Spain has the makings of a strong CBD industry, however government intransigence has led some interested parties to question whether the country might miss out.
At the same time there appears to be evidence that the country is taking a different path to developing the sector.
Spain has had long associations with the cultivation of cannabis and cannabis culture in general. Spain is home to Spannabis, an annual cannabis event that has been held in Barcelona since 2002.
The El Pais online reports this week that although much of the cultivation of cannabis activity was illegal, a great deal of expertise was built up in growing the plants, which, of course, includes the non-psychoactive CBD.
The newspaper reports that the government continues to maintain strict regulation over medicinal cannabis, while at the same time there is some evidence of liaison with selective private interests about developing the sector, while marginalising smaller operators.
Spain has some of the world’s most active research teams looking into cannabis, even though it is still illegal for medicinal and recreational purposes.
A parliamentary commission for the drug’s legal status supported by the anti-austerity party Podemos and center-right Cuidadanos has failed to catch flight in Congress.
Meanwhile, in other countries, there is a different approach, with more recognition. Some are concerned that Spain will not be at the starting line when the starting gun fires.
Now legal in Canada and much of the US, the investment community and big corporations are not ignoring an industry on the cusp of greater legitimisation.
In Spain, there is recognised quality in development of seed banks and a highly suitable climate, and smaller companies are key to be participants, once legitimisation occurs.
“We could have Europe’s main plantation here and be the California of the south,” says Pedro Pérez, president of the La Santa cannabis association in Madrid.
Left-wing Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias is more focused on the economic arguments in favour of legalization. “I have no doubt that it will be regulated. Legalisation for medicinal purposes is justice. The problem now is whether we do it before other countries.
We have to do it now! If we are ready, Spain could receive huge operating and tax revenues. Spain could become the Canada of Europe. and achieving this could be beneficial for everyone, not just four pharmaceutical millionaires.”
When asked about the prospect of legalisation for medicinal purposes in parliament recently, the government stuck to its official line, answering that the scientific evidence was “insufficient, we are awaiting a conclusion from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the matter.”
Concerning medicinal use, the government has also stuck to the negative view of the Spanish Medical Agency (AEMPS) – which is against the prescribed therapeutic use of cannabis in the form of flowers or extracts.
AEMPS head pharmacist María Jesús Lamas says “Our job is to determine the benefit/risk ratio of each new medicine that we receive for examination, which means deciding whether the benefits outweigh the side-effects,” she says. “None of the main active ingredients of cannabis have shown in clinical trials to be better than their pharmaceutical counterparts. More trials are needed. Cannabis lacks scientific evidence. And it doesn’t have the necessary quality, safeguards or effectiveness.”
“Its effectiveness has not been evaluated objectively, measurably, quantifiably and in a way that can be reproduced. Something that makes you feel better does not necessarily have to be a medicine. […] There is no scientific evidence that justifies making cannabis a medicine. We are a technical body. The government in power is the one that decides.”
El Pais however points to a paradox in the government approach – that while the AEMPS is against medicinal cannabis, it has authorised cultivation of cannabis to be exported for therapeutic use to a Spanish company with a long history of producing opioids for pharmaceuticals – Alcaliber, who also produce a third of the world’s morphine.
Alcaliber’s specialist subsidiary Linneo Health is in possession of the license to grow cannabis in Spain ahead of 100 other applications, something the media outlet refers to as a ‘mystery.’
There is complexity around Spain’s attitude to medicinal cannabis, with the government perceived as reluctant to regulate in a way that would help mainstream agents participate.
Meanwhile the El Pais newspaper points to the contradiction of government contracting the production and export of cannabis to a pharmaceutical giant, Alcaliber and subsidiary Linneo Health.