Less than six weeks after Canopy Growth announced that UK exports were on their agenda this year, a small British start-up, Grow Biotech, has just pulled off one of the first cannabis start-up victories of the year. Namely, they just imported the first bulk batch of medical cannabis into the UK. And not from Canada, but the Netherlands.

The shipment was exported by the Dutch Office of Medical Cannabis and will be sent directly to pharmacies. In turn, these pharmacies will be able to dispense the drug to patients with valid, Schedule II prescriptions.

Grow Biotech, founded by a former investment banker, also worked with British investor European Cannabis Holdings and pharmaceutical importer, IPS Specials, to bring the cannabis into the UK legally.

The race for the UK cannabis market, in other words, is well and truly on.

The Shifting Face of European Cannabis

As is becoming increasingly clear, Europe will be a transactionally medical market for some years to come and those who will be active in it will have exclusively this focus. No matter what happens in Canada.

Further, it is also becoming obvious that 2019 will see the dawn of cross-European cannabis exports rather than bringing the product across oceans. The driver for this shift apart from convenience is, of course, cost – and in two directions. The first is to the consumer, but the second, increasingly, will be to insurance providers (of the nationalized or private kind).

2019 is also likely to see an increase in smart cannabis market entry plays by niche focused start-ups – and those not just engaged in production directly. For now, there is also no “pan European” market player. Market presence will have to come from a variety of sales channels, which also means that there are increasing windows of opportunity for such specialty plays – certainly for the next several years.

The Still Unclear Face Of British Cannabis

The fate that faces British cannabis patients, including during the uncertainty of Brexit, is far worse than that faced by those in Germany or even Poland. The German medical cannabis program, reimbursed by insurers, is about to turn 2 this year. Many patients still struggle to get insurance approvals (even though patient numbers are growing) after they find a willing doctor. And the cost is still very high (because it is imported). The current status and future of the German cannabis system will certainly be a hot topic at the upcoming International Cannabis Business Conference in Berlin from March 31st to April 2nd.

In Poland, where imports have just started, patients are also facing both access and cost issues. Unfortunately, this follows a pattern seen in a lot of nations. The good news is that supply issues should be helped as nations start approving more domestic production programs and more nations also start exporting cannabis.

While this first trickle of medical cannabis is a welcome one and it is certainly the beginning of an inevitable flood, the same issues now face patients, and those who serve them, on the British side of the Channel. However, it is clear that step by step, Europe is making great progress towards more sensible cannabis policies.

For an in-depth look at the changing market dynamics of the European cannabis market, be sure to visit one of the International Cannabis Business Conference European events this year in Barcelona, Berlin or Zurich.