According to Euromonitor International, legal cannabis generated USD38 billion globally in 2021 and is anticipated to reach USD90 billion by 2026. The US dominates the global cannabis market, generating 81% of total value sales in 2021. At the same time, European countries account for 8% of worldwide value following Canada with 9%. Poland is responsible for an 8% value share of European countries, which is less than 1% globally. Even with this percentage, it ranks ninth in the global cannabis market in 2021. In Poland, adult-use is prohibited by law, medical cannabis is only legal with a prescription, while CBD is freely available.
Opportunities and risks
The Polish cannabis market is in its initial stages and offers high growth opportunities from its current low base. The market quadrupled from PLN210 million in 2019 to PLN900 million in 2021. This is expected to more than double to reach PLN2.2 billion by 2026.
In Poland, over 2.3 million people consumed cannabis both legally and illegally as of 2021. Illicit users, who purchase cannabis on the black market, account for more than 60% of all consumers. Additionally, the Polish Pharmaceutical Chamber estimates that the potential number of medical cannabis users could reach 300,000, while this figure remains negligible and amounts to just 1,500 in 2021. Therefore, the consumer base of legal cannabis offers significant growth potential. Nevertheless, the number of legal cannabis users (both medical and CBD) is expected to reach 1.3 million by 2026 due to the dynamics and limitations addressed in the following paragraphs.
Adult-use, commonly known as recreational cannabis, is currently illegal in Poland. Outside of the medical system, possessing, consuming and trafficking of more than 0.2% THC-content cannabis is a criminal offence governed by the Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction. The sale of THC-containing cannabis, as well as any act of supply or trafficking, is punishable by 5-12 years of jail depending on the scale and the offender’s intent to profit. Adult-use cannabis decriminalisation is limited, and its further development is questionable.
At the same time, Polish authorities are significantly focusing on even small discrepancies of the legalised THC percentage, which has resulted in bans on product import, penalties for businesses and delays in delivery.
In Poland, CBD products are positioned as having the potential to address particular lifestyle issues such as pain relief and sleep improvement, which tends to attract health-conscious customers. It is worth noting that by law, CBD products cannot make any concrete claims of therapeutic effects, which limits marketing opportunities. Other drivers include growing consumer awareness of CBD and an expanding offer of products, players and, hence increasing availability.
VAT on medical cannabis decreased from 23% to 8% in Poland in August 2020, which helped to make price points in the category more attractive. Despite improving availability, variety and distribution of medical cannabis, it accounted for just 4% share of total market value in 2021.
Polish law prohibits the production of medical cannabis in the country, with THC content in raw materials limited to 0.2%. Therefore, Poland is completely reliant on imports. Additionally, medical cannabis treatment is not covered by health insurance, which can lead to high costs compared to other medicines. Lingering registration and supply audit procedures can also cause supply shortages. As a result, medical cannabis is usually only available in pharmacies by placing an order.
Each new CBD product must also be certified. This is a relatively long, complicated and expensive process that is stifling the growth of the CBD market in Poland.
Consumer awareness is also growing but remains at a low level overall. CBD, THC-containing cannabis and hemp (which contains neither CBD nor THC) are frequently misunderstood by Polish consumers.
The 2021 Euromonitor International Cannabis Survey shows that Polish society is not completely ready for adult-use cannabis legalisation. 30% of respondents think that there is still a negative stigma surrounding the use of CBD and cannabis products. 22% believe that the consumption of CBD products and cannabis is unsafe, while 31% cannot foresee recreational cannabis ever being legalised. Only 18% support decriminalisation - that cannabis should remain illegal to sell - but possession of small quantities should not be a criminal offence. The conservative element of Polish society currently dominates the political landscape, a limiting factor for further steps to cannabis legalisation. However, 37% of respondents think that adult-use cannabis will be legalised within the next 10 years in Poland.
Furthermore, the current government in Poland is conservative when it comes to the topic of cannabis, and thus, the possibility of significant changes to legislation over the next five years is limited. However, cannabis is expected to be legalised in some form in Germany over the forecast period. This would be a favourable indicator for Poland's transition to legalisation. By 2026, the German cannabis market is expected to be worth USD2.6 billion, potentially creating significant prospects for Polish producers. The Polish agricultural sector might benefit greatly from CBD-content cannabis with the following potential for medical cannabis development and international supply.
The Polish cannabis market will continue to record double-digit growth over 2022-2026. The key drivers for cannabis development in Poland include increased consumer knowledge, product availability and diversity, in addition to low market maturity level and alignment with health and wellness trends. Businesses should be prepared to deal with quite complicated and sometimes expensive or time-consuming compliance procedures.
Investments in medical cannabis bring higher potential and more bureaucratic barriers to address. A better market performance could be achieved if the government chooses to legalise domestic production of medical cannabis, as well as simplify the bureaucratic procedures for importers. Incorporating cannabis treatment into health insurance and compensation programmes would also help boost market expansion by lowering the barrier to entry.
Softening the requirements to THC content in raw materials would support the local agricultural sector. This might provide a wide range of options to compete within the EU, improve export potential and lower prices on both CBD and medical cannabis in Poland. A clearer legal distinction between commercial and criminal activity could also potentially reduce business risks.
For further insight and full market data, see the report Cannabis in Poland. Analyses and data for all 20 research countries can be found here.