Polish medical cannabis market growing rapidly but remains very small

The Polish medical cannabis market is growing rapidly, with imports through August 2020 more than doubling compared to 2019, Marijuana Business Daily has learned.

This is believed to be the first time that accurate and updated import data about the Polish medical marijuana market has been publicly available.

Access to aggregate market data measuring the current size of legal medical marijuana markets such as Poland is critical for MMJ companies hoping to serve these nations.

The alternative, making business decisions largely based on future estimates, has landed some companies in hot water. Canadian companies Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth, among others, reeled in their international plans in 2020.

While Poland’s medical cannabis market is expanding, it remains small by international standards.

Only 4 kilograms of cannabis flower were imported into Poland in 2018, according to data from the Chief Pharmaceutical Inspectorate.

In 2019, that figure increased to 66 kilograms (145 pounds), and partial data for 2020 indicate 167 kilograms were imported as of August.

However, impressive growth in new markets that started from almost scratch is not uncommon.

Instead of being complacent with early market growth, experts say businesses should focus on current market size and bottlenecks that, if resolved, would broaden access and, in turn, continue the growth trend in coming years.

The Polish import data comes from the Polish Chief Pharmaceutical Inspectorate.

The data was obtained through a combined effort of MJBizDaily and Maciej Konarowski, a lawyer and founder of Can Advocare, a law firm that specializes in the Polish pharmaceutical and cannabis markets.

Konarowski believes the Polish market is poised to maintain brisk growth in 2021 if companies manage to offer a stable supply of different products.

“Poland’s population is around 40 million, of which over 15% is older than 65 years, a percentage that’s only growing,” Konarowski told MJBizDaily.

According to Konarowski, supply constraints and lack of insurance reimbursement are the two main reasons the Polish market remains small compared to neighboring Germany.

“Currently, it’s complicated for a patient to find cannabis in pharmacies. It’s hardly available with wholesalers,” Konarowski said in mid-December.

The process to register cannabis products is “quite challenging,” Konarowski said, exemplified by the fact that only two companies have succeeded in getting a few strains approved by regulators.

Because Poland doesn’t allow in-country cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes, imported quantities in a certain period are a good indicator of how the market is evolving.

However, variations in inventory levels suggest that not all of what is imported is sold in those months. Moreover, some imported product could be destroyed because of noncompliance with quality requirements.

In 2020, Poland imported some medical cannabis with the purpose of re-exporting it, including:

  • 58 kilograms in March.
  • 25 kilograms in July.

Those two imports were excluded from the data in this story.

Six medical cannabis products from two Canadian companies are registered in Poland, including:

  • Four Aurora Cannabis flower varieties.
  • Two from Canopy Growth.

But as of mid-December, only two Aurora varieties were effectively available.

Nik Schwenker, Canopy’s director of communications, told MJBizDaily that the shortage is related to the “transition from Canadian supply to EU-produced products from our facility in Denmark.”

Patients in Poland can also access Bedrocan flower imported from the Netherlands.

The retail price can vary, but the flower typically costs 650-700 Polish zloty ($179-$193) for a 10-gram package. Meaningful discounts – particularly when batches are close to their expiration date – aren’t uncommon.

Medical cannabis in Poland is not reimbursed by the country’s health-care system.

Alfredo Pascual can be reached at alfredop@mjbizdaily.com