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A Cautionary Tale of Two British CBD Start-Ups

By Marguerite Arnold
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As cannabis reform finally begins to hit the UK, the same confusion, lack of standards and uneven application of the “law” reigns supreme.

Just like other places (notably Israel, the United States and Canada), in the early days after medical reform hits, the English situation is instructive if not reminiscent of other fights elsewhere – no matter how much individual stories may differ on the surface. Just like in Israel for example, sick children had to be hospitalized before anyone moved forward on reform.

Just like in the United States, Canada and Israel, the people who were able to get into the changing industry first and early had money and political connections.

And just like everywhere else, who survives and who gets hit with red tape, is largely a matter not of entrepreneurial savvy, but connections, inherited privilege, race, gender and of course, bank account. In a place like the UK, where “class” is still a valid force on its own (beyond access to money), this is already obvious. As a theme, it is one that is sadly, not over yet for too many in or affected by “the industry.”

There are still, per the estimates available, less than 100 legal patients in the UK. Those served by the NHS are also well aware of their “second class” status when it comes to healthcare. This one issue, after all, drove Brexit, and may yet cause it to fail, just on this one issue. Cannabis may be a side note in the debate. But it is also, by this time, clearly in the room.

A Chelsea Popup Shop Survives While A Brighton Eatery Fails To Open

In January, two graduates of Imperial Business School (a private, prestigious university in London) opened a “pop up shop” (kind of like a kiosk) in Chelsea. This is a part of the city frequented by Royals on the hoof, reality stars of a certain vintage, and a lot of highly priced real estate.

So far, with the predictable fawning press coverage, the almost too “cutely” named TheDrug.Store (which by its own admission is selling non-medical products) has been doing brisk business.

Meanwhile, in the historic if less slightly less elite but almost as expensive touristy seaside town of Brighton, The Canna Kitchen, a CBD eatery with the catchy slogan of “let food be thy medicine”, was closed by the police right before it was supposed to open at the end of May (although there is no mention of this or the negative press on the website, which despite having no telephone number, still allows visitors to “book a table.”) The owners, who also seem to be quite well-heeled millennials themselves, appear to be on the verge of “losing hundreds of thousands of pounds and laying off 15 staff,” to quote The Guardian story on the subject.

Never mind the irony that they also seem rather well positioned financially. Or that many, many more people, usually called poor patients, are still at risk of being hospitalized because they cannot get (or afford) their medication.

As the industry, such as it is, and patient rights group organize in earnest this summer, reform in the UK also hinges on whether and what the country decides to do in the fall.

And despite the huge disparities that exist in terms of who has access (let alone to entrepreneurial capital), or perhaps because of them, look for a healthy debate from patients about policy, access and fairness.

Illinois Senate Passes Bill To Legalize Adult Use Cannabis

By Aaron G. Biros
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Illinois lawmakers came one step closer to legalizing adult use cannabis this week. The Illinois Senate voted 38-17 to pass HB 1438, which is now headed to the House for a vote. Sponsors of the bill, Senator Heather Steans (Chicago-D) and Representative Kelly Cassidy (Chicago-D), along with Governor J.B. Pritzker, have been viewed as the architects of this piece of legislation.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker

This is not the first time that Democrats in the Illinois legislature have attempted to legalize adult use cannabis. Back in 2017, state Representative Kelly Cassidy and state Senator Heather Steans, the two lawmakers sponsoring this bill, sponsored a legalization bill that failed to garner support.

Governor Pritzker, who campaigned on cannabis legalization, has been vocal about his support to push this bill through the legislature. Back in January, the sponsors of the bill announced their plans with the bill, backed with full support from the Governor’s office. Then in early May, the coalition announced the formal introduction of the bill.

It is clear that Illinois is excited about cannabis, including the less-than-0.3%-THC variety, or legal hemp under the Farm Bill. Within two days of announcing the opening of license applications for growing hemp, the Illinois Department of Agriculture received roughly 350 applications.

