- The year we are about to see off has been one of good news for the cannabis world. Ireland, South Africa and Peru are among the countries that have legalised the plant in some form, while science has continued to support its properties with new and promising research.
- Still, we have also witnessed steps in the opposite direction, but not enough to overshadow a year that has seen support for cannabis reach an all-time high.
Last year the Mexican senate regulated medical cannabis, and 2017 has kept paving the wave for a promising future: several countries have legalised at least one of the plant's uses, while in Uruguay, a pioneer in the regularisation of both medical and recreational uses, weed is now sold at pharmacies. Further, the scientific community has published interesting new studies, Netflix has produced a comedy with the plant as its main focus and the Italian army's cannabis laboratory has harvested its first crop. Keep scrolling to explore twelve exciting months.
The rapid growth of the cannabis market
The year started off with the juicy news that the legal cannabis market was growing as fast as broadband internet in the 2000s. According to a report by Arcview Market Research, US marijuana sales in 2016 amounted to $6.7 billion - up 30% on the previous year - and are expected to keep growing at an annual rate of 25%, totalling $20.2 billion by 2012.
Similarly, the US states where cannabis was legal before 2016 witnessed an increase in users, a renewed interest that Arcview Market Research attributes to the destigmatisation fuelled by legalisation. According to the report, scientific research will also contribute to the market growth in the next few years.
Mellow Yellow's shutdown
However, it was not all good news for marijuana, as few days after the release of the aforementioned report, we came to know of the blaze out of a hot spot for cannabis: Mellow Yellow, Amsterdam's very first coffee shop. Opened in 1973 and named after a namesake song by British singer Donovan that talks about smoking banana skin, the establishment was quite a revolution at the time, as it was the first tea room to ever offer hashish and marijuana on the menu.
Mellow Yellow was welcomed with unexpected enthusiasm, and hot on the heels of its success, other coffee shops quickly sprung up across the Dutch Capital, turning it into a Mecca for cannabis tourists. However, in the face of the floods of visitors, the government adopted more stringent legislation, forcing many of them to close their doors over the past few years. Among the affected establishments is Mellow Yellow, which had to cease trading following the country's decision to close all coffee shops located within 250 metres of a school.
Various European, African and South American countries embrace legalisation
Anyway, there was little time for sorrow, as 2017 turned out to be a much fruitful year in terms of legalisation. In February, Ireland's Health Minister Simon Harris stated that certain patients, among which multiple sclerosis and epilepsy sufferers, would be granted access to therapeutic cannabis should they not respond to conventional treatment.
Likewise, other countries such as South Africa and Argentina have also taken steps towards legalisation, the former by regulating cultivation and consumption for a specific medical oil which enjoys great popularity in the country and, the latter, by allowing the medical use of cannabis oil and other by-products - although self-growing remains illegal. Soon after, the list of legalising countries was joined by Switzerland, where it is now possible to by CBD-rich cannabis cigarettes provided their THC content does not exceed 1%.
The country's 'pure CBD' boom has resulted in the emergence of companies such as Kanna Swiss, which grows our strain Dinamed CBD in large, fully legal greenhouses for its subsequent sale to shops and supermarkets. Consisting of a 10,000 m2 outdoor area and an 800 m2 indoor facility that will soon triple in size, the company envisaged to produce four tones of cannabis flower throughout the year and is the confirmation that Switzerland has become Europe's oasis of legal cannabis.
Meanwhile, the Mexican congress passed a bill to legalise the medical use of marijuana, which had secured the senate's approval in 2016. The last country to follow the legalization trend is Peru, where medical cannabis is now available under prescription.
We made it!! This is a historical moment for the Parliament and for our country: Legal medical cannabis
Similarly, the Dutch House of Representatives supported the regularisation of cannabis cultivation, although the bill was not enacted into law until the subsequent parliamentary term due to the proximity of the election. Proposals for the legalisation of cannabis were also tabled in the Spanish parliament.
Other legalisation efforts, however, have fallen in deaf ears, at least for now. In Canada, for instance, the now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had made legal cultivation, sale and consumption one of his major electoral promises, but although its implementation was scheduled for spring 2017, it appears that the issue won't be addressed until 2018 at the very soonest.
Uruguay greenlights sale in pharmacies
Meanwhile, the tiny South American country saw at last the implementation of one of its major ambitions: the sale of cannabis in pharmacies. Consumption and self-cultivation was approved in 2013, turning Uruguay into an international pioneer in the field, but it was not until last July that cannabis was made available in some of the country's pharmacies. In order to get access to the product, Uruguayan citizens and long-term residents are required to register with a government agency.
The first days of sale were a complete success and participating pharmacies soon ran out of stock. A few months earlier, the Uruguayan Association for Cannabis Studies (AECU) had asked for the legalisation of cannabis-based groceries as well as for the issue of licenses for the export of medical cannabis. So, hopefully, the country will remain a source of good news for cannabis lovers.
Eyesight, depression and asthma: science researches the effects of cannabis
In parallel with the legalisation wave, researchers have come to some interesting conclusions about the properties of cannabis, among which the potential of THC in the prevention of vision loss. According to a study by the University of Alicante, cannabinoids prevent the death of eye cells in patients with retinitis pigmentosa. The experiments were conducted on rats and, while further research is needed, the results are highly promising.
Likewise, Israeli researchers published a study suggesting that patients suffering from chronic pain and anxiety were less likely to suffer from associated depression and anxiety when treated with marijuana as opposed to prescription opioids.
Hopefully, 2018 will be the year when the Hebrew University of Jerusalem publishes the results of its study on the effects of cannabis in the treatment of asthma. Under the guidance of Raphael Mechoulam, the researcher that discover the structure of THC, the research team will focus on the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD for the treatment of asthma and other conditions of the respiratory system.
Trivia: from the Italian army's laboratory to cannabis colleges
This year has also been fertile in weed related trivia, including the first harvest of the Italian Army's medical cannabis laboratory. Based in Florence, the facility was expected to produce 100 kilos of CBD-rich cannabis throughout the year in an effort to reduce the country's marijuana import bill. In order to ensure a quality product, everything is planned down to the smallest detail: a temperature of 22-28 ºC, strictly controlled cycles of artificial light and even Music by Mozart, as it is believed to be beneficial for the growth of the plants.
In the same spirit, cannabis has also been welcomed by the academic world. While universities such as Harvard had already offered weed courses in the past and other private institutions have their own training facilities, this year the Northern Michigan University has implemented a full curriculum with cannabis as its main focus. The four-year course covers subjects as diverse as Biology, Genetics, Accounting and Marketing, providing students with key knowledge for a successful career in a labour market characterized by the ever-increasing presence of cannabis.
Also this year, Netflix has produced its first comedy set in a dispensary. Premiered a few months ago and starring Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates, Disjointed is a comedy by Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory) that tells the story of a quirky activist who runs a grow shop and encourages her customers to sample the joys of the plant.
Despite the boycott attempts of detractors, 2017 has been a great year for cannabis. Decriminalisation continues to break new ground and the public opinion is increasingly supportive of the plant, so hopefully 2018 will be equally exciting. But let's not get ahead of ourselves and let's just drink a Christmas toast to the progress made so far.