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AUTHOR: MARK TAYLOR
PUBLISHER:  CANNABIS LAW REPORT

Greece is preparing to issue a slew of licenses later this month for companies to grow and produce cannabis, as the Hellenic Republic turns to medicinal marijuana to help rescue its troubled economy.

The government issued the first two licenses for the cultivation and processing of medicinal cannabis in November, and said a dozen more for producing will be handed out before the end of January. With a market worth billions, Greece’s 14 licences are expected to create more than 750 jobs.

Greece legalised cannabis for medical use in 2017 and lifted a ban on growing and producing it in March 2018.

The first licenses are expected to produce $211m in initial investments and soar to as much as $1.15bn in three years, Greek government officials said. The two cannabis nurseries will be in Larisa in central Greece and in Corinth, Peloponnese, with the first licensed products expected to hit the market at the end of 2019.

Another major cannabis company actively analysing Greece is Canadian giant Canopy Growth, which shortlisted the country along with Spain and Italy as potential spots for a new hothouse.

Bioprocann SA was the first recipient, and Biomecann was the second. The companies pledged to invest invest a combined $25 million and hire over 100 people.

Both licenses are for a five-year period and are reviewed annually.

Greece’s market is set to be export-orientated initially, and Bioprocann  said it was geared towards the UK and German markets. Deputy Economy Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas said there was “huge interest” from investors in Canada and Israel to get this export-oriented project off the ground.

Nikos Karanikas, running the government’s cannabis-industry portfolio, said at least 10 other companies, mainly from Canada and Israel, are seeking to invest $11.45-$114.5m each in the sector, as they target exports to bigger and wealthier markets such as Germany, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The country’s far-left government, run by controversial Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, has been guiding the country out of an eight-and-a-half year austerity slump by embracing new ideas.

Over the past decade it has been trying to attract new business and set itself up as a cheap home for innovators in the financial services technology space. Now it is attempting to do the same for cannabis companies, with a pitch that its sunny uplands are the ‘European California’.

Earlier this month, Greece hosted more than 150 cannabis exhibitors from around the world at the Athens Cannabis Expo 2019.

The three-day event, backed by the government, was designed to drum up interest and educate the public about all the products and innovations, plus the latest achievements in the medical, pharmaceutical and industrial use of cannabis.

The government said cannabis will be used to treat medical issues in the first instance, and said of its 10.77m population there were thousands of people demanding marijuana to help with symptoms of sickness.

Despite the positive steps it has shied away from total legalisation, and recreational use remains illegal.

Under Greece’s licensing system, medicinal cannabis products would be available on prescription from chemists but not covered by the state health insurance plans, Health Minister Andreas Xanthos said.