International law is a complicated subject. A peek at the regulations surrounding import and export of medical cannabis are a case in point.

If you want to understand the root of the complexity, it (always) comes back to the discussion of what cannabis is and how it is defined legally.

In 1961, the UN adopted an international treaty called the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. They didn’t exactly create international law, but they did essentially create a global framework for drug laws. Until this day, the UN still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I & IV drug, which means that according to the UN, cannabis has no medicinal value.

(#Ouch #NotTrue #DoOver #ReEducate).

So, what does that mean for international cannabis markets?

It means that International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has established a framework regarding the production of cannabis and related cannabis products. The INCB determines estimated requirements of cannabis per country, whether imported or manufactured at home. But, the same board does allow countries the right to determine the legality of cannabis in their own state. (Think the current US model; federally illegal, with each state establishing its own legal framework…then expand that concept to include the whole world).

Make sense so far?

All countries who have agreed to the resolutions do have global restrictions that require the involvement and oversight of both the importer’s and exporter’s governments. And, on top of that, each country has their own classification and legislation around the cultivation, processing, and distribution of medical cannabis. This, of course, gives rise to added complexities when it comes to international shipping and distribution of cannabis.

Canadian law professor at the University of Ottawa, Steven Hoffman explained:

“[Canadians] might not think that it’s such a big deal to break the UN drug control treaties, but we certainly care when other countries break other treaties, like treaties against genocide or human rights violations or nuclear non-proliferation,” he says. “Canadians should know that we can’t just pick and choose which treaties to follow, without encouraging other countries to do the same.”

“It’s a real international legal obligation that we have for ourselves here. We can’t just easily get out of it or forget about it.”

Once again, driving home the point that international law regarding medical cannabis is indeed complex.

While there is ample opposition and controversy surrounding the INCB, their reports and their pressure tactics to gain compliance, there are still plenty of other hurdles facing the International community when it comes to both import and export of medical cannabis.

But, there is hope and good news for the international cannabis markets. Several countries recently made international news with new strides in medicinal cannabis trade: Australia, Chile, Canada, and Netherlands.  

International medical cannabis trade

(Graphic credit: Amy Phung/Leafly.)


Currently, the two biggest players on the international distribution landscape are Canada and the Netherlands. (it is interesting to note that for all the discussion and hoopla in the United States about progressive cannabis laws, they have largely been left behind regarding distribution in the global market).

Australia is an example of recently instated import legislation. Currently 30 licences have been issued allowing import of cannabis, though export is not currently permitted. Since February 2017, at least 3 shipments have been imported to Australia. Patients can receive medical cannabis under Special Access Scheme or the Approved Provider Scheme. Those seeking to import cannabis for medical or scientific research can apply for specific licenses. Regulation surrounding imported cannabis doesn’t end once the medicine has entered the country, as strict guidelines surrounding storage, supply, record keeping and destruction apply. Though Australia has its own set of rules, similar restrictions are enforced in other countries.

Israel has recently taken steps to allow export of medicinal cannabis. With a strong reputation of quality medical cannabis cultivation experts, expect Israel to be at the forefront of the emerging cannabis market in Europe. With the European market slowly blooming, with Germany taking huge leaps forward,  import licenses are currently still few and far between. Though certain countries such as Ireland, Italy, and Denmark have a special access or compassionate access scheme, international distribution is still in its infancy.

“On the one hand, we see that farmers here in Israel are going through rough times, and on the other hand, we see that the whole topic of medical cannabis is gaining steam all over the world. After analyzing the global cannabis market, it seems that the potential annual profit of exporting cannabis is around NIS 1 billion.”
-Israeli MK Yoav Kisch (Likud)

Want to learn more about what’s happening in medical cannabis around the globe?  Join us this October in London at our live CannaTech event.



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