Licensing is underway in Portugal, although the competition is as fierce as it is in many other markets. The government changes rules, slowly, then opens up the gates and then everyone rushes (or tries to rush in).

The interesting thing about Portugal right now from an international perspective (certainly in Europe) is how the country is starting to pivot to cannabis production that is licensed, medical, and bound for export.

But how will freewheeling, “all drugs are decriminalized” Portugal really stack up against other contenders moving into this space, such as Spain, Greece, Poland and (North) Macedonia? They all have great weather, cheap labour rates (or at least cheaper than Germany and the UK), and are closer to Europe than Canada, Latin America, or Africa.

Is freewheeling Portugal really all its cracked up to be? Not really, and politically the current temperature is bound for a backlash. It is one thing to decriminalize all drugs. It is another thing to deal with those who use them irresponsibly.

And then there is this – between 2012 and 2017, statistics for alcohol, tobacco, and drug use in the general population have actually risen 23%. There has been just under a 2% increase in the use of psychoactive drugs in the same period.

While this could also be traced to the economic meltdown that hit many less prosperous countries in Europe hard during that time period, it is not a great PR moment for the canna cause.

Further, Portugal is not entirely copacetic on the idea of actually legalizing medical or recreational cannabis use (including grow your own). It hasn’t really happened yet.

Democratizing The Weed

No matter the impressive stats that the industry is starting to chalk up, there is far from democratic access to the plant, and that exists almost nowhere, even when governments are responsible for sales (as is the case in Europe).

How should the involved parties proceed? Everyone needs to get paid.

Many of these issues, in truth, will continue to evolve. In the future, assuming there is a survival of government health care, expect these themes to belong in the room. How much money medical cannabis can actually save health insurers is still a conversation for the future. However, conversations like this will not occur in an environment where the plant and products created from it are seen as “expensive.”

The Portuguese experiment is an intriguing situation that has already begun to impact the discussion across the continent, and will for a long time to come. Going forward it is clear that even the relatively freewheeling country of Portugal is starting to look at the entire discussion with a bit more of a conservative viewpoint.