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Portugal: Estimated CBD consumption increases despite ban

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The “Cannabis in Portugal” report, carried out by Euromonitor International, released the most recent data on the cannabis industry, consumption and trends that have been observed in the country, contextualizing the legal status of the plant. The analysis divides the market into three sectors: medical cannabis, adult-use cannabis, and CBD and other non-intoxicating cannabinoids. The lack of knowledge among Portuguese doctors regarding medicinal cannabis and the authorities' strict inspections of products containing CBD are some of the reasons given for the slow evolution of the national CBD market. But according to the document, demand for this cannabinoid continued to increase, with consumers mainly obtaining their supplies on the Internet. If adult use becomes legalized, medical cannabis companies established in the country can benefit from their position, expanding their business to this market.

Portugal legalized medicinal cannabis in 2018. At the time, there were already several companies producing cannabis for export in the country and many others have been established since then, existing today around 42 currently operating and more than 150 ready for licensing according to the latest information provided by Infarmed. Almost six years later, the country continues to have only four medicinal cannabis products available in pharmacies and no major plans for new Marketing Authorization (AMC) assignments. CBD, on the other hand, is considered “illegal” in Portugal and cannot be used in food or cosmetics. Despite being classified as a “new food” by the European Union, CBD is not yet authorized in Portugal.

In 2022, both the Left Bloc (BE) and the Liberal Initiative (IL) each presented their Bills for the legalization of the recreational use of cannabis. After an open discussion in Parliament, they went down to the specialty (Health Commission) to continue to be analyzed and find consensus. However, due to the dissolution of the PS Government in 2021 and again in 2023, the discussion and analysis processes were halted, relegating the issue to uncertainty.

This time, the cannabis situation in Portugal is in a kind of doldrums and given the country's changing and uncertain political panorama, any kind of predictions are a shot in the dark. Even so, this report analyzes existing data and projects some possible scenarios, taking into account the current situation and market trends.

Euromonitor International is a private British market analysis company that monitors the evolution of industries, trends and consumption of thousands of products in more than 200 countries.

Medical cannabis

According to the report, the year 2023 was marked by little progress in the field of medicinal cannabis. As they noted at the time of publication: “Tilray flower remains the only product on the market” since the law came into effect in 2018. “However, prescriptions for Sativex continue to be very limited, and the number of Sativex patients medical cannabis in 2023 continues to be estimated at less than 500 people – a very low number for a country with a population of more than 10 million”, they conclude. Meanwhile, three more products were approved, but only one actually reached pharmacies.

One of the factors identified for the poor adoption of cannabis as a clinical therapy is the fact that it is a medicine that is still unknown “not only by potential patients but by the medical community”, with many specialists “still not aware that they can prescribe medicinal cannabis” to patients, and there are also those doctors “who are personally against the use of cannabis and, consequently, do not want to prescribe it”, they indicate.

“The detailed, rigorous and controlled requirements that Infarmed (the National Authority for Medicines and Health Products in Portugal) demands from producers” and the lack of interest on the part of producers are other reasons cited. Although the number of producers has increased, they “are focused on exporting rather than supplying the Portuguese market.” If in 2019 700 kg of “plants, preparations and substances” were exported, in 2022 more than 9 tons (9 thousand kg) left the country, mainly to Germany, Spain and Israel, they say.

 

“Cannabis in Portugal” by Euromonitor International, January 2024

CBD

Regarding CBD, the report explains the difficulties that the sector faces due to the legal “gray zone” in which this cannabinoid is found and the recurrent inspections by the authorities – which have forced many traders to close their businesses. This has been reflected in a smaller variety of CBD products available compared to the supply found a few years ago and a general drop in their prices. However, despite the difficulties, the population using this cannabinoid increased from 125 thousand in 2023 to 140 thousand by the end of that same year (estimated number). To obtain supplies, many consumers turn to the Internet, and “E-commerce continues to be the main distribution channel for CBD & other non-intoxicating cannabinoids in Portugal”, the document reads.

Recreational use of cannabis

Contextualizing the current political situation based on the latest position of each party exposed in the GAT conference at the Assembly of the Republic, and the setbacks that the discussion of the legalization of adult use of cannabis has seen in recent legislatures, the report predicts that this could be legalized in the next two years, after the Presidential elections in January 2026, possibly through a pilot project controlled.

However, they explain “it is still too early to make solid predictions of what could really happen in the Portuguese political scene in 2026”. While most parties (PS, BE, Livre, PAN) expressed their intention to vote in favor of a law or gave their deputies the freedom to vote (PSD), the only party that continues to position itself against legalization ( Enough), has been gaining strength in the plenary (it went from 12 to 50 deputies in 2024), so there is also the possibility that optimistic expectations regarding the development of adult use of cannabis in Portugal may end up not materializing.

If it is legalized, Euromonitor projects for 2028, which would be the first year after the law comes into force, sales of 0,7 tons of recreational cannabis flower, which could generate 4,5 million euros in revenue.

As for the industry, the report also mentions the possibility that many companies that have established themselves in the country as producers of medicinal cannabis could extend their activity to the recreational market, taking advantage of the investment made in infrastructure, the know-how and its already established position. “For example, Tilray could enter the adult-use [market] in Portugal, if it is legalized, not only thanks to its production and cultivation center already established in Portugal, but also thanks to the experience of adult-use cannabis in Canada . Akanda [whose facilities now belong to Somaí] could be another potential player in the adult-use category, especially after obtaining the right to sell products in Portugal under the popular Cookies brand in 2002.”, they advance.

Other potential operators to extend their scope of action to recreational use will probably be Somaí and Kannabeira. As reported CannaReporter, this North American corporation has been buying several companies in the area in Portugal, with the aim of becoming one of the main operators in the national market. In conversation with CEO Michael Sassano, he explained that one of the company's strategies could involve producing and supplying OTC (over the counter or products that do not require a medical prescription) and also through vaporizers, gums and other forms of consumption. The huge variety of products and varieties makes doctors' jobs very difficult, but consumers know what they want and what works best for them, so “consumers are the ones driving the market, and when they have OTC they go and they buy what they want – and that is, in a way, recreational.” As the businessman explains, “around 70% of Germany and I would say 70% of Australia already work like this”, he says, concluding: “Tell me what the rules are, and I’ll show you the product”. A maxim that can be extended to all companies in the sector.

As for Kannabeira, José Maraver, founding partner, spoke in an interview with the magazine cannadouro (nº 11, June 2023) its intention to enter the recreational market, even in order to finance access to medicinal cannabis for those patients who are unable to access this type of treatments. “If they legalize recreational, we can take part of the profits and say: this is to buy medical cannabis, from our own, and start giving it to people in a clinical trial scheme or studies of any kind”, explained Maraver.

 

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[Disclaimer: Please note that this text was originally written in Portuguese and is translated into English and other languages ​​using an automatic translator. Some words may differ from the original and typos or errors may occur in other languages.]

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