Medical marijuana is really taking off in Europe-commentary

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There's a groundswell of support for cannabis legalisation in the United States, with 29 states, as well as Washington D.C. approved for medicinal cannabis, and eight for lifestyle use.

Things are farther ahead in Canada. Regulations for production and sales have been in place for over three years, and the federal government has introduced a timeline to full federal legalisation for lifestyle use in July 2018. Capacity in Canada for lifestyle alone is projected to reach "5 billion dollars per year to start," according to a recent report from Deloitte.

Yet, while many investors focus on opportunities stemming from Canada's upcoming legalization – plus the longer-term investment potential in what will likely be a growing number of American states – they are missing the global shift in cannabis towards Western Europe. That's where the action is really heating up.

The population of the United States is approximately 325 million. There are 35 million living in Canada. But compare that to the European Union's population of 510 million. Germany, with more than 80 million people alone, legalized medicinal cannabis in January of this year. Add that to Italy's nascent existing medicinal cannabis program.

"European markets are increasingly important to the cannabis sector. Each has a well-funded medical system, residents who seek natural and complementary therapies, and a government-supported mandate to stop the rising tide of opiate addiction related to chronic pain treatment."

These European markets are increasingly important to the cannabis sector. Each has a well-funded medical system, residents who seek natural and complementary therapies, and a government-supported mandate to stop the rising tide of opiate addiction related to chronic pain treatment.

Taken together, these and other European examples show that we're seeing traditionally conservative attitudes shift as medicinal cannabis is legalized.

That also means investors in cannabis who focus solely on North America are missing the huge potential found across the Atlantic.

Those investors restricting their cannabis investments to this side of the ocean – and in the United States in particular – are left navigating an array of legislation on a state-by-state basis, prohibitive out-of-state investment regulations, and a prohibitive tax code. These investors miss the boat as they churn through such choppy water.

In Germany, cannabis will be produced by licenced producers and distributed to pharmacies like any other medication, with each prescription eligible for full reimbursement from health insurance.

In their patient-driven markets, Germans, Italians and other Europeans are demanding the alternative of cannabis over opiates.

In our view, people who think opiates are the only answer to pain relief have a similar mis-perception as people who still think medicinal cannabis is nothing more than smoking up with their doctor's permission.

They are both wrong.

In short, medical cannabis is about personalized and effective medicine. It's not about getting high.

The Europeans know that, as we do in North America.

As Germany moves smartly down this path of medicinal cannabis, the rest of Europe will soon follow. And to ignore 500 million people in a stable economy is a mistake.

We're at the start of the global revolution. We all need to be looking to Europe next.

Commentary by Benjamin Ward, CEO of Maricann Group Inc., a vertically-integrated greenhouse producer and distributor of medical cannabis. Toronto, Canada-based Maricann is now building global teams in rapidly expanding European markets as well.

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