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Global Cannabis Report: Global Cannabis Legalization Now Being Driven By Economics

Cannabis now seen as an economic driver with healing properties

The potential of cannabis to be a catalyst for economic growth is one of the main drivers fuelling global legalization. This is one of the main findings of the New Frontier Global Cannabis report, which said this was going. Hand in hand with a growing acceptance of the plant’s healing properties.

Publisher Giadha A. DeCarcer said on the report’s release on 24 September 2021 that “In just two years, the number of countries having legalized some form of cannabis has increased from 50 to 70, and there are now 10 countries legalizing for adult use, almost a two-fold increase from 2019.” 

He said “the success of legalization efforts will continue to hinge on how effectively the advocates in each market can mobilize allies for the issue. 

“The countries that have moved most smoothly toward more liberal cannabis policies have generally built strong and diverse coalitions across health care, law enforcement, finance, and law, engaged notable policymakers and influencers, and proposed frameworks that are well aligned with the respective local social, economic, and political contexts. 

Generally speaking, attempting to model a cannabis program from another market without local contextualization has resulted in less effective legalization efforts and underperforming regulated markets.” 


Usage worldwide on the way up

Despite cannabis remaining illegal in most parts of the world, self-reported usage rates are rising, driven by a variety of factors. 

Global connectivity is allowing people from around the world to share their experiences with cannabis, enabling science-based information and personal experience to overcome the prejudicial propaganda long-used by governments to justify prohibition. In almost every country for which updated consumption data was available, usage rates were higher than those reported in New Fronter Data’s 2019 report.

The trend toward increased use is expected to continue as science affirms that cannabis is comparatively safer than alcohol, and as young adults come of age in societies where cannabis is increasingly viewed as an analog or substitute to alcohol, rather than as a dangerous narcotic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, too, has played a consequential role in driving increased usage rates. Amid historic economic and social disruptions, nearly half of U.S. cannabis consumers reported using cannabis to help manage stress and anxiety during the pandemic. Furthermore, the shift to working from home, coupled with constraints on social gatherings, encouraged higher levels of cannabis consumption than had been seen before the pandemic, driving retail cannabis sales 35% higher for the year than had been previously forecasted for legal U.S. markets. 


Consumer demand will fuel illegal sales for the foreseeable future

As legal markets across the globe continue to evolve, we have found that regulatory structures and societal norms vary greatly, and each country, region and market require a nuanced approach to quantifying, qualifying and understanding them. It is therefore important to recall that in the world’s legal cannabis markets, illegal sales still represent the majority of consumer demand, and that failure to incorporate the impact of the illicit market on any global study is a shortcut likely to result in rudimentary and inaccurate projections. 

Worldwide, 10 countries have legalized cannabis for adult-use, with six (6) adopting a system for regulated distribution. Cannabis regulations vary in the different regions across the world, with some countries developing fully regulated markets, complete with a taxed and regulated framework for retail distribution of a variety of cannabis products for all adults, (e.g., Canada and in U.S. legal adult-use states), and others instead opting for decriminalization, with allowances for home cultivation and possession but with no framework for legal sales, like Georgia and South Africa. A few countries – Spain and the Netherlands – have legalized their cannabis markets through businesses that permit social consumption on site. Most countries to legalize access to high-THC cannabis have done so, however, by adopting a framework to allow access only for qualified medical patients. 


To date medical cannabis has still the main driver of legalization

Globally speaking, medical cannabis has been the main driver of legalization, but national medical programs have varied widely in their implementation practices. Some countries have chosen to restrict possession and use, granting only a small number of patients with access to a tightly controlled list of imported cannabis products, while others openly allow broad patient access with expansive lists of qualifying medical conditions and an established licensing framework for domestic production. 

In Europe, many countries have taken a pharmaceutical approach to regulation (i.e., issuing products through pharmacies), with some covering the costs of medical cannabis under national health insurance systems. In Latin America, those countries that have best managed to get legal medical sales off the ground have done so via the expansion of private clinics with on-site physicians available to prescribe cannabis. 

In 2020, there were an estimated 4.4 million active medical cannabis patients globally who accessed legalized, high-THC products (84% of those patients were Americans registered among 38 U.S. state medical cannabis programs in operation). The number of patients in those programs is projected to grow by more than 2 million over the next five years, to a combined 6.5 million worldwide by 2025. 

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