Regarding the bill that just cleared the Senate, one particularly contentious issue raised was the allowance for “home grow.” The Senate approved the bill after a provision was added allowing just medical cannabis patients to grow their own, not everyone.

If this bill manages to pass through the House, Governor Pritzker is expected to sign the bill immediately. The bill would legalize and regulate sales of cannabis and cannabis products on January 1, 2020.

Arizona To Implement Mandatory Lab Testing

By Aaron G. Biros
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Good news came to patients using medical cannabis in Arizona earlier this week: Lawmakers in Arizona unanimously passed SB1494 through the state’s House and Senate, the bill requiring mandatory lab testing for medical cannabis products. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is expected to sign the bill and has ten days to do so.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey

When Governor Ducey signs the bill into law it will mark the first time since the state legalized medical cannabis in 2011 that a measure to protect patient safety via lab testing will be implemented. According to the bill, beginning November 1, 2020, all cannabis products shall be tested prior to sales “to determine unsafe levels of microbial contamination, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, growth regulators and residual solvents and confirm the potency of the marijuana to be dispensed,” (Page 6, Section 36-2803).

The bill requires dispensaries to provide test results to patients immediately upon request. Dispensaries need to display a sign notifying patients of their right to see “certified independent third-party laboratory test results for marijuana and marijuana products for medical use,” according to the text of the bill (Page 7, Section 36-2803.01).“There will have to be some serious planning, but other states have achieved this and we can too.”

Under the new bill, the Arizona Department of Health Services will adopt rules to certify and regulate labs, establishing requirements like health and safety protocols, mandatory quality assurance program and standards, chain of custody and sampling policies, adequate records, accreditation, proficiency testing, among other requirements (Page 6-7, Section 36-2803).

Ryan Treacy, co-founder of the Arizona Cannabis Laboratory Association (ACLA) and CEO/Founder of C4 Laboratories, says this is a major turning point for Arizona’s cannabis industry. “We have been devoid of regulations with regard to testing the entirety of the program since it was legalized; This will be a significant change,” says Treacy. “Now patients can make sure they are getting a safe and clean product and getting exactly what they paid for.”

For those in the know when it comes to cannabis testing in the United States, the new requirements will look very similar to other states with testing requirements. One particularly unique aspect of the new program, however, is the establishment of a “Medical Marijuana Testing Advisory Council,” made up of stakeholders representing different interests in Arizona’s cannabis industry. Members of the council will include representatives from dispensaries, labs, cultivators, concentrate producers, edibles producers, as well as registered patients, caregivers, a representative from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, a licensed health care provider and “any other members deemed necessary by the director,” reads the text of the bill (page 16, Section 36-2821).

Ryan Tracy, co-founder of the ACLA and founder/CEO at C4 Labs.

“Other states like California have complained about detection limits, while Arizona is taking a unique approach with an advisory council with stakeholders in the cannabis industry,” says Treacy. “So that when the Department of Health Services promulgates rules, they are taking into account the challenges in the cannabis industry specifically. We have a chance to do this right and avoid pitfalls we’ve seen in other states.”

One problem worth mentioning for Arizona’s cannabis industry: Dispensaries have not been required to test products for patients since medical cannabis was legalized back in 2011. That means many producers could be very used to operating procedures that don’t account for lab testing. With mandatory lab testing, some producers may be behind the curve when it comes to mitigating contamination.

According to Treacy, this could disrupt the supply chain a little bit. “When testing becomes mandatory in November 2020, dispensaries will need a full panel of tests performed on their samples,” says Treacy. “With the entire market now required to complete a full panel in depth analysis on each product, product testing will become a more time-consuming stop in the supply chain. So companies will need to work that into their plan to meet regulation requirements to prevent a bottleneck and maintain patients’ access to their cannabis medicine.”

Arizona has a chance to prevent that type of bottleneck seen in states that implemented testing requirements, like California for example. “When you have a habitual history of not testing products, it can be very hard to change, which adds to Arizona’s challenges,” says Treacy. “We need to make sure this does not affect access for patients and the ability of the industry to continue to flourish and grow.”

