A Deeply Broken Cannabis Industry in Ireland

“It’s the people's plant and they took it away so we need to take it back"

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Friends, 

My work in the cannabis industry and my family back home in Ireland are worlds apart.

In one, I get to interview many leaders of the top cannabis companies in North America; in the other, I commonly have conversations about how cannabis is not the dangerous drug they once thought it was.

Although Canada legalizing cannabis has certainly made these conversations much easier, the fact that cannabis is not available in Ireland remains a huge hurdle to it being seen as a legitimate therapy.

While THC products aren’t permitted, CBD products such as topicals, teas, and even flower can be sold in Ireland under EU law. In recent times, however, the Irish government has decided to no longer permit the sale of dried hemp flowers containing less than 0.2% THC.

This decision has affected many small business owners in Ireland who, despite obeying all of the rules, are still having their inventory seized by the police.

For today’s edition of Four PM, I sat down with J.P. O’Brien, the co-owner of Little Collins CBD dispensary.

Just to clarify: J.P. and I are not related, same last name notwithstanding.

📸: by Dave McClelland

What’s currently happening in the Irish CBD industry from your perspective?

J.P.: In 2018, a grassroots industry sprung up here in Ireland surrounding the sale of cannabis Sativa/hemp flowers that perfectly fits within all existing EU regulations by cultivating plants containing less than 0.2% THC.

From my standpoint, the development of this “cannabis light” industry has completely caught all Irish regulators off guard.

As opposed to working with the companies who are helping to build this new industry, they are instead seeking to crush this industry before it even has a chance to succeed by raiding stores and seizing their inventory. 

A number of very large Irish stores such as Holland & Barrets are now carrying CBD products. Have they also been targeted by these raids?

To date, stores like Holland & Barrets have not been targeted by these raids for carrying CBD products, which may have something to do with their size and the fact that they don’t stock herbal cannabis products (flower). 

From our standpoint, the herbal product seems to be at the center of this issue, which is extremely frustrating as cannabis really can't come in a more natural form than the flower itself.

The Irish government is targeting what is very clearly the backbone of this industry. 

The analogy I often use when asked why we don't just stock CBD isolate products is that though you can always take some vitamin C tablets, some of us want to eat actual oranges instead.

We said from the onset that we exist to give people a choice, and as a business, Little Collins is a representation of our lifestyle, as we seek to give people the choice to consume a natural version of a product, not something which is isolated or synthesized. The choice is important.

As a business owner, how difficult is it to continue to keep your doors open when the Irish government can simply seize in excess of €20,000 worth of your inventory?

They began raiding us in May 2019, so three months from now will mark the two-year anniversary of our first store being raided. 

Since then we have been raided multiple times and have had many packages seized by Irish customs, as we commonly seek to import products from countries like Italy which produce some of the highest quality products that fall within the 0.2% THC threshold required by EU law.

After the first raid, it took us almost three months to get back on our feet and build up sufficient stock levels to be able to open our doors. Thankfully, since then we have learned a lot and have grown the business significantly. We now have systems in place to deal with these setbacks such that we can continue to serve our customers. 

That said, it remains all too difficult to operate a CBD business in Ireland while having to constantly look over your shoulder. Even on a good day you always have to ask yourself if today will be the day the government raids my store and confiscates products that fully comply with EU law.

As you look to the future of cannabis and hemp in Ireland, what do you want this future to look like?

It’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking about, with a few points that are top-of-mind:

1. Although cannabis has the potential to be the next big driver of GDP growth in Ireland, the future of cannabis in this country must go hand in hand with education.

2. Cannabis should be legalized in Ireland safely, smartly, and soundly with regulated retail stores where you would have to be over 18 to purchase cannabis.

4. We would like to see a policy whereby anyone under the age of 21 could only purchase low-THC products. 

5. A cap on THC percentages in the beginning years would likely be essential to get buy-in from the public. 

6. From an economics standpoint, we would like to see initial priority given to Irish companies to establish themselves.

7. Lastly, we would like to see hemp plants more broadly adopted and grown across Ireland as a result of the environmental benefits this would bring.

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While it is very frustrating to see what’s happening in Ireland, I also know that this happened to many stores in Canada and in the U.S. in recent times, so perhaps this just means that Ireland is on the path to legalizing cannabis? — Matthew


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