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What are the barriers facing Spanish medical cannabis access?

There are three times more cannabis social clubs than McDonald’s locations in Spain, so why can patients still not access their medicine legally?



Following another recent disappointment for Spanish patients, Michael Sassano, CEO and founder of SOMAÍ Pharmaceuticals explores the barriers preventing the regulation of medical cannabis in the country.

What is wrong with medical cannabis access in Spain? In short: Politics! Spain has long been the most head-scratching European Union (EU) cannabis regulatory quagmire. Most countries are either clear about whether they are open to medical cannabis and studying the path to regulated medical access or against it.

However, Spain has sent messages for years in every direction, from medical and adult-use rules to no rules and even pointing to the sky. You are either in the camp of tears or, sadly, laughing at the absolute confusion of Spanish cannabis regulations. 

Spain’s grey cannabis market deprioritises consumer health 

Take the outbreak of cannabis social clubs in Spain. Cannabis social clubs in the Catalonia region are estimated to number around 1,600. There are three times more cannabis social clubs than McDonald’s locations in Spain. Although cannabis social clubs operate under a grey-protected membership right-access scheme, every product sold comes from the unregulated market. There are no cannabis products grown or made legally, much like the Netherlands’ current coffee shop model.

Considering medical cannabis access is illegal, it is difficult to understand how social cannabis clubs are tolerated. However, patients who need and deserve access to legal, high-quality EU good manufacturing practice (EU-GMP) cannabis cannot purchase that medicine legally in Spain. Additionally, many cannabis club members also want to be able to buy regulated cannabis worry-free. 

Spanish cannabis reformation flops again and again 

Spanish politicians and even the Spanish Health Ministry has long promised regulatory reform for medical cannabis. And although even recreational reform has been brought up to vote many times and failed, most European citizens agree medical cannabis access is a good and needed step for civilised countries.

In June 2022, the Spanish Congress of Deputies passed medical cannabis reform based on a special health commission report. There were many steps for the Spanish Health Agency (AEMPS) to approve a final version. Everyone in cannabis was awaiting a promised report by the end of 2022. In fact, at the very end of 2022, we were told that the bill would come in early 2023 and that nobody will get all they wanted. 

As 2023 progressed, no news seemed like good news since there appeared to be a continued pledge of reform and access. Then, Spanish Minister of Health Jose Maria Minones announced at the end of March that the information available on medical cannabis is ‘insufficient’ and he ‘cannot recommend its use’.

Although Minones did recognise clinical trials for multiple sclerosis and epilepsy done by GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex and Sativex, countless observational, governmental, and medical studies and millions of patients worldwide using cannabis for various indications were ignored entirely. The mic dropped, and cannabis advocates and patients were left speechless, and then came anger.

Minones left a baby-carrot-sized teaser that they would continue to study the situation. However, Minones is only appeasing the masses and has no true intentions of finding a favorable resolution for what is estimated to be 300,000 immediate patients who could benefit from medical cannabis, in addition to countless other Spaniards who should be allowed to find a better path of treatment through cannabis.

Seemingly kicking the can further down the road in May, Minones explained that due to new elections, there would be no legislative actions in parliament on cannabis because ‘it is true that with the electoral period, the Chamber is not working,’ which is basically a political way of saying, ‘Let’s see which party gets in. If it’s pro-cannabis, I’m working on cannabis, and if it’s against cannabis. It’s not me; it’s them.”

Prior statements and the newest Health Minister’s cold shoulder don’t indicate that he will advocate for medical cannabis changes. The only way forward for cannabis reform would be through parliamentary law, and there is no urgency at this point for Parliament to act, given the muddled snap election. 

Spain must centre patient medical cannabis access in legislative push 

As Spanish politics rage on, one fact is for sure, there will be no medical access until 2024 at the earliest. Cannabis social clubs will continue to struggle under not-for-profit and illicit supply burdens. Advocates will keep pushing, and patients are again the real losers despite an adult population that overwhelmingly supports access for the people.

Hopefully, the people’s rights will prevail, and the next parties will force the Health Minister’s hand to fulfil the long-time promise of medical cannabis access reform.

Michael Sassano, CEO and founder, SOMAÍ Pharmaceuticals

Michael Sassano is celebrated in mainstream business and biopharma media as an international authority on developing large-scale cannabis infrastructures throughout the world and the most advanced pharmaceutical cannabinoid products. Michael is also widely respected for successfully predicting long term cannabis market trends and movements, which he generously shares in many forums. He is well known for leading a merger of the cannabis cultivation company he built and operated, called Solaris Farms, with The Sanctuary.

Over the last few years, Michael has shifted focus to his role as CEO and Chairman of the Board for SOMAÍ Pharmaceuticals LTD, a European pharmaceutical and biotech company centred on manufacturing in Lisbon, Portugal and distribution of EU GMP-certified cannabinoid-containing pharmaceuticals throughout EU.

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