How Ireland could become the European centre for the legal cannabis industry?

As The Green Wave spreads across North America, emerging legal cannabis companies are looking for opportunities abroad. No more so than in the huge European market which is set to be worth in excess of €250 Billion by 2025. One small nation on the periphery of continental Europe is ideally located to benefit from the global cannabis revolution; this of course depends on whether its conservative leaning government wakes-up to the huge economic benefits which a regulated cannabis economy can provide?

Over the last thirty years, Ireland has been very successful in persuading the world’s leading tech and pharma companies to locate their European headquarters in Dublin. Thanks to this far sighted policy, Dublin has become Europe’s silicone city. The Irish state through clever use of tax incentives and the availability of a young well-educated workforce has in the past managed to persuade the likes of Google, Facebook, Intel, Microsoft, AirBnB, LinkedIn and many others to centre their European operations in the Irish capital. This track record and expertise in persuading large tech to locate in Ireland is likely to intensify as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Brexit has provided Ireland with a golden opportunity to solidify itself as the location of choice for Silicone Valley’s overseas headquarters, and it’s this position which is enticing emerging legal cannabis companies to consider Ireland, and Wicklow in particular as their destination of choice for their European operations. Thus the gate is open for Ireland to become Europe’s Green Valley.

Of course, those who are familiar with the Silicone Valley story, know that the pot and tech economy have a strong symbiotic relationship having both grown out of California’s sixties counterculture. One need only think of the young Steve Jobs and Woz lighting up a joint as they worked in the garage in Los Altos back in the early 70’s to serve as one case in point.

Given that symbiotic relationship, it’s no surprise to learn that the illicit pot industry in Dublin has grown exponentially since the large tech companies arrived on the scene. Pot and Tech go hand in glove, as anyone in Silicone Valley will tell you. Indeed, many of the major tech investors such Peter Thiel (Co-founder of Paypal, and an early investor in Facebook) have quietly been investing in  fast growing cannabis corporations which are scaling up to meet demand in the eight states plus the District of Columbia that have regulated cannabis for recreational use, not to mention the 29 states that have legalised cannabis for medical use so far.

In the 18 months since I founded Fweed, public support for the regulation of cannabis in Ireland has grown. This is due in no small part to the tenacious campaigning of Vera Twomey who highlighted the shortcomings in Ireland’s approach towards medicinal cannabis. Twomey who has been locked in a very public battle with the Department of Health over access to Medicinal Cannabis for her daughter Ava, has connected with Ireland’s most important political constituency; the Irish equivalent of the ‘soccer moms’ who are are aged between 30-45 and who have the capacity to turn the scales in elections and referendums. A fact which is not lost on the major political parties and Irish government in particular.

But the change in perception towards cannabis is also due to the fact that the Irish public are better educated and observing what is going on across the Atlantic. Ireland’s connection with its North American diaspora is deep and long standing, which means that when Irish people visit the States and Canada, they witness at first hand the regulated markets for cannabis in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and ask the question, why can’t Ireland be the same? This is a question which the Irish Government has failed to address in a meaningful way beyond dishing out the same tired and meaningless platitudes which grew up with the war on drugs.

Regulation is the goal.

Unlike those who have advanced the case of legalisation for medical use only over the last year, Fweed has been consistent in favouring full legal regulation of cannabis and nothing less by 2020. Our case is based first and foremost on sound economic reason. We know the value of the illicit economy, and we know that prohibition has failed. What we want to achieve is a regulated economy that generates wealth, adds value to society and most importantly contributes to economic prosperity of the state and the people of Ireland. The illicit cannabis market in Ireland is conservatively valued at approximately €1 Billion, which is slightly more than the value of the illicit value of the equivalent market in Colorado prior to regulation in 2012. We forecast that a legally regulated market will be worth €2.3 Billion to the Irish economy by 2025 generating somewhere in the region of €250 million for the Irish exchequer annually. Presently, the illicit market generates no revenue for the Irish state and actually costs the Irish taxpayers millions to police which makes no economic or political sense.

Wicklowfornia and Europe’s Green Valley

Just south of Dublin, is Wicklow which is known as The Garden of Ireland. The Wicklow mountains are to Dublin what the Rockies are to Denver. It is also the centre of the Irish capital’s illicit market in cannabis with grow houses scattered across the foothills within easy reach of the city and away from the prying eyes of the Irish police. Popular with tourists and possessing some of the most expensive real estate in the country, North Wicklow provides the perfect location for North American cannabis companies seeking to locate their European operations. Wicklow is also the home constituency of Simon Harris, Ireland’s Minister for Health and the man who ultimately has to decide which direction Cannabis regulation should go in Ireland. Harris’s hometown of Greystones, which was voted LivCom’s most liveable community in 2008 also has Ireland’s highest concentration of tech millionaires in residence. Located 25km south of Dublin City on the coast, Greystones and the surrounding countryside has the infrastructure, the workforce and the enterprise culture to entice legal cannabis corporations from North America to set-up their operations in Europe.

As North America moves forward with The Great Marijuana Experiment, and legal cannabis companies consider overseas expansion, the Irish Government has to consider carefully whether they want to miss the boat, bearing in mind that the Netherlands will be competing against them for direct foreign investment from the emerging legal cannabis industry. Fweed has the expertise in regulation and the contacts in the legal cannabis and hemp industry in the United States and Canada to make Ireland Europe’s Green Valley, all that is missing is the political will to make it happen. It’s time for the Irish Government to get with the project.

Fweed is a corporate advisory and research firm that specialises in promoting the interests of the hemp industry for agricultural, medicinal, scientific and commercial use. We provide sound regulatory and commercial advice to clients in the hemp industry and serve as their interface with public representatives, regulatory bodies and government departments. We help our clients navigate the regulatory process, and influence domestic and international policy makers on matters relating to the hemp industry. We ensure that our clients are compliant with national laws and international conventions which place limits on the production, manufacture, distribution and sale of hemp and cannabis based products.

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