While Treacy thinks the transition will be difficult for some, it’s absolutely necessary for Arizona’s patients to access clean and safe medicine. “There will have to be some serious planning, but other states have achieved this and we can too.”

BioTrackTHC Selected For Maine’s Traceability Contract

By Aaron G. Biros
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On May 15, BioTrackTHC was announced the conditional winner for Maine’s seed-to-sale tracking system government contract. The award is still pending final approval from the State Procurement Review Committee and the successful negotiation of the contract.

BioTrackTHC, a Helix TCS subsidiary, announced in a press release their conditional award earlier this month. The contract means that BioTrackTHC would partner with the state to provide software for tracking both medical and recreational cannabis products from the immature plant to the point of retail sales.

The contract could go for as long as six years, through 2025. If this contract receives final approval from the state internally, then this will become the ninth government contract for BioTrackTHC. Patrick Vo, CEO of BioTrackTHC, expects a quick deployment of the software once the contract is finalized. “We are excited to be working with the State of Maine and are grateful for their vote of confidence in our team’s ability to execute upon state-level tracking contracts and rapidly deploy a sound and secure technology solution,” says Vo.

Zachary L. Venegas, Executive Chairman and CEO of Helix TCS, Inc, says BioTrackTHC’s technology is leading the industry in shaping regulatory oversight for legal cannabis. “As states and countries begin to rollout or expand legal cannabis programs, our technology continues to lead as demonstrated by this Intent to Award and our multiple recent contract extensions with our partners,” says Venegas. “We look forward to playing a vital role in shaping the global cannabis industry and ensuring that it is able to operate efficiently and transparently.”

The Illinois Hemp Industry Is About To Explode

By Aaron G. Biros
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Within two days of announcing the opening of license applications for growing hemp, the Illinois Department of Agriculture received roughly 350 applications. According to the Lincoln Courier, that number has since grown to 575 applications in the past couple weeks. The Illinois Department of Agriculture has already issued 341 licenses for growing and 79 for processing, as of last Friday.

According to Jeff Cox, Chief of the Bureau of Medicinal Plants at the Illinois Department of Agriculture, a lot of this excitement comes from farmers wanting to branch out from the state’s traditional crops, such as corn and soybeans. “Corn and soybean prices have not been the best over the past few years, and so I think they see this as an opportunity to have a different source of income on their farm,” Cox told the Lincoln Courier.

Morgan Booth, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Agriculture told the Chicago Tribune that they were expecting this kind of enthusiasm among farmers. “We knew there was a lot of interest in it,” says Booth. “We were very pleasantly surprised.”

Back in late December of 2018, after the Farm Bill was signed into law, the Illinois Department of Agriculture was quick to jump on the hemp train. They announced their intentions to submit plans for a program to the federal Department of Agriculture, opened a 90-day public comment period, and finalized the rules in April. The state’s regulators hoped to expedite the process and have farmers growing hemp by June 1, which appears to be successful. Dozens of hemp farmers throughout the state are anticipating their first crops will be in the soil by the end of the month.

Illinois Governor Announces Plan to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis

By Aaron G. Biros
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Last weekend, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the introduction of a bill that would legalize adult-use cannabis, allowing medical dispensaries to begin sales for anyone over the age of 21. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the major focus for Governor Pritzker on legalizing cannabis is on things like social equity and criminal justice.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker

Rather than touting the tax dollars that could be raised, like other state governments are often eager to highlight, Governor Pritzker’s announcement was about racial equality and helping those disproportionately affected by the drug war. “We are taking a major step forward to legalize adult use cannabis and to celebrate the fact that Illinois is going to have the most equity-centric law in the nation,” Governor Pritzker told members of the media during a press conference. “For the many individuals and families whose lives have been changed, indeed hurt, because the nation’s war on drugs discriminated against people of color, this day belongs to you, too.”

