Cannabis industry stakeholders from around the globe gathered in Manhattan last week for the first-ever New York run of Cannabis Europa: Leaders Summit. The sold out event marked progress for the industry, and hammered home opportunities ー and challenges ー on the rise in one of the next frontiers for cannabis legalization: the European Union.
"Even if you consider yourself an expert in the space, [the conference has] so many experts from a variety of different sources ー be it policy, science, business ー to learn from," said Stephen Murphy, founder and CEO of Nobl Group, which owns Cannabis Europa, Europe's leading medical cannabis conference series. "What I appreciate is that you have government officials who are giving you the inside track in terms of the mood in government, the progress of certain bills, the approach they are taking for the future of the cannabis industry."
Around 200 leaders in cannabis gathered to network and exchange ideas throughout the course of a day, which was packed with panels and discussions that included talks among European regulators from Malta and the European Union, entrepreneurs from Germany and France, investors, plus an assortment of U.S.-based cannabis companies that are making moves cross-border into Europe and South America.
NOBL Group CEO Stephen Murphy listens to a panel at the Metropolitan Club. / Photo Credit: Timothy Smith
"If we are seeing Canada legalize, we are seeing the U.S. legalize ー every single day we get closer to it. Europe's around the corner and they are going to begin catching on soon," Canopy Rivers CEO Narbe Alexandrian said Thursday, addressing a room full of investors, entrepreneurs, and regulators assembled at the exclusive Metropolitan Club in Manhattan.
He was moderating a panel, called "Investing in Europe," featuring Lorenza Romanese of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA); Catharine Dockery, founding partner of Marc Andreessen-backed Vice Ventures; Hannah Skingle of Dragonfly Biosciences; and Matthew Anderson, CEO of Vanguard Scientific Systems. The panel's discussion was a topical one, as many in the audience were investors, according to Murphy, looking for investment opportunities and for tips on navigating the regulatory challenges and lingering stigmas inherent to emerging cannabis and hemp markets.
Dockery said her fund, Vice Ventures, is concerning itself with ancillary companies and brands at this early stage. Vanguard Scientific Systems' Anderson emphasized the importance of developing infrastructure to support the development of cannabis-based medical and consumer packaged goods. Others were more blunt about the challenges of the European system ー even for hemp.
"We will open the market, I am confident and I am sure, but it will take a little bit of time. Member states are afraid because they don't know," said Romanese, whose organization consists of about 300 hemp farmers and processors across 26 of the European Union's 28 member states. "There are MEPs that don't want to see me, because they call me a drug dealer. So that's Europe today."
"I love how you speak about how early the opportunity is within Europe because I think that's why we are all here today," Alexandrian added, putting a bit more of a positive spin on Romanese's comments.
As head of Canopy Growth's investing arm Canopy Rivers, Alexandrian knows a thing or two about picking investment opportunities. But his wasn't the only company at Cannabis Europa with its eyes on the European prize. Executives from Europe-focused medical cannabis and CBD company EMMAC Life Sciences Group; Uruguay-based Fotmer Life Sciences; and Columbia Care, a multistate cannabis operator based in New York spoke on a panel together about emerging opportunities in Europe.
In the European Union, much like in the U.S., cannabis policies vary country-to-country. As medical cannabis legalization has begun gaining traction among member states, like Germany, Poland, and Portugal, the European Parliament has begun to take notice, calling for a uniform legal definition of cannabis, and removal of barriers for scientific research, among other things, Marijuana Business Daily reported. It may, however, take time for the European Commission to step up and assist with harmonization of legislation among member states because there are substantial hurdles to Europe-wide legislation, according to New Frontier Data. Although still in its early stages, the medical cannabis market in Europe is shaping up to be robust ー which could spell opportunity, especially for U.S. companies.
"What's great is for U.S. operators is that they will have built the expertise in dealing with multiple states and multiple jurisdictions. And when the opportunity arises to work with Europe, they will have a very good strategic advantage over other nations that don't have a similar structure," Murphy said.
Aside from providing educational and networking opportunities, Cannabis Europa reflected major strides in the progress of European cannabis, according to Marijuana Business Daily founding editor, president, and soon to be CEO Chris Walsh. Marijuana Business Daily is a media and data powerhouse that produces its own series of industry-focused conferences across the U.S. and Canada.
"[Marijuana Business Daily] wouldn't have had any audience if we did an event in Europe two years ago, and [Cannabis Europa] wouldn't have had an audience if they were trying to present the opportunities in Europe in the U.S. two years ago. So to me, that's what the indication is: it's becoming a global industry," Walsh said.
And for Murphy, a sold-out U.S. conference is just one step toward a broader goal: to shape legislation for the next phase of cannabis legalization.
"We have a bigger mission to shape the future of cannabis in Europe and that's what the events are all about. We think this is laying the foundations for [cannabis] trade between the U.S. and Europe, which has yet to really be discussed because we are bogged down by details regarding what is happening in our own country, in our own state. There is a shortsightedness in this that we really need to overcome," Murphy said.
A previous version of this article misstated the name of Vice Ventures' investor.