Budget wars, not antipathy to the prospect of the full and final legalization of cannabis, will probably put Portugal behind on the recreational reform question within the European Union (EU). The country’s 2022 budget had included tax cuts and increased public investment to stimulate the economy post COVID. It was opposed by both hard Left- and Right-wing parties. In late October, such political opposition to the budget proposed by Prime Minister António Costa triggered a final meltdown of the coalition that has governed here since 2015.
In a rare event for the country, indeed one that has not happened since Portugal transitioned to democracy in 1974, the government was dissolved two years early by the right-wing President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. National elections will be held on January 30 of next year.
What happens next, even on the cannabis discussion, is anyone’s guess. That said, it is also very unlikely that any new government here will oppose forward cannabis reform. The country has a vested interest in the development of the sector. And even though the licensing process on the medical side has been fraught with difficulties if not delays, it is clearly proceeding.
Portugal is famous for its liberal approach to all drugs, although it is inaccurate to say that everything has been “decriminalized.” There have been various attempts to reform the country’s drug policy ever since the 1970s. In the present, cannabis is not technically legal here, although the medical cultivation sector has certainly taken off since 2017.
In early June, a bill to formalize the legalization of the personal use of cannabis was proposed by two parties, the Left Bloc and the Liberal Initiative and forwarded to the Health Commission for debate. This debate never happened due to repeated requests for postponement.
Now that the government has been dissolved, the legislation will have to be re-introduced by the new government.
Regardless, since 2017, when Tilray began construction on its cannabis facility, Portugal has begun to play a larger and larger role in the entire European cannabis discussion. This, so far at least, is less about the liberalization of policy domestically and more about the ability to obtain cultivation licenses (although this too is not as “easy” as many in the industry have infamously claimed). That said, the country has the most operating regulated cultivation facilities and licenses of any EU sovereign state outside of Holland. Of course, unlike the Dutch, these are all of the internationally regulated, GMP variety.
As it stands, the market is geared towards the production and, coming soon, extraction of the plant primarily for export (and even more specifically, targeted at and for the German medical market). Indeed, production and labor costs here put the country, along with Greece and evolving African cannabis cultivation economies, roughly on par in terms of cost per gram (both for flower and extracts).
The answer is, quite obviously, that a recreational market here would positively affect not only the broader economy but the tourist sector, in the process creating a booming market with a canna flair.
That said, it is also clear that this might in turn be a bit of a stretch for a region where the most forward cannabis reform country (Luxembourg) just punted on the question and took a slower path to the entire conversation with a home grow provision (along with supporting a regulated cannabis seed market).
However, after Europe emerges from what is likely to be another hard COVID winter, such sensitivities could well be overrun by politics and politicians who are looking for economic stimulation any way they can get it. This entire conversation, of course neatly fits that bill, no matter how contentious economic development with a cannabis flair still is outside of Greece (at least within the EU). Certainly, the medical sector has gotten more respectable over the last four years. Even the German government is now considering the same, in part because of the estimated tax revenue that is likely to come of the formal development of this market.
Bottom line? Portugal is no longer the outlier it once was on the topic. Indeed it may now fall behind full reform in other countries even within the EU, starting with both Luxembourg and Germany.
That said, the development of a fully legit market here will undoubtedly continue to impact the entire industry across the continent—starting with sourcing medical production bound for elsewhere, but undoubtedly, as the entire discussion progresses, recreational cannabis products too.
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