The legislation includes a provision for automatically expunging about 80,000 convictions related to cannabis, allowing those with convictions to work in the newly-legal Illinois cannabis industry. It also includes a provision for license applicants to be designated as social equity applicants, where lawmakers are hoping to encourage minority-owned business growth. They plan on waiving fees as well as helping social equity applicants get better access to capital and business loans.

This is not the first time that Democrats in the Illinois state legislature have attempted to legalize adult-use cannabis. Back in 2017, state Representative Kelly Cassidy and state Senator Heather Steans, the two lawmakers sponsoring this bill, sponsored a legalization bill that failed to garner support. Back in late January of 2019, Governor Pritzker, Rep. Cassidy and Sen. Steans announced their plans for legalization. Introducing this bill to the legislature this week takes their plans and the state of Illinois one step closer to adult use legalization.

During the press conference, Sen. Steans mentioned they want to make sure revenue from the new market will benefit residents of Illinois. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the bill allows for 25% of tax revenue would go to helping those disproportionately affected by the drug war and 20% would go to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

That revenue, an estimated $170 million, will mainly come from licensing fees in 2020. Cannabis products with less than 35% THC content would be taxed at a fixed 10% rate, while products with more than 35% THC would be taxed at 20%. The bill would also allow people in Illinois to grow up to five plants at home.

Georgia Governor Signs Medical Cannabis Cultivation Bill Into Law

By Aaron G. Biros
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On Wednesday, April 17, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed HB 324 into law, closing a loophole that has been around for years, which prevented the cultivation of cannabis in-state. Before the signing of this bill, possession of medical cannabis was technically legal, but the cultivation of it was still illegal under state law, preventing legal patient access entirely.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp
Image: Georgia National Guard, Flickr

Back in 2015, Georgia’s legislature legalized medical cannabis with less than 5% THC, as well as CBD oil for a number of qualifying conditions. Since then, the state has added more qualifying conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD, bringing the total to sixteen types of illnesses that would qualify patients for medical cannabis.

Governor Kemp signing HB 324 into law sets in motion the process to establish a regulatory framework for six growing licenses in the state. According to WSB-TV Atlanta, the new law goes into effect on July 1, but it could take up to two years to establish legitimate cultivation operations in the state. The law gives a state commission the authority to investigate and establish the regulations further.

That state commission will give priority to pharmacies for distributing cannabis, but reserves the right to establish licenses for independent retail locations as well. According to ABCNews, “The commission can also attempt to legally obtain the oil from other states. Two universities will be allowed to seek federal approval to research and produce the oil.”

First Lab Authorized for Cannabis Testing in North Dakota

By Aaron G. Biros
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According to a press release published on April 3, Keystone State Testing (doing business as Dakota State Testing) became the first laboratory authorized to test cannabis in North Dakota. The lab also obtained their ISO 17025 accreditation for cannabis testing from the American Association of Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), which is another first achievement for cannabis testing in the state of North Dakota.

Dr. Kelly Greenland, chief science officer at Keystone State Testing, says the North Dakota Department of Health set a high standard for the cannabis lab testing industry in the state. “Keystone State Testing is once again proud to of this monumental achievement and critical milestone in the company’s history to have met the highest levels of standards set forth by both A2LA and the North Dakota Department of Health,” says Greenland. “Keystone chose A2LA as its Accreditation Body due to their reputation in the industry, their diverse clientele, and the quality of their assessors.  A2LA’s assessors have spent decades in their respective fields, which helps to ensure that Keystone is providing the best services possible to their clients, regulators and patients.”

Keystone State Testing’s ISO 17025 accreditation scope covers 11 testing methods at their facility in Fargo, North Dakota. Those methods include: Cannabinoid potency analysis, cannabinoid profile, moisture content, residual solvents, water activity, along with microbiological tests like total yeast and mold count, E. coli, Salmonella, total aerobic microbial count, among others.

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German Cultivation Bid Appears To Have Three Finalists

By Marguerite Arnold
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The Frankfurt-based newspaper Handelsblatt Zeitung is reporting that three Canadian firms (actually two Canadians and a German start-up cofounded by another Canadian company) have now been selected as the first cannabis cultivation bid finalists, however insiders on the ground say that this is not necessarily a final decision.

