It is now two years after Portugal passed its medical marijuana bill, allowing access to cannabis medicines for those in need. And it looks like medical cannabis will finally be available in Portuguese pharmacies starting this April.
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Portugal and cannabis
One of the things Portugal is known for when it comes to drugs, is the decriminalization measure it took back in 2001. That year, the Portuguese government passed law 30/2000 which decriminalized (not legalized) use and possession of illegal drugs including cannabis. Several countries like Colombia and Costa Rica have similar policies. The idea of the bill was to limit drug problems among citizens.
The policy works by setting a specific number of grams that a person would approximately use within a 10-day period of time. If a person is caught with an illegal drug, with not more in quantity than the decriminalization amount for that drug, the person goes before a group called the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction panel, where they and their case are analyzed. The purpose of this step is to identify those who need treatment, though sanctions can be handed down at this time.
Decriminalization of use and possession do not decriminalize sale, cultivation, or trafficking, all of which remain illegal. Traffickers can face 1-12 years in prison depending on circumstances of the case. Cultivation was discussed for decriminalization in 2001, but taken off the table at the last minute. As such, personal cultivation is still illegal in Portugal today.
Portugal and medical cannabis
In June 2018, Portugal passed a law to legalize cannabis medicines, and set up a regulated medical cannabis industry. According to the bill, a doctor can prescribe these medications, but only if other conventional therapies haven’t worked, or caused adverse reactions. According to Maria do Céu Machado, the president of Infarmed – The National Authority for Medicines and Health Products, which oversees drug regulation in Portugal, “By the end of the year, we will have the necessary law in Portugal to regulate, from cultivation to dispensing, cannabis medicines.”
She went on to say that Infarmed is working to ensure the quality and effectiveness of all future products by creating legislation for regulation, and that finished products will be sold in pharmacies. The law also supports further scientific research into cannabis and its medicinal properties. At the time the law was passed, the framework for the legal medicinal field had not been released, however basic information about it was available.
The law states that cannabis medicines should be available to those who are not responding to standard treatment, or experiencing negative effects. It was cleared for use with chronic pain, particularly associated with cancer and nervous system disorders; spastic disorders like multiple sclerosis, and injuries to the spinal cord; nausea and vomiting associated with cancer therapies like radiotherapy and chemotherapy, AIDS therapies, and Hepatitis C treatments; and to stimulate appetites for those in palliative care for cancer and AIDS treatments.
Now, over two years after the initial passage of the law legalizing cannabis for medical use in Portugal, Portugal is actually getting to the business of selling this cannabis. Last month, Infarmed approved a market authorization which allows a licensed producer (Tilray), to sell medical cannabis products in Portugal. This is the first authorization for a cannabis-based substance to go into production, and accelerates a market that will put medical cannabis in Portuguese pharmacies.
The company that received this authorization is Tilray Portugal, the local arm of Tilray, a company that produces premium cannabis worldwide. Tilray Portugal’s general director Rita Barata had this to say about the new authorization: “This is the first and only cannabis-based preparation or substance for medicinal purposes allowed in our country and we are planning in the near future to make other products accessible to patients in Portugal.”
Tilray’s general manager in Europe, Sascha Mielcarek, made the statement that Infarmed’s authorization “confirms that Tilray’s medical cannabis products are up to the highest national and international standards.” Tilray is the only company to receive an authorization, making it the only company that can supply Portugal with legal medical cannabis at this time.
Tilray already operates in 16 countries, and the production facility in Portugal, which is located in Cantanhede, is cleared for cultivation and production of cannabis-based products, both for use in the country, and exportation in the EU and globally. The authorization covers a ‘Production Practices’ certificate for international sales to relevant markets.
Tilray and Portugal
It’s looking like Tilray will be the first company to get a medical cannabis product into Portuguese pharmacies, but this isn’t the first meeting between Tilray and Portugal. Tilray is a Canadian-based cannabis research and production company, whose leadership, in 2015, decided to expand the business by setting up international facilities.
In September of 2017, Tilray announced it would build a $30 million facility to produce medical cannabis in the EU, with the operation based out of Portugal. This made Tilray the first licensed Canadian producer to receive a license elsewhere in the world. The announcement came as Tilray won a federal license for the importation of cannabis seeds and clones for growing.
In 2019, Tilray made an announcement that it had inked a $3.3 million distribution deal to sell cannabis grown in Portugal, to a distributor in Germany (Cannamedical Pharma GmbH). The agreement was for the supply of medical cannabis only, which means, well before Portugal gave the go-ahead to supply its own citizens, Tilray was using Portugal to source cannabis to other parts of Europe.
At the time of the deal, Tilray’s CEO Brendan Kennedy said, “This is a significant milestone for Tilray as we ramp up our capacity to serve international markets and generate revenue from our EU campus through the end of 2019.” He went on to say, “We believe our 2.5 million square feet of cultivation and state-of-the-art processing space in Europe is an important differentiator, which will enable us to reduce costs and improve margins while hedging against regulatory risk.”
In May of 2020, Tilray received its third GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certification for Tilray Portugal, making it a complete certification. This allows the company to produce medical marijuana extracts in-house, and to export finished products, dried flower, and oil, internationally to any location with an approved medical cannabis program. The certification goes a step further even, allowing Tilray to manufacture extracts in bulk as cannabis ‘active pharmaceutical ingredients’ (API), which can then be sold.
What about the merger with Aphria?
Tilray is helping to get medical cannabis products into Portuguese pharmacies, but it’s also doing something else. Tilray has been climbing the cannabis ladder for several years, positioning itself as a major global cultivator and supplier. In December of 2020, it was announced that Tilray would merge with Aphria Inc, another Canadian based medical cannabis company.
The merger is actually a reverse takeover initiated by Aphria. In other situations, such a move would allow a private company to take over a publicly listed company so as to avoid the IPO process itself. In this case, both companies are publicly listed, both have a great name value in the world of cannabis, and both want to expand.
Revenue-wise, they together create the largest multinational cannabis company, with a combined 12-month sales figure of $874 million CAD, and a combined equity value of $3.8 billion USD ($4.8 billion CAD). The merged company will go under the name of Tilray, with Aphria shareholders owning 62% of Tilray’s stock. According to the deal, Aphria would pay a 23% premium to Tilray’s December 15th closing price of $7.87. The general announcement resulted in a 6.5% increase for Aphria’s stocks and a 26% increase for Tilray’s.
Things are heating up in the European cannabis world. Tilray will not only work to provide medical cannabis products to Portuguese pharmacies, but the company itself is transitioning along with Aphria, into the largest cannabis corporation in the world. The future looks interesting for cannabis in Europe, and it remains to be seen just how beneficial this new cannabis partnership will be, and how it might change the look and feel of today’s medical cannabis world.
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