North Macedonia is rapidly emerging as a major player in the European cannabis industry and southern African exporters have been quick to take advantage of the commercialization of cannabis in the Balkan state. However, the government in Skopje, is intent on becoming an exporter itself and may cut down on imports. It has issued 60 production licenses as part of a far-reaching reform programme, and it’s not clear how long the Balkan window of opportunity will last for local exporters. But right now the outlook for southern African exporters looks positive in light of the latest developments:
- Lesotho’s Highlands Investments will be delivering 8 tonnes of dried THC and CBD flower to North Macedonia before the end of the year;
- Cape-based Felgate Medical Cannabis is developing its own relationship on the back of successfully fulfilling a tissue culture order to the Balkan country earlier this year.
Surprise! Cannabis reform in North Macedonia initiated by conservatives
North Macedonia has raced ahead of the rest of Europe in its liberal approach to cannabis since reforms were introduced, somewhat surprisingly in 2016, by the conservative government of then premier Nikola Gruevski.
Gruevski’s successor as prime minister, the Social Democrat Zoran Zaev, has expanded the project in the hope of boosting exports. North Macedonia’s government expects the cannabis cultivation business, which Prime Minister Zoran Zaev says is “very profitable”, to create more jobs and to boost the country’s GDP by an estimated €250mn annually.
Skopje legalised the use of medical cannabis in 2016 and is also looking to the example of Amsterdam to develop a ‘cannabis tourism’ industry. In November 2020, Zaev said that he supports the decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis consumption, saying that this will help the tourism and hospitality industry in the country.
New draft law stipulates 10% of cannabis profits to fund ‘social good’
In the latest development, North Macedonia’s government has endorsed a draft law on the control of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, which regulates the export of dried cannabis flowers in line with EU rules, it said on 19 July 2021. Previously, while the use of medical cannabis had been legalised, the law did not allow exports of cannabis flowers.
The draft law also envisages the establishment of the Agency for control of cultivation and extraction of cannabis and cannabis products for medical and scientific purposes, the government said. According to Zaev, the goal of the agency is to protect investors in this sector and the state interests, and not to allow cannabis products to end up on the black market.
Another important novelty in the draft law is the obligation of licensed companies engaged in cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes to pay 10% of their net profit to a special fund in the state budget.
The funds will be used for projects of public interest, such to support people with rare diseases, the media fund, the work of the planned agency, as well as sports, culture and civil society activities.
American football stars keen to invest in N Macedonia cannabis production
Unlike in most EU countries, production in North Macedonia has not been carried out by a state monopoly, which has resulted in a high level of interest in the country as a potential production base for numerous companies, both local and international.
While North Macedonia is not yet a significant player on the international marijuana products market, its interest is understandable. Worldwide sales of medicinal marijuana in 2020 exceeded 7.7 billion euros, and this figure is expected to reach 23 billion euros by 2026.
In June 2021, medical cannabis producer NYSK Holdings moved into pole position by being the first company in North Macedonia to receive a license to export dried cannabis flowers, destined for Poland.
And in July 2021, Zaev met American football stars Lance Briggs, Turk McBride and Donnie Caldwell and the director of Serbian musical festival EXIT to discuss the possibility of opening a medical cannabis plant in the country.
“After analysing the investment opportunities in some other regions, the guests at the meeting stressed that the advantages of investing in the medical cannabis industry offered by North Macedonia make the country of special interest for this activity,” the government said in a statement on 15 July 2021.
The Balkan news agency BIRN reported that the next day, Briggs, McBride and Caldwell picked a location for growing medicinal marijuana in North Macedonia.