Going global: Big cannabis’ bold moves into the international market

It seems every day a new headline praises Canada’s achievement in becoming the first G7 country to federally legalize adult-use cannabis.

Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash


It seems every day a new headline praises Canada’s achievement in becoming the first G7 country to federally legalize adult-use cannabis. Experts say the international community is focused on the Great White North, studying our regulatory framework, product development, and social impact as a foundation for their own moves to medical or adult-use legalization. But while policy makers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe look to Canada, companies here are looking outward.

Eyes on Israel

Home to some of the world’s most renowned cannabis scientists, Israel has long championed clinical research on the plant. The country is home to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam—an Israeli professor, organic chemist, and arguably the most lauded name in the study of cannabinoids. His work focuses on the interactions between tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the endocannabinoid system, as well as the discovery of the “bliss molecule”: anandamide, a cannabinoid produced by the human brain.

The plant has been legal for medicinal purposes in Israel for a decade. For researchers like Mechoulam, this means access to ample funding, resources, and facilities to innovate products and amass huge research databases on potential applications of cannabis for diseases, from Crohn’s and Parkinson’s Disease to epilepsy and cancer.

Now that Canada has legalized, business ties between the two nations have deepened. As research in Israel is years more advanced and companies are already equipped with the necessary facilities, it’s the perfect region to explore and foster medical innovation. Last year, Israel also lifted a ban on the exportation of cannabis products, which has since allowed Canadian companies to invest in Israel’s clinical trials, products, and brands for future import opportunities.

Importing from Jamaica

The pathway between Canada and Jamaica hinges on product import. While the plant may be deeply rooted in Caribbean history and culture, it was only four years ago that Jamaican lawmakers passed the 2015 “Ganja Law”: legislation decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis and legalizing the medical use of cannabis.

The political shifts allowed licensed producers to take advantage of this new industry and develop regulated products, thereby creating opportunities to fill supply gaps around the world using its new legal channel. At the end of 2018, there were nearly 30 licensed producers (LPs) in the country, with over 100 more waiting in the wings with conditional approval.

While Health Canada operates as the middleman between foreign importers to ensure regulatory standards are met and restrictions aren’t breached, some LPs have already been approved to import Jamaican product for the Canadian market.

The United States, not yet united

There are over 30 states in the U.S. producing and distributing cannabis under some form of legalization —either for medical- or adult-use—but the country as a whole has not yet taken the plunge in the way its northern neighbor has.

This federal restriction has created cross-border complications—both for trade and travel. But in regions like California, Colorado and Washington state, where the laws are significantly less restrictive around packaging design, promotion, advertising, and consumption spaces, Canada is taking note of the culture and branding impacts of looser regulations. Using these regions as a case study, Canada has a direct comparative model to base its own framework for integrating future allowances around vape lounges, infused-menu restaurants, and tourism experiences. The main benefit of looking ‘just next door’, so to speak, is any data collected uses a relatively similar consumer demographic to that of Canada.

Policy makers here can also use the American experience to compare the effect of law. For example, Canadian legislators are grappling with the idea of granting amnesty to those charged with possession under 30 grams prior to October 17, 2018. That debate and the choice to either pardon or expunge those charges is being informed by American states already tasking their civil employees with providing amnesty to citizens who have been charged for similar crimes.

Cannabis is also publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, meaning Canadian investors can get in on the profits being made in the American market. Companies like Quebec’s Hexo Corp. have already begun exploring investment opportunities, contingent on the anticipated federal shifts expected to take place in the near future.

Greece opens doors to foreign investment

While Canada may be one of the leading providers of cannabis to the European Union thus far, a number of its own countries are looking to turn the tides. Greece, for example, has recently opened its doors to foreign investors and is now accepting applications for domestic cultivation and export licenses. Since passing legislation approving medical cannabis cultivation in March of 2018, over 30 companies spanning the globe have applied to cash in on Greece’s cannabis crop, from Saudi Arabia to Belgium.

Canada is interested in staking its claim in Europe as well. A HEXO affiliate, HEXO Med, recently received a medical cannabis installation license allowing the creation of cultivation, processing, and manufacturing facilities in the Grecian city, Larissa—the largest city and capital of the Thessaly region. With the surge in foreign interest and investment, for both export and cultivation in the region, Greece stands to be a strong competitor against countries like Denmark and Malta, all vying to lead the cannabis industry in the European Union.

As Canada continues to plow forward with its own internal developments, many investors and companies believe the future of the industry lies in globalization. Acquisitions, partnerships, and mergers on an international scale will continue to broaden Canada’s relationships with regions that either have an existing foothold in longstanding markets or that show promise.

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