its Danish facilities as “not cost effective,” Canopy also admitted to a massive failure in the ability to understand market economics even within the EU. Cultivating product in one of the most expensive labour markets in the region, bound for one of the lowest income European ones is not a strategy that is bound to last.
In the meantime, the entire discussion is up in the air.
Nobody can find product. When they can, it is too expensive. Most Poles are left with the unappetizing prospect of resorting to the illicit and grey-area market or traveling internationally to Holland or Germany to try to obtain product this way. Obviously, that is cost prohibitive for most. It’s also a terrifying prospect, traveling across international borders with cannabis.
Where Has Reform Come?
It is not like there are no foreign cannabis companies eyeing Poland. Right now, at least one North Macedonian, GMP certified company is legally shipping medical grade product over the border at prices Poles can better afford. Several Canadian entrepreneurs have set up shop, including in the extraction business. A large food processing company has moved forward with a large cultivation centre designed to try to jump start production in the industry. And Polish companies, with interests ranging from medical cannabis to all sorts of uses for hemp are starting to dot the landscape, searching for both domestic and international capital as they go.
In the meantime, there is a huge potential interest that ranges from investors to patients, pharmacists, and even doctors, about jump starting the “biz” on the Polish side of the border in a serious way.
Berlin is, after all, just a mere five hours by train from Warsaw. News travels fast. And right now, a great many Poles, including at every level of the supply chain, are trying to figure out how to jump start the industry here with envious eyes cast to what is going on just across a single border. Not to mention figure out how to get patients out of the illicit market.
In every way, in other words, the Poles are not waiting around, for the Canadians or anyone else, to get legal, GMP and other certified product into the hands of those who need it.
The Difficulties in Creating A Cannabis Industry in an Emerging Market
It is not like the “community” is not organized. They are. Patient lists and groups are widespread, helped like everywhere else, by the use of social media.
However, money to invest in the industry (so far), either from domestic or international sources, is scarce. That is why there are such organized non-profit patient groups that have collectives and distribute product through safe houses and other conventions that are fading from the face of the industry in places like North America. That is also why the outright cynicism of foreigners exists here. Getting credit for national “reform” however incremental, and in this space, with the real intent of boosting a foreign company’s stock prices momentarily, is not appreciated.
For all the frustration with the way things have been however, much of the discussion on the ground right now is tinged with a bit of optimism. This is because things are changing, and all over Europe. But there is also a sense that there is a high mountain, still to overcome.
Government regulations are also different here than other places in Europe. For example, it was Poland, not Germany, who called Dutch regulators on the carpet in 2019 to answer for cross-border requirements on product and product packaging. Then again, they did not have a much-stalled cultivation bid on their hands.
That too may change in the near future.
Will the Shift to Digital Healthcare Make A Difference?
For all the difficulties to overcome, there are potentially fewer barriers to market entry here than just across the border with Deutschland in particular. Namely, Poland has already implemented a uniform digital prescription system which, unlike Germany’s current partly digitalized discussion, does not require the approval of a regional health approver for cannabis. This means that with more product and doctor education, there will be fewer barriers infrastructurally to getting medicine to patients.
The rub, indeed, is finding products right now—and further at prices that are anywhere near affordable.
Once that happens, and in large enough numbers to begin making a difference, those on the ground organizing for change, know that cannabis will become normal in Poland. They are organizing for it, scouring Europe for opportunities, and organizing domestically to streamline approvals, and bring friendly pharmacists and doctors on board.
In the meantime, it is a game of inches, and setbacks that looks familiar to every American over the age of 40 not to mention many within the industry far younger than that.
And that is no joke.