Medical cannabis company Tilray eyes Macedonian market

Medical cannabis company Tilray eyes Macedonian market
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje February 23, 2016

Canada-based cannabis company Tilray, which is making a push to expand into Europe, sees Macedonia as potential market now that the country’s parliament has legalised the use of cannabis extracts for medical purposes.

Following the decision, Macedonia will be among a dozen European countries that allow the sale of medical cannabis for patients. The bill amending the law on control of narcotic drugs, which will regulate the production, processing and sales of cannabis-based products, was adopted by the Macedonian assembly on February 22, with support from both government and opposition MPs.

“Several countries in the EU are allowed to sell medical cannabis but the regulatory framework to sell cannabis there is very complicated and the process is very slow,” Sean Carney, Tilray’s director of business development and government relations for Europe, told bne Intellinews.

Carney, a former journalist now based in Prague, said the company still faces obstacles in the highly monopolised European market. “It’s really slow and complicated, which is probably the reason why only one company, from the Netherlands, sells cannabis in the EU,” says Carney. “What we do know is that in every EU country, as well as in Macedonia and Serbia, there is high demand for medical cannabis. Patients want it, even political groups support it, and we have seen a big transformation in the last two years, in the last year especially.”

Tilray is still waiting to see what the final model of the law will be in Macedonia, and in particular whether it will establish a state monopoly or allow competition. Carney warned that if there is a monopoly, which is the case in the Netherlands, products will be much more expensive than those sold in Canada, Israel or on the black market.

“Multiple providers will keep prices down, and also when there is competition there is more innovation,” Carney said. “We hope that Macedonian model will encourage at least two different providers, but if there is only one it would be terrible.”

Initial indications are that the Macedonian government favours domestic cultivation of cannabis, but Carney points out this will take time. Imports can be a short term solution to get medicines to patients, but regulators and health ministries are typically nervous about importing cannabis, and no one wants to be first to do it.

In Macedonia there are already companies interested in distribution, Carney said. “We have been working with some companies in Macedonia for several months. The talks are informal, we are exploring possibilities. But there is a definite interest from Macedonian businesspeople and entrepreneurs to develop this model.”

In addition to MPs, most Macedonians appear to be in favour of legalising cannabis for medical purposes. “The use of cannabis products should be legalised so it can be used as additional therapy alongside conventional treatment. Such products are legal in Britain and should also be here,” Liljana, a Macedonian who now lives in England, told bne Intellinews.

“Absolutely, they should be legalised, because they can help cure people,” said Petar, a former small business owner from Skopje. However, he believes that after the legal changes in Macedonia these products will still be too expensive for some patients.

Following the adoption, the authorities will regulate which medical specialists and for which diseases cannabis extracts can be prescribed, and what will be the maximum monthly dose. Initial information indicated that extracts of cannabis will be used for treatment of AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and childhood epilepsy.