Malta is to become the first European country to legalise the growing and possession of cannabis for personal use.
California legalised marijuana for medical use two decades ago, but no EU nation has followed suit as yet. While smoking cannabis remains illegal in many EU member states, Sativex, a cannabis extract also known as nabiximols, is an authorised medicine in many, as well as the UK. Prescribing medical cannabis in the UK became legal in 2018, with three CBD-derived treatments now licensed for use on the NHS.
In the following nine EU nations, weed remains illegal, but the law does not allow imprisonment for possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use only:
Some argue that cannabis farming also comes with a toll on the environment. While outdoor growing, which uses natural sunlight and rainwater, is viewed as less harmful, large indoor production facilities come with heavy power and water consumption.
The luscious green plants stretch as far as the eye can see. Row after row, lovingly tended in a glasshouse that’s roughly the same size as 34 football pitches.
Critics remain sceptical of the efficacy and safety of CBD. David Raynes, spokesman for the National Drug Prevention Alliance, points to research by Dr Albert Stuart Reece, professor of medicine at the University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University in Perth, that raises concerns over potential links between cannabis and conditions including autism and birth defects.
From oils, pills and vapes to gummies, shots, dog treats and even gym wear, the products are generally affordable and are available on the high street or online. They are claimed to have benefits ranging from pain relief to help with stress or anxiety.
The world’s largest cannabis farm
“These plants are pre-attuned to daylight length so what we effectively do is create a long night so the cannabis plant thinks it should flower.”
“There’s fortunes being lost in the medical cannabis world,” he says. “There’s fortunes being speculated on it and it probably isn’t going to be as big as they think. There’s a lot of money being thrown at it, but it’s hope money. It’s wish money.”
“It’s not quite a Del Monte moment but we know when the plants are ready,” says GW’s chief operating officer, Chris Tovey. “It looks amazing and the aromas are amazing. Not every cannabis plant smells the same, so a crop here smells distinctly different to a hemp crop or a crop expressing a different profile of cannabidiol.”
The UK is the world’s largest producer of legal cannabis. It’s big business — but is it the miracle crop it is claimed to be?
For some, it’s a price worth paying to cultivate a crop that could have healing benefits as well as financial reward. But Raynes questions whether the large investment in cannabis farming will yield the fortunes some are predicting.
These consumer products are subject to less regulation that their medical cousins – something Tovey is also keen to stress. “Our medicines have to go through exactly the same process as an oncology drug, a haematology drug or an antibiotic. They’ve gone through that full experimental, evidence, testing, assessment process,” he says.