Extracted Episode 12: The View from Europe with George McBride

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Our latest episode of Extracted takes us across the pond to chat with George McBride about the current state of cannabis in Europe. George is the co-founder of Cannabis Europa and Hanway Associates – One of London’s global cannabis consultancies. He’s also part of the founding team for Volteface, the UK’s leading think tank for driving the debate around cannabis reform. In fact, a campaign launched by Volteface at last summer’s Cannabis Europa conference played an influential role in creating a policy review, leading to the first legalized medical cannabis in the UK.

Throughout our discussion, George provided incredible insight into just how far the European markets have come and where they’re heading. We also got into Canada’s international influence and how Cannabis Europa conference came to fruition.

Cannabis in the UK.

For the last 50 plus years, the UK has been in prohibition and the use of cannabis has been greatly stigmatized. George says “Until very recently, most people were convinced that medical cannabis was nonsense, a Trojan horse that had no merits.” As with other jurisdictions, he says it took a very sick child who needed cannabis-based medicine to start to create change. Now George is beginning to see a palpable shift in perceptions with less enforcement and more cannabis social clubs opening up in the UK. But he knows the real change won’t happen overnight.

“Unlike Canada, we don’t have a long history of dispensaries or compassionate access or influential court decisions. None of that stuff happened in the UK.”

A foot in the door.

While access is undoubtedly happening at a less-than-ideal rate in the UK, George maintains that it’s a huge step forward. “Now patients are getting access, serious consultants, doctors, politicians are discussing the issue, people are building cannabis businesses, regulators are getting hired to regulate the industry,” he says. “So it hasn’t happened as quickly as everyone wanted but it has happened.”

Currently, there are only five (yes, five) approved medical patients in the UK. This certainly puts things into perspective here in Canada. While it’s tempting to get frustrated about the current challenges with medical access, it’s important to remember that we’re much further along than some of our friends abroad.

“Canadians should feel pretty blessed about what a willing court system you’ve had, what incredibly strong voices you’ve had in the patient community and the way in which there has been access in large parts of Canada for 20 years.”

The roots of Europa.

The Cannabis Europa conference is a beautifully executed event that brings together fascinating guests from Canada and other legal markets. George says the idea was born back in the summer of 2016 when he and his business partner, Alastair Moore, decided to put on a cannabis event in Ireland, called the Global Medical Cannabis Summit. George and his partner saw just how influential an event like this could be. He says, “Within a few weeks, Ireland announced compassionate access and granted the first medical cannabis exceptions to patients.”

From there, Cannabis Europa was a natural evolution, and with a number of MPs who wanted to speak, the timing was right to put Europe on the international stage. George says the goal of the conference is to bring different audiences in the industry together who weren’t talking to each other. Whether it’s on an academic level, a political front, or public and patient conversations, George sees Cannabis Europa as a way to bridge the gap.

“It’s always been about creating change, driving the discussion, and bringing patients, politicians and the industry together.”

Where we go from here.

So what’s on the horizon for Europe? George says he expects to see an increase in the medical
markets with higher patient numbers. He cautions though that access still won’t be anywhere near what we have in North America as it will be a pharmaceutical, prescription-based model.
On the recreational side, George says it gets a little murkier. He points to Spain as an example where black market dispensaries are everywhere.

With Luxembourg leading the way towards legalization, George expects to see more European countries following suit within the next three years. In the short-term, he says Canadian growers need to get their products compliant and bring consistent supply to Europe. As George notes, “The more people that can get top-quality products into patient’s hands, the better.” At Valens, we’re working hard to get EU GMP certification so we can do just that.

Canadian influence abroad.

In terms of influence on the UK, George admits California has had the most impact culturally. However, he says that America’s state-by-state regulatory approach doesn’t “resonate” with many of the conservative politicians and voters.” He commends Canada for being so bold as to be the first major world economy to legalize recreational and says that Canada’s federal approach is much more appealing for policy-makers.

“When you’re talking about physicians, politicians, policy-makers and those kind of people, Canada has been far more influential.”

Given Canada’s relatively long history with the medical system, George says collaboration and sharing of information are key, “The more that Canadians involved in the cannabis industry can come over to Europe and share their knowledge, the better.” We can’t wait to attend Cannabis Europea this June and join the discussion.

“Forge more alliances with European businesses. This is a global industry.”

Get the whole story by listening to the full episode.

If you haven’t already, get your tickets for Cannabis Europa London happening June 24-25, 2019.