A Berlin-based subsidiary of Wayland in Germany called Demecan, along with Aphria and Aurora have all been named as bid finalists pending a normal review period.

However, there are other complications still looming. This is far from over.

The first issuance of the bid in 2017 went down in court over a technical fault on the part of the issuing agency. The current iteration was posted last summer and saw its application moved several times because of further legal challenges.

As Peter Homburg, partner and head of the European Cannabis Group at Dentons said when contacted by Cannabis Industry Journal, “This is of course not an official announcement. I have a tendency to believe that others involved in the tender process historically may well challenge this decision.”

BfArM, the federal German agency in charge of the cannabis cultivation tender process, did not respond to a request for a comment as of press time.

The Decision Is Far From Over

Here are the basic challenges still ahead:

There is a lawsuit pending against the bid itself from applicants that has yet to be decided. The Klage (formal hearing in court) is due next week. If that does not derail the process, here are the next considerations.

While all three firms named in the bid have international reputations, there are some pending questions.

Wayland is far ahead of the other two firms in terms of production capability in the country. Their facility in eastern Germany has just been certified GMP standard – which means they are qualified to produce the quality of flower required for medical consumption. This news is also far from a surprise.

As Ben Ward, CEO of Wayland Group, commented when contacted by CIJ for a response via email: “At Wayland, we believe in meaningful partnerships, investing in Germany from day one, demonstrating a long-term commitment to the market,” says Ward. “Wayland GmbH is a German company, operated by Germans, existing in Dresden and Munich and is committed to this market. The companies awarded lots received the allocation based on a rigorous application process, not media sensation.”

Of all the Canadian firms, in fact, despite its lack of high-flying stock price, Wayland has made the most concerted effort to show its commitment to producing in Germany by a large investment of capital and expertise. Further, the firm has shown itself to be the most culturally sensitive to German culture, including hiring a female member to the board (a hot topic far from the cannabis industry). However, there are other issues looming. On the same day that Wayland issued a press release announcing its position in the bid, it also issued one announcing the merger talks with ICC had failed.

The second is that Aphria’s main cultivation center in Canada is not EU-GMP certified although they have applied for the same and now also own one of Germany’s largest distributors (with approximately a 6% market share).

Other firms not only kicked off the entire cannabis discussion in Germany, but have established GMP-compliant facilities both in Canada and across Europe, namely Canopy Growth, which was widely believed to have also applied to the second tender. However prevailing rumours about a Canadian “crop failure” in British Columbia (described by the company as a deliberate destruction of plants created by delays in the licensing process) last fall may have also played a role in the German decision.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoAurora is also in interesting waters. Having distinguished itself as Canopy’s closest rival across Europe, winning significant kudos in Denmark, Italy, Poland and Luxembourg last year, the company is also clearly not “just” a medical cannabis company and apparently was refused an opportunity to go public on the Deutsche Börse last fall. The selection of the firm by BfArm for the bid in a situation where the company is on a watch list created by the stock market regulatory agency in Frankfurt is also an intriguing one. Especially given the company’s announcement of its Polish success on the same day as the decision to import was announced, and the fact that so far it is the only Canadian cannabis company to successfully import to Luxembourg.

And The Import Game Is Just Getting Hot…

The unsurprising news that the bid appears to be moving forward is actually not the hottest news in Europe right now. The reality on the ground is already shifting. Several weeks ago, a Frankfurt-based distribution start-up announced that they had successfully imported cannabis into the country from Macedonian-based Nysk Holdings via Poland.

At the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin last weekend, Australian producers (for one) were also reporting a German demand for their product that was greater than they could fill. And there were many Israelis present for what is expected to be an official opening of their import ability by the third quarter of this year.

