In the early-to-mid ‘00s, before the debt crisis, Greece had one of the European Union’s fastest-growing economies. But the Great Recession tipped a precarious tower of circumstances that had been piling up for years.
To rejuvenate itself after the collapse of the mid-20th-century junta regime, Greece implemented decades of policies developing social services and the military. Not only did this put the country second highest in defense spending relative to GDP across NATO countries, but it also meant that more money was being spent than was being brought in on the country’s low taxes. This budget deficit stood alongside the country’s ballooning government debt, including the largely German bailouts that followed the Great Recession (and continue to this day).
The financial collapse also put a damper on two of Greece’s most important sectors, shipping, and tourism, and GDP began to underperform.
To make matters worse, Greece had been doctoring financial documents since at least as far back as its application to the EU in 1999. And even when the government had put together data to stick to, like budgets, compliance with the set goals was low. Everything was set up perfectly to implode the Greek economy, and in 2008 that’s exactly what happened.
The debt to GDP ratio has continued to grow even though 2011 Greek projections expected austerity measures and new regulations to cause it to fall. It now stands at a staggering 180%, up 77% from where it was in 2007 and second highest in the world after Japan. After having plummeted and plateaued, Greece’s GDP still sank by around 0.2% between 2015 and 2016. Since 2008 over 244,000 businesses have closed and unemployment sits at 23% (44% for young people below 24).
But at least one thing in the Greek economy seems to be back on an upswing. Greek tourism is now breaking records, with 2017 set to bring 30 million vacationers—nearly three times as many people as live in the country. Tourist minister Elena Kountoura noted an up to 70% jump in summer bookings in some areas, meaning that the country’s second most important industry is finally getting back on its feet and more. More than just generating GDP the resurgence of tourism is also creating jobs—181,500 in April and May of this year alone.
Tourism isn’t the only industry that’s set to grow across the country: Greece has also legalized medical marijuana, opening the door for one of the world’s increasingly growing cannabis markets. Qualifying conditions for Greece’s MMJ program include chronic and neuropathic pain, cancer and chemotherapy side effects, and some eating disorders. Importantly the drug has been rescheduled from alongside heroin and LSD to the level at which the government at large acknowledges some medical value.
It’s assumed that growing permits will be given out by the government, and if the structure of Greece’s medical marijuana program develops anything like California’s private doctor-and-dispensary complex, the country could stand to be on the precipice of opening a huge market. Denizens could also decide to take a turn like Uruguay and legalize recreational cannabis for residents and visitors alike. Greece, with its already well-established tourist sector and amenities, is the perfect place for the influx of pot tourists that a full legalization policy would bring. And in addition to stimulating hospitality and restaurants the marijuana industry itself, from growing through to selling, would provide some of the jobs and tax money the country so sorely needs as it continues to heal from the recession. Bloomberg reports that marijuana investors have already zeroed in on the Mediterranean country, with “growers [expressing] interest in pumping more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.74 billion) into projects to build greenhouse parks for the cultivation and manufacture of cannabis.”
Legislation to formalize Greece’s medical marijuana program is in the works, and growing is meant to begin next year. Only time can tell whether the Greek economic market will sprout alongside the crop.