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You'll Never Guess Which Country Is Betting on Marijuana to Pull Its Economy Out of the Doldrums

Sean Williams, The Motley Fool
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You'll Never Guess Which Country Is Betting on Marijuana to Pull Its Economy Out of the Doldrums

Can medical cannabis help lower this nation's 21% unemployment rate?

When it comes to the fastest-growing industries in the world, legal marijuana ranks pretty high up the list (pun fully intended). In North America, cannabis research firm ArcView found that legal sales grew by 34% to $6.9 billion in 2016 and expects the North American market to reach nearly $22 billion in sales by 2021. That type of consistent, rapid growth is tough to come by, which is why investors have latched on to marijuana stocks and pushed many higher by well over 100%.

The catalyst behind this growth is the ever-shifting opinions toward pot among the public. In the U.S., Gallup's most recent poll finds that almost two-thirds of respondents are in favor of cannabis legalization nationally. The higher this figure goes in the U.S., and presumably in other countries, the more pressure will be placed on lawmakers to act in favor of possibly legalizing weed for medical and/or adult use.

A man standing next to a crop of hemp plants.

Image source: Getty Images.

But beyond just the investment gains for shareholders and a discernable shift in perception toward pot, there's the genuine opportunity for marijuana to be an economic positive. It has the opportunity to create jobs, boosting wages and GDP in the process. A report issued earlier this year by New Frontier Data, "The Cannabis Industry Annual Report: 2017 Legal Marijuana Outlook," is forecasting that more than 283,000 jobs will have been created by the cannabis industry by 2020 in the United States. By comparison, manufacturing, utility, and government jobs are expected to decline through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Medical marijuana is creating a buzz in this highly indebted country

Yet it's not the just the U.S. markets that are looking to take advantage of the green rush. One country that's been absolutely buried under debt and has been regularly dealing with unemployment rates north of 21% since 2012 is expected to turn to medical cannabis next year as a source of jobs and growth.

As Bloomberg reported this past week, investors have expressed interest in building up a medical cannabis industry in Greece, which is attempting to avoid a third bailout and get its long-struggling economy back on track. In a recent interview, Evangelos Apostolou, the minister of rural developed and food, noted that pot growers have expressed interest in infusing more than $1.7 billion into greenhouse projects for the cultivation and manufacture of medical cannabis.

A prescription bottle filled with medical cannabis buds.

Image source: Getty Images.

A Greek task force has estimated that a single campus containing 12 to 15 cannabis greenhouses could create approximately 400 jobs. Considering how many Greek jobs are tied to the government, any organic job creation would be viewed as a major positive.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras plans to submit a bill for approval that would legalize medical cannabis before the end of the year. The timing is important because Tsipras would like to have cannabis crops planted now, such that they can be harvested by the summer of 2018. Of course, Tsipras will need approval from the Greek government, along with plenty of investor support, if this is to happen. Greece has no interest, for the time being, in legalizing recreational weed. 

Another window of opportunity for select Canadian medical cannabis producers

Should Greece decide to move forward with legalized medical cannabis, which seems like a smart move given its economic woes, it could wind up being yet another window of opportunity for the small handful of Canadian cannabis growers that ship to foreign markets that have legalized medical cannabis.

An outdoor commercial cannabis grow farm.

Image source: Getty Images.

For example, Canopy Growth Corp.(NASDAQOTH: TWMJF), the largest pure-play marijuana company in the world, has a number of deals in place to export its dried cannabis to overseas markets that have legalized medical weed. On Sept. 11, the company's wholly owned subsidiary, Spektrum Cannabis, announced a supply license agreement with Spain's Alcaliber. Just 10 days later, it announced a joint venture in Denmark to serve the needs of Danish medical cannabis patients. Canopy Growth has been the most aggressive grower in terms of international expansion, and given that it has a green light to export its dried cannabis, ongoing expansion in countries such as Greece could be great news.

Of course, Apostolou's commentary intimated that the Greek government would first like to grow medical cannabis crops domestically to create jobs. But if domestic growers are unable to meet demand, or if they lack the expertise to get their medical-weed industry off the ground, it's not out of the question that a giant like Canopy Growth Corp. could step in to assist as a joint venture or exporter of dried cannabis.

Keep your eyes peeled to see if Greece does indeed move forward with medical-cannabis legislation in the weeks to come.

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Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.