The marijuana business in Europe is experiencing a gold rush – but this time it’s legal.
At Germany’s largest fair of cannabis products, the Mary Jane Berlin exposition, around 150 exhibitors from around the world showcased their products. Thousands of visitors attended the three day exhibition, but many were not the stereotypical kind of pot-smoking consumers. Many were instead men and women in suits looking for business opportunities.
The boom is coming from cannabis-based food and nutritional products as well as cosmetics and clothing, which are increasingly entering the consumer markets. Applications for use in medicine and therapy have also increased. All are made with weed ingredients promising better health without inhaling. The surge in start-ups comes ahead of new rules in Germany which from 2019 will allow a wider medical use of cannabis.
For promoters of weed liberalization, this is just the beginning of the de-criminalization of the controversial plant. Georg Wurth, head of the German Cannabis Association, said: “Cannabis is now more accepted as a consumer product in our society and therefore it is just normal to showcase its uses in such a fair.” Wurth is realistic though, believing a complete legalization of cannabis use is not on the table yet. Clothing made from weed fibers is having a comeback.
The norm in Germany is still the illegal import or farming of weed – a multi-billion Euro annual market in Germany alone. You need to travel 50 kilometers north-east from the German capital to find a legal producer of weed. Bernd-Egbert Boettcher has a license to grow a hemp bred with low content of intoxicating constituents. Smoking its leaves would leave drug aficionados disappointed. The seeds are low in toxins and have to be imported from specialized producers in France. Nowadays, in mid-June, the plants have grown to almost two meters. When harvested at the end of August, they will be up to three meters tall. According to Boettcher, his hemp is predominantly used for insulation in building construction. “It has a thick fiber which insulates extremely well”, Boettcher said. ”It is a natural product and not some kind of plastic.” Boettcher praises hemp as a plant that does not require pesticides. As such, weed has been widely used for ropes, clothing and construction for centuries until it was outlawed in the early 20th century due to its use as a drug for smoking.
The weed harvest from Boettchers farm is processed only by very few companies in Germany like Hanffaser Prenzlau. It produces construction material, such as panels for insulation or bricks made with hemp fibers. Dutch citizen Marijn Roersch van der Hoogte has left a well-paid job with a Berlin-based internet startup to help manage the weed company in the countryside. “Nowadays we have a different situation. People are paying more attention to sustainable products and its impact on nature. Here, weed is at the forefront”, van der Hoogte said enthusiastically. Weed bricks and panels would help balance the moisture within a building, preventing the growth of fungi inside that can harm people’s health.
At the exposition, legal and medical aspects of cannabis use have also been discussed, as the de-criminalization of the plant continues to challenge countries and societies across Europe. Dr. Silke Will, cofounder of the cannabis startup Growholistic, is critical that serious research on the chemical compounds inside the weed plant as well as on the effects of cannabis intoxication have been banned in the past. “We hope that regulations will be eased in the future and that we can move forward in our studies”, Will said.
Many hope, that it will not only debase some of the shady, multi-billion Euro business of the drug cartels, but that patients, companies and – last, but not least – tax authorities across Europe will benefit as well.