As we embark on a new year, history changing headlines are already happening in the cannabis world. So we asked some industry insiders to get out their crystal balls and make some savvy predictions for 2018. But first, let’s make a quick recap of 2017.
2017 was a year that marked cannabis finally coming in from the legislative cold, as more states legalised not only medicinal use, but recreational as well. Across the border in Canada, Trudeau continued to play bold by introducing a bill to legalise cannabis back in April.
Several South American countries - Peru, Colombia and Argentina - brought in their own measures to regulate medical cannabis, while Uruguay blazed a trail by legalizing all uses.
Europe saw Germany finding its way by introducing medical cannabis into their public healthcare system, despite a few initial bumps in the road. Ireland made strides towards legalising medical cannabis for certain illnesses, while sadly Spain’s politicians resigned the issue to the bureaucratic hinterlands of a parliamentary subcommittee.
The big news in research terms was GW Pharma’s CBD epilepsy drug, Epidiolex, moving a step closer to becoming approved by the FDA after successfully passing the third phase of clinical trials for both Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut Syndromes.
All in all, the consensus is that for those countries with a developed cannabis market, 2017 was a record financial year.
Predictions for 2018
But what does 2018 hold in store for cannabis around the world? I spoke to some cannabusiness insiders, scientists and activists to find out.
We cannot begin talking about 2018, without dealing with the elephant in the room - Jeff Sessions and his recent rescindment of the Obama Administration’s Cole Memorandum - a document effectively protecting States, where cannabis had been legalised in some way. It directs prosecutors and law enforcement to concentrate their efforts on the prevention of distribution of cannabis to minors, as well as keeping the production and sale of cannabis away from the hands of criminal gangs.
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What does the end of the Cole Memo really mean?
To kick off 2018, Jess Sessions, President Trump’s Attorney General, announced that he was ending the Cole Memo, sending waves of panic around the Green States of America. However, now that the dust has settled, some cannabis insiders think all may not be lost.
Rick Trojan, a Colorado based cannapreneur and founder of the Hemp Road Trip, thinks Sessions’ actions are little more than theatre: “It doesn’t do anything legally,” he says. “People that I’m talking to in the industry are not changing their business model as as a result. It’s up to each state’s attorney general to decide what to do. Our Attorney General has already made a statement saying they are going to continue as is.”
New cannabis export giants?
In contrast to Session’s anti-cannabis stance, their North American neighbours Canada will see cannabis legalised completely in 2018, but meeting supply may be an issue. Gavin Sathianathan, CEO of Forma Holdings, a company investing in the medical cannabis market, suggests the country will have to look further afield, possibly to Australia or Israel for its medical patients.
Adam Miller, Managing Director of BuddingTech, foresees Australia’s predicted cannabis export boom curtailed by countries in Europe and South America, who will also be given export licenses and are more geographically accessible. He also anticipates ten more countries around the world legalising cannabis for medical use.
Cannabis Trends: Minor cannabinoids and terpenes come to the fore
Rick Trojan sees 2018 as the year where minor cannabinoids take the stage as new cultivars are created. “We’re going to start looking at CBG and some CBN products coming on board. So I think we’ll continue to see the play on the genetics side,” he says.
Terpenes, the array of compounds responsible for the unique aromas of different cannabis strains, also look set to take centre stage this year.
Sathianathan: “Terpenes increasingly will be seen to be critical to the cannabis experience, and will eventually stand alone as a category that can generate pleasant sensations even without the presence of cannabinoids.”
Developments in Europe
But 2018 will almost certainly be the year that one cannabinoid in particular goes mainstream. As Epidiolex edges closer to approval in the US, Sathianathan goes one step further, predicting that pharmaceutical grade CBD will be available as a prescription drug in Europe.
Alastair Moore, Creative Director at VolteFace Magazine also envisages an exciting year for medical cannabis in Europe.
“Europe will be a complex patchwork of challenges and opportunities,” he says. “We will definitely see more interest in Europe from Canadian companies as they look to enter the market, but we will also see an increase in new European medical cannabis businesses and established pharmaceutical companies looking to shape their home markets. 2018 will hopefully be the year the early European medical cannabis markets work out some of their issues relating to insurance, quality and range of products available, and gaps in cannabis education for medical practitioners.”
UK’s fate in hands of Prime Minister
In the UK, any change in the country’s medical cannabis policy appears to be dependent on the ongoing tenure of its current Prime Minister. Peter Reynold’s, President of CLEAR Law Reform UK, believes, “nothing will happen until Theresa May is gone. Thereafter, I think progress on medical access to cannabis will be quite rapid.”
In research terms, most academic publications insist new research papers remain under wraps, but expect some interesting studies to come out of Madrid University highlighting the neuroprotective effects of different cannabinoids in Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson’s. There’s also an exciting Israeli study into medical cannabis and autism due for publication in 2018.
So there you have it. It looks like if you’re involved in some way in the medical cannabis industry, it’s time to buckle up, because 2018 is going to be a wild and exciting ride.