One area in which the island nation of Malta has been a first mover in embracing disruption has been its controversial entry into the global cannabinoid market. The medical cannabis market within the EU is expected to be worth USD 56 billion by 2020 with leading European nations such as Germany, France and Italy forecast to serve as the largest consumers. Malta, for its part, has already set out its stall to grab a large slice of action by passing the Production of Cannabis for Medical Use Act which allows for dried cannabis, cannabis oil, seeds and derivatives to be legally produced and sold on an industrial scale.
“Malta enjoys a great tradition of boldly going for emerging and novel niches where more conservative, hesitant nations would not dare to tread”
Oliver Borg, Borg & Schembri Associates
“We are in the process of formulating and putting in place a comprehensive regulatory framework to permit the manufacturing, distribution and exports of such products as we have identified an escalating global interest in this segment and believe this could provide a very welcome boost to the economy and job creation. Meanwhile we recently passed new legislation allowing healthcare professionals to prescribe products made from cannabis as long as they are at least GMP and GDP certified and, since then, we have received a number of requests from importers seeking the requisite licenses,” confirms Dr. Chris Fearne, Malta’s Minister of Health.
Many believe that welcoming in this budding industry could constitute a second coming of the Maltese pharmaceutical industry that flourished so significantly during the immediate aftermath of EU accession but finds its unique selling points such as the Bolar Provision increasingly under threat from European harmonization efforts such as the implementation of the Agreement of the Unified Patent Court. Others point out that the move could simultaneously provide a much-needed shot in the arm for Malta’s ailing agriculture sector and note that farmers are already being approached to sell their fields to prospective cannabis cultivators and that the struggling crop growers are viewing the offer as a lifeline.
“Malta enjoys a great tradition of boldly going for emerging and novel niches where more conservative, hesitant nations would not dare to tread. We’ve seen this phenomenon time and time again whether it’s about Malta opening its doors to private military contractors, the gaming industry, online gambling or financial offshoring. I think cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals very much fits into this paradigm and no doubt, as always, the Maltese will make a great success out of it,” analyzes Oliver Borg of Borg & Schembri Associates.
“I think there’s definitely the sense of now being the right time to reinvent Malta’s pharmaceutical offering and consider strategically how best to move on to the next level and medical cannabis production could well be one of the solutions,” agrees the Maltese Chamber of Commerce’s Claude Farrugia. “Cannabis heralds a hugely promising industry that should be viewed not only as a new commercially successful niche to be present in, but also as a tool for transition to the biotech industry. Precisely, medical marijuana production on the island could potentially attract the companies with immense geographic reach and technological prowess that will be able to transfer their know-how and machinery. Thus investing in this sector would represent not only a direct, but also an indirect investment in Malta’s future,” he asserts.
Nor is the country merely content to have Cannabis manufacturers operating on its soil. Rather it wants to play a prominent role in shaping the nascent industry sector. “A big part of the focus is actually going to be on the R&D. The idea is not just to attract in the manufacturers of cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical programs, but also their clinical and laboratory research arms,” affirms Dr. Fearne. “From a doctor’s point of view, I believe Malta is a very suitable place to conduct medical research in the medicinal cannabis segment as our population is small and easily manageable so pretty much ideal for helping the researchers to follow up with patients in the long term,” ventures Josie Muscat, chairman of the St. James Hospital, one of the island’s most prestigious private hospitals.
Writer: Louis Haynes