Could growing marijuana be the answer to curbing Greece’s ongoing unemployment?

Bloomberg — Investors in medical cannabis projects are focusing on Greece, where a warm, sunny climate and potentially favourable future legislation could help the government deliver on a promise to pull the country out of a seven-year economic crisis.

Growers have expressed interest in pumping more than 1.5 billion euros into projects to build greenhouse parks for the cultivation and manufacture of cannabis, Evangelos Apostolou, minister of rural development and food, said in an interview. That would give Greece a share of a global market the government says could be worth 200 billion euros in the next 10 years.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is counting on investment to spur economic recovery and allow the country to exit a third bailout program. Forecasts call for growth close to 2 percent this year, rising to 2.5 percent in 2018.

A single campus of 12 to 15 cannabis greenhouses could create 400 jobs, according to a task force preparing a draft bill to legalize medical cannabis in Greece. Unemployment in the country has been over 20 percent since November 2011, one of the highest levels in the European Union.
Tsipras’s government plans to submit a bill covering medical legalization by the end of the year and passage could allow enough time for cultivation in time for a harvest next summer, according to the task force, which is currently working on preparing the legislation.

While countries like Uruguay and several U.S. states have legalized general possession to varying degrees, Greece has no such plans. Cultivation and sales will be for medical purposes only, Apostolou said. “Thousands of Greek households with family members suffering from serious illnesses like cancer and Parkinson’s disease will be able to get drugs produced right here, under World Health Organization guidelines.”

The WHO cites studies demonstrating the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids for nausea and vomiting in the advanced stages of illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Other therapeutic uses have been demonstrated by controlled studies, including treatment of asthma and glaucoma.

“We’ve probably had discussions with 20 different countries by now, with regulators, entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical companies,” Gorenstein said by phone. “If we were to pick another country in Europe to produce in it would be based on a historical track record and strong climate.

Already a project to cultivate, process and export medical marijuana in Veroia, in the fertile north of the country, shows how Greece sees cannabis as a possible growth industry for the country, which has a warm, dry climate similar to California.

The Veroia site will create more than 2,000 jobs in the next two to three years, according to Georgios Zafeiris, chief executive officer at Golden Greece Holdings, the company responsible for coordinating the project’s group of 10 investors from countries including Canada, Kazakhstan, Poland and Israel. The first round of investment is seen at 400 million euros  rising to more than 1.5 billion euros, and 80 percent of the jobs in areas like cultivation, trading and transport could go to Greeks.
“There’s significant interest by the investor community to exploit the possibilities of the new legal framework for medicinal cannabis in Greece,” Agriculture Minister Evangelos Apostolou said in an interview. The government is willing to assist any investment project that could help boost the economy, the minister said.

The Veroia project’s backers say the positive effect on employment and wages provides a buffer against possible future changes in government. “Even when power does change and the political landscape shifts, it’s pretty hard to roll back on something that the general population sees as a benefit,” Blady said.