by Alexia Vlachou
ATHENS, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- For the second year, a cannabis exhibition was held in Athens at the Tae Kwon Do Stadium, bringing together entrepreneurs, experts, innovators and activists to raise awareness on the medicinal and economic advantages of the plant.
The 3-day event, running from Jan. 10 to 13, included 150 businesses from Greece and abroad specializing in the medical, pharmaceutical and industrial use of cannabis.
Among the main priorities of the exhibition was to inform the public about the products and innovations that exist in the world of cannabis and the latest achievements. But, also to break taboos regarding the hemp plant which people confuses with the illegal marijuana.
"Our goal is to clear away any misunderstanding regarding the plant. At the mere mention of the word, the thought that comes to our mind is drugs. However, the medical and industrial cannabis should not be confused with the psychotropic substance of the plant," expo representative Eleni Bellou told Xinhua.
Visitors and investors had the opportunity to explore the vast variety of products made from hemp, like CBD oils, cosmetics, food and beverages, vaporizers, apparel, paper, construction materials, and vehicle parts.
Hammered by ten years of financial crisis, Greece as an entirely new market to cannabis is providing many business opportunities, according to experts.
In 2016, the Greek government legalized the cultivation of cannabis for industrial use. A year later, Greece legalized cannabis for medical use and last March lifted a ban on growing and producing it.
"The legalization of the industrial and medical cannabis was a huge step in Greece. We must not forget that there was a legalization movement for more than 20 years that fought and stood up for that to happen. It has been proved that cannabis provides benefits to health and economy as well," Bellou explained.
With the fertile soil and warm, dry climate, Greece sees cannabis as a possible growth industry to revive its economy.
On November 2018, the first batch of licenses was granted to two private firms for growing medical cannabis in the country.
Twelve more companies, both Greek and joint ventures, are to be granted licenses were creating about 770 new jobs and representing a total investment of 185 million euros (212 million U.S. dollars).
"Last year, we legalized cannabis for medical use, a law that is expected to give a boost to the Greek economy. It will bring investments, new jobs and more money to the state treasury. Medical cannabis can strengthen the country's extroversion. While the industrial cannabis can help our farmers," Vassilis Kokkalis, deputy minister of Agriculture told Xinhua during his visit at the Athens Cannabis Expo 2019.
In Europe, the market of cannabis is expected to reach 115 billion euros in 2028 and medical 55.2 billion euros, according to the 3rd Edition of the European Cannabis Report released by analyst group Prohibition Partners.
At the Athens Cannabis Expo 2019, Xinhua reporters met Krista Pappa and Argyris Moutzouris, owners of the Kannabishop company, who were pushing for the legislative changes that allowed the cultivation of industrial cannabis.
It took 17 years of hard work and persistence for their dream to come true. They were from the first businesses in Athens to sell products from hemp. They were even charged for drug trafficking.
However, they were not discouraged. They gave their legal fight and were acquitted of the charges. They wanted to be part of the new reality.
"A day after the legalization of the industrial cannabis, we cultivated. After 60 years of the ban, I put the first seed," Krista Pappa said.
"Greece has great potentials in developing innovative products. The climate and the sunshine can help grow the strain high in cannabidiol," she stressed.
To the nutritional resources of the hemp seeds, also referred the producer and owner of the Kannevia shop Vangelis Matrakas at the expo.
"By consuming the products, you can understand the difference and the possibility of the plant. It is tasteful when added in food, and the seed yields an oil rich in omega 3 and omega 6," Matrakas said.
Praising the legislation changes, Matrakas acknowledged the economic prospects of the sector as very promising.
"There has been a huge increase in the cultivation of industrial cannabis. From 40 acres in 2016, now we have 1100 acres in 2018 all over Greece, and that number is expected to increase more in the coming years," Matrakas told Xinhua.
For her part, Jacqueline Poitras, founder of the organization called "MAMA.KA.", or "Mothers for cannabis", explained how cannabis oil helped her daughter with Aicardi Syndrome, a non-curable, rare brain malformation that is characterized by refractory epilepsy.
"Initially, we saw an improvement in her seizures, which helped decrease her anti-seizure medication. She used to take three pills, and now she takes a small dose of one pill. We saw changes in her mental and emotional level. Her walk was stable. She did not get so tired than she used to. I believe that the cannabis oil has contributed to the improvement of the quality of her life," Poitras stressed.
Being at the forefront of Greece's cannabis initiative, Poitras repeatedly met with members of the Ministry of Health and parliamentary representatives in her efforts to advocate for free access to medicinal cannabis for patients all over Greece before the legislation changes in the country.
Though the social stigma still exists, things are getting better day by day, as she said.
"CBD oil is free to use in Greece which is the non-psychoactive substance of the plant and helps in many treatments. People start to use it and admit that it helps them. They do not have migraines, stress, they can sleep, and they realize that all that comes from a plant. So, their opinion starts to change," she told Xinhua.
For Poitras, the exhibition was a good opportunity for two reasons; people get to know about medical cannabis and how beneficial can be, and also people involved in the cannabis initiative can get organized better for the changes that the country needs.