Price Wars Are Looming

The bid itself is going to have a powerful impact on pricing in both the German and European market beyond that. It represents the first time in any country that a government has attempted to pre-negotiate prices for the drug as a narcotic beyond Israel and in this case, it will have at least regional implications.

aurora logoAt the same time, it is also clear that producers like Nysk and beyond them, Israeli and Australian firms (in particular) are actively finding ways to have their product enter the country- and further at prices that are catching the Canadians on the hop. Indeed Aurora is reporting that it actually lowered its “usual” prices to win European contracts which have been reported as being 3.2 euros a gram in Italy and 2.5 euros a gram in Luxembourg.

To put this in perspective, this is a range of about CA$3-5 a gram of flower which is also well below what Canopy (for one) has reported selling its product even to recreational users in Canada and significantly below medical export prices as reported by recent company corporate reports.

Wayland in contrast, is reporting that its production price in Germany will be at least a euro-per-gram cheaper than this. Or in other words, more in line with prices expected to be generated from both the bid itself and the cannabis now entering the country from other sources.

And of course, this is only the first of what is expected to be a series of new tenders. The original amount, itself increased in the two years the issue has been pending, is clearly not enough to even begin to meet demand as proved by the levels of competitively priced imports now entering the country.

Beyond questions about whether this time the tender will actually stand, are those now pending about new ones potentially in the offing – and not just in Germany but across Europe as cannabis continues to see a very green spring.

Health Canada Issues Voluntary Cannabis Recall Guide

By Marguerite Arnold
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Last month, Health Canada published a Voluntary Recall Guide to help producers not only stay in compliance but run their operations better. While it will certainly prove to be a critically useful guide for Canadian LPs who are now subject to domestic regulations, it is also a highly useful document for others. Namely, newly legalizing U.S. states and even European countries now looking for guidance on how to shape, structure and regulate their own burgeoning domestic cultivation markets either underway now or about to start.

What Is Of Particular Interest?

While it may sound like a no-brainer, the guide lays out, albeit in very broad strokes, the kinds of procedures all licensed producers should be implementing anyway to efficiently run a compliant business.

It could be considered, on one level, a critical start-up business guide for those still looking for guidance in Canada (as well as elsewhere). Domestically, the document is clearly a handy template, if not something to create checklists from, in setting up a vital and at this point, mandatory part of a compliant cultivation facility in Canada.

The guide also covers not only domestically distributed product but that bound for export.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the guide is also how low tech it is. For example, the guide suggests that a license holder responsible for recall notices, plan on quick response methods that include everything from a self-addressed postcard to an email acknowledgement link.

That said, recalls must be reported to the government exclusively via an email address (no mail drop is listed). And suggestions about media outlets to which to submit recall notices are noticeably digitally heavy. Websites and social media platforms are suggested as the first two options of posting a recall. Posters at retailers is listed dead last.

What is also notable, not to mention commendable, is the inclusion of how to include supply chain partners in recall notices, as well as the mandate to do it in the first place.

Also Of Note

Also excellent is the attempt to begin to set a checklist and process about evaluating both the process of the recall itself and further identification of future best practices.Health Canada also expects companies to show proof of follow up efforts to reach non-responders all along the supply chain.

For example, the report suggests that LPs obtain not only feedback from both their supply chain and consumers involved, but elicit information on how such entities and individuals received the information in the first place. Further, the volume of responses (especially from end consumers) or lack thereof should be examined specifically to understand how effective the outreach effort actually was in reaching its target audience.

This is especially important because Health Canada also expects companies to show proof of follow up efforts to reach non-responders all along the supply chain.

Regulatory Reporting Guidelines

One of the reasons that this guide is so useful is that Health Canada also expects to receive full written reports touching upon all of the issues it lays out within 30 days of the recall announcement itself.

In turn, this is also a clear attempt to begin to start to document quality controls and attempts to correct the same quickly in an industry still plagued by product quality issues, particularly at home, but with an eye to overseas markets.

As such, it will also prove invaluable to other entities, far beyond Canadian LPs involved in the process this document lays out. Namely, it is a good comprehensive, but easy to follow and generally applicable guide for new states (in the case of the US) if not national governments in Europe and beyond who are now starting to look at regulating their own burgeoning industries from the ground up.