More than half of Europeans favor legalizing cannabis, a new study shows — a bullish sign for entrepreneurs and investors seeking to capitalize on the industry’s growth.
The steady expansion of Europe’s medical-cannabis market and the explosion of wellness-focused CBD products have helped shift perceptions after decades of opposition, according to Alastair Moore, the founder of Hanway Associates, a research firm focused on marijuana.
“The narrative around cannabis is now less about scaremongering,” he said. “This move away from resistance to acceptance is a good sign for entrepreneurs and investors entering the market.”
Italy and Portugal stand out as the most supportive of legalization, even though they have yet to pass major reforms, according polling data from Hanway Associates.
Netherlands, surprisingly, holds the most pessimistic views on legalizing cannabis — despite its famous cannabis-selling coffee shops — with only 47% of the respondents supporting legalization. That’s the lowest among the eight countries surveyed.
Of the overall 55% respondents that support cannabis’s legalization, about 80% favor its sale in government-regulated stores. That would help starve off the illicit market that’s thriving in the absence of a legal market, said Antonio Costanzo, international chief executive officer for Curaleaf Holdings Inc.
The industry sees this shift in public opinion as an opening for governments to initiate regulatory reforms that go beyond medical cannabis to allow recreational use. Such a move would unlock billions of euros in new sales for companies.
“We view this not just as an economic opportunity but a chance for policy makers and politicians to start discussing legalization because it is inevitable,” Costanzo said. “There is both political and public support.”
Germany in Focus
For now, Germany is on everyone’s lips. That’s because the coalition party that recently assumed power promised to legalize cannabis, although the timing remains unclear. Also, pilot projects for both recreational and medical cannabis in Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands are boosting sentiment. The first sales of fully legal adult-use cannabis in Europe will most likely be in Switzerland, by the end of 2022, according a report published by Prohibition Partners.
Curaleaf and Tilray Brands Inc. are among the biggest overseas players positioning themselves for Europe.
“We are optimistic about the growth prospects of Europe and will continue to expand as quickly as we can in markets that provide access to cannabis,” Curaleaf CEO Joe Bayern said.
Tilray, which has cultivation facilities in Portugal and Germany, says it leads medical cannabis sales in Germany and is positioned to lead when recreational use is legalized.
But as the European market struggles to advance regulatory reforms, companies are drawing parallels to the North American market, where the legalization in one state created a domino effect. Europe is only a few years behind the U.S., but the progress is quite similar. Small changes currently in motion will gain momentum and create bigger regulatory shifts within a couple of years, according to Bayern.
Still, only a third of the 9,043 people surveyed by Hanway Associates would consider trying legal cannabis. Around half of the respondents, meanwhile, are comfortable with a cannabis shop being located in their neighborhood. There is also little support for home-grown plants, with a majority preferring restrictions on cultivation.