ATHENS (Reuters- Greece issued the first licenses to private companies on Monday for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis in the country, as part of an attempt to exploit a booming market estimated at several billion euros.
Greece legalized cannabis for medical purposes last year and in March lifted the ban on its cultivation and production. Two licenses were issued Monday and 12 others will be issued by the end of the year, said the Ministry of Economy and Development.
"The interest is huge, especially from Canada and Israel ... some of them (potential investors) are huge," Stergios Pitsiorlas, the deputy minister of the economy, told a conference. "The legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes is not being studied," Pitsiorlas said in response to a question on the subject.
Pitsiorlas said the first cannabis-based medicinal products should be on the market in about 12 at 18 months. The industry is primarily export-oriented, he said.
Thousands of patients in Greece are believed to use cannabis to fight serious medical problems, although the authorities do not have precise figures.
Several countries, including Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Denmark, already allow the prescription of medicinal cannabis, and in June, Canada became the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to fully legalize marijuana, ending a ban of 90 years.
Under Greece's licensing system, cannabis-based medicinal products would be available on prescription. He would not be subsidized by the state's health insurance schemes, said Health Minister Andreas Xanthos.
The first authorized cannabis greenhouses will be located in Larisa, central Greece, and Corinth, Peloponnese. The 14 licenses are expected to create more 750 jobs and represent an investment of approximately 185 million (212,05 million).
"Our message is that the country is open to investment," said Vassilis Kokkalis, Deputy Minister of Agriculture.