Cannabis in Europe: The End of the Beginning
This guest blog is brought to you by Robert Jappie, Head of Cannabis Law at Mackrell Turner Garrett, who we are delighted to welcome as legal sponsors of a special edition of First Wednesdays London taking place this June 26th.
It has been a monumental year for the cannabis industry in the UK and Europe. As legal sponsors for First Wednesdays during the inaugural European Cannabis Week, this seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and all that has happened.
I recall my first attendance at First Wednesdays some months ago. In a small, hot and sweaty basement bar in central London, about fifty people packed themselves in tightly to discuss the UK’s cannabis sector over beers and wine. How far has First Wednesdays come since then. Not only do the London events now attract hundreds of people, the concept has become international, with events held in Paris and Amsterdam each month. Credit to the Hanway team for their ability to put on high quality events with such consistency.
We launched our Cannabis Law department back in June 2018. Having conducted our due diligence on the UK market and identified the CBD industry as a good entry point. We were welcomed with open arms by businesses that had been crying out for legal guidance and representation. However, we had an awful lot to learn. My very first conversation with a potential new client went something like this:
Client: “It’s great to see a lawyer specialising in this area.”
Me: “Thanks. We are really happy to be involved.”
Client: “What do you make of this Novel Food issue?”
Me: “The what?”
Even before the EFSA updated their catalogue in January 2019, throwing the CBD industry into turmoil, UK businesses were worried about what was to come. I quickly realised that to be an expert in this field we would have to commit fully to supporting the cannabis industry and our learning curve was incredibly steep.
In March 2019, we travelled to Brussels with Jonathan Kirk QC of Gough Square Chambers to present to the European Commission’s working group on Novel Foods on behalf of the UK CBD industry. It was clear that the committee had been discussing CBD for some time and that the new classification was unlikely to be reversed. However, the insight that our legal submissions provided us with put us in the best position to advise the CBD industry on how to navigate this issue.
The medicinal cannabis industry has had an even more dramatic year. Following a stellar PR campaign that dominated the national press, the Home Office legalised cannabis based medicinal products as of 1st November 2018. For the Home Office to review a position and change it in six weeks was completely unheard of. The decision confirmed what we all knew, that the political will to legalise medicinal cannabis was there. It just needed public opinion to swing behind it. Hanway and its partner organisations deserve recognition for their role in making that happen.
International companies set their sights on Europe as the next big growth market, and our Mackrell International network, which comprises of 90 partner firms across 60 countries, enabled us to provide multi-jurisdictional regulatory and commercial advice for European expansion strategies. The personal relationships built within the network means that we can turnaround complex, sector-specific advice within a matter of days. As a result, we have been appointed as European counsel for a number of international companies. This includes LPs, Pharma companies, and CBD enterprises from the US, Canada, South America and Israel.
Whilst the events of the past year have been so positive, their still remains a number of challenges facing the industry that will need addressing. In December, we travelled to Nevada and Colorado to investigate the cannabis industry as guests of our Mackrell International counterparts. Even though the industry was years ahead of Europe, challenges still remained. In Las Vegas we were surprised to find that dispensaries only took payment in cash, despite having been established for several years. The US federal prohibition on cannabis meant that business banking and payment processing services were hard to come by. Banking is an issue for the industry here in Europe too, although for different reasons. The majority of the big banks have very little appetite for what they still consider a high-risk sector. Through substantial efforts, Mackrell Turner Garrett has been able to establish banking associates that are willing to support the sector and provide services to businesses accordingly.
There is also still a stigma attached to cannabis in many parts of Europe. A recent decision in Italy’s Court of Cassation has prohibited the sale of cannabis derivatives. Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, swore to close down all of the shops and businesses selling hemp products. We will have to wait to see whether he will row back on this position now that the European elections have passed.
Despite these challenges, the industry grows rapidly and continues to expand and establish itself across Europe. Mackrell Turner Garrett completed our first year in the sector with two achievements of which we are particularly proud. Corporate partner Keith Provins acted for cosmetics company ‘This Works’ in their £43 million acquisition by Canopy Growth Corporation. Given the POCA issues that beset investment in the Cannabis sector, this was a first class completion by Keith and his team. In the very same week, our Head of Business Development, Chris Lane, received Legal Week’s Business Innovation Award for his phenomenal work on our Cannabis Law endeavour.
It really has been quite a year for the industry, as well as for Mackrell Turner Garrett and the Cannabis Law team. We are delighted to have the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the last 12 months with everybody attending First Wednesdays and European Cannabis Week. We look forward to discovering what the future holds for us, and the industry as a whole. This is just the end of the beginning.
Learn more about Mackrell Turner Garrett’s work on cannabis law here.
To register for First Wednesdays taking place June 26th as part of European Cannabis Week, sign up here.