Tag Archives: Berlin

Great Brand Design Can Grow Your Business

By Moira Stein
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As the cannabis industry grows and the category becomes increasingly crowded, package design is more important than ever. Impactful and meaningful branding is key to getting noticed, differentiating from the competition, connecting with consumers and ultimately making the sale. Today’s cannabis labels are more varied than ever before. They can be fun or luxurious, contemporary or retro, colorful or simplistic. Many brands are moving beyond traditional cannabis leaves to more unique, modern, and unexpected interpretations of cannabis plants. Others are forgoing leaf imagery altogether in favor of more evocative graphics, minimal design or mainstream motifs.

While there is no one-size-fits-all design for cannabis packaging, there are many regulatory requirements and branding best practices to consider. We’ve outlined some critical things to keep in mind before starting your cannabis package design.

Know Your Target Audience

Understanding who your target audience is essential for the appropriate design

There are a variety of cannabis users, each with unique needs, interests and attitudes. Understanding who you’re targeting is essential in determining the appropriate brand design strategy. Graphics for millennials will look different than those for baby boomers. But demographics aren’t the only thing to consider when identifying your target consumer. Euromonitor International has identified several lifestyle and personality-driven consumers segments:

  • Seasoned Consumer – consistent, daily consumer who defies stereotypes and often consider themselves connoisseurs.
  • Casual Social – regular but not daily consumer who uses cannabis as part of their broader lifestyle.
  • Dabbler – occasional user who is familiar and comfortable with cannabis but unlikely to use it regularly.
  • Cannacurious – consumer who is interested in cannabis and demonstrates an openness to using it.

Understanding the motivations of various consumer groups and looking beyond stereotypes or traditional age- and gender-driven demographics can help reach consumers in a more targeted, authentic, and compelling way.

Have a Unique Brand Personality

Concept shots by the Studio One Eleven design division

Design often provides the first impression for a brand, especially in the cannabis category. The first step in developing a winning package design is to determine the best design strategy to differentiate from the competition, communicate your brand story and connect with consumers. Start by thinking about what personality fits your brand, what kind of experience you want to create and what emotions you want to evoke. Do you want to feel healthy and medicinal?  Earthy and natural? Sophisticated? Whimsical? Each personality inspires different design solutions. The designers at Studio One Eleven, the Design & Innovation Division of Berlin Packaging, begin each branding project by developing design platform boards that showcase different ways to communicate the brand personality through design, including color, typography, imagery, and more. These platform boards are a great tool to gain alignment on the most effective and appropriate design strategy before digging into tactical design approaches. They can also help guide brand design across other touchpoints, including digital, social media, and advertising.

Understand Regulatory Requirements

Packaging in the cannabis and CBD industries is heavily regulated. In addition to attracting consumers, your package must comply with local, state and federal regulations. Some states mandate that cannabis packaging can’t appeal to children – so no cartoon images or graphics that resemble familiar candy brands. The FDA prohibits cannabis products from making health-related claims, so it is essential to carefully assess the language used on packaging. Vital information such as ingredients, warnings, health risks, impairment of abilities, proper dosage, batch number and more must be included on cannabis labels.

Label material, thickness and texture are tactile elements that can improve the design experience

These are just a few of the package design requirements to consider. Regulations can vary from state to state, so finding a packaging partner who understands the complex and constantly change rules is critical. Berlin Packaging has been a trusted resource for cannabis packaging since 2014. We are uniquely positioned to help cannabis and CBD companies of all sizes in the fast-paced, ever-changing cannabis industry.

Consider All Aspects of Your Package

Beyond graphics, tactile elements can be important to the overall brand design experience. Label material, thickness and texture, embossing and foil stamping, and die-cuts can create a premium impression and add visual interest. Structural design can also help differentiate from the competition and create an elevated user experience. How a package opens and closes, dispenses and doses, and protects and preserves the product inside are all essential considerations. Berlin Packaging has a vast network of manufacturers with hundreds of stock bottles, tins, jars, tubes and closures in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials to choose from, as well as custom solutions available through Studio One Eleven.

Understanding your target consumer, identifying and communicating a unique brand personality, complying with all regulatory requirements,and taking a holistic approach will lead to impactful packaging that wins with consumers and grows your business.

There’s More to Sustainable Packaging than Meets the Eye

By Balaji Jayaseelan
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People today are more eco-conscious than ever. The last several years have seen a growing awareness of the impact of human behavior on the environment, and COVID-19 brought real-life context to the catastrophic effects of a global crisis. Lifestyle changes during the pandemic empowered people to make choices with a positive impact for the collective good. In a June 2021 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey , half of global consumers said they’ve become more eco-friendly since the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are changing their behaviors, educating themselves about the businesses they support, and evaluating the products they buy through a “green” lens. Terms like circular economy, zero-waste, ESG and carbon footprint are now part of the common vernacular, and sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have but a business imperative.

Cannabis consumers, in particular, value sustainability. They are conscientious of what they’re putting into their bodies and the planet. There is increased interest in brands and businesses that use responsible growing practices, eco-efficient manufacturing, and sustainable packaging. In a nationwide survey conducted by Canivate Growing Systems, 79% of U.S. cannabis consumers said they support establishing environmental standards. And in 2021, the Sustainable Cannabis Coalition (SCC) was formed to promote sustainability best practices.

Sustainable packaging is an important way that brands can show a commitment to the environment. Packaging is a highly visible and tangible representation of your brand and one that matters to consumers. A July 2021 Adweek/Morning Consult poll found that 77% of consumers believe it is the brand owners’ responsibility to make sure their packaging is recyclable. According to Nielsen, of the top five sustainability attributes consumers are willing to pay more for, three are packaging-focused: Recycled packaging, reduced packaging and reusable packaging. While cannabis packaging has unique regulatory requirements and safety guidelines, it can still be eco-friendly. Sustainable cannabis packaging has the necessary properties to protect against moisture and maintain freshness and smell. It can also be child-resistant and include other unique cannabis functionalities.

Image: Nielsen, 2019

When it comes to sustainable cannabis packaging, that which you may believe to be the “greenest” option may not be sustainable at all. Many factors go into this determination, including packaging material, weight, distance traveled from supplier to manufacturer, water and energy usage and more. At Berlin Packaging , we take a comprehensive and integrated approach to sustainability to ensure our solutions meet customer objectives and consumer expectations. We use life-cycle analysis to quantify a product’s environmental impact throughout its entire life cycle, including sourcing/raw materials extraction, manufacturing, distribution and end-of-life. This analysis ensures that the solutions we provide are effective, impactful, and don’t contribute to greenwashing.

One key pillar of sustainable cannabis packaging is material circulation – using recycled and recyclable plastics and alternative materials. It’s important to understand that not all plastics are created equal. HDPE and PET are fully recyclable and have a ~30% recyclability rate. Polypropylene, on the other hand, while recyclable, only has roughly a 3% recyclability rate. Color can also play a role. PET is valued for its transparency, so colored and opaque plastics are not considered recyclable.

Continuous innovation and technological improvements have contributed to several eco-friendlier plastic packaging solutions. One popular choice for many of today’s brands is post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials. Using recycled plastic reduces single-use plastic waste that fills our landfills and threatens our waterways. Bio-plastics, made using renewable plant-based materials, are another sustainable option. Berlin Packaging has partnered with numerous premium packaging manufacturers to provide sustainable solutions for our customers. Many of our offerings – suitable for flower, pre-rolls, edibles, concentrates and more – can be produced using PCR or bio-plastics.

Material circulation means using recycled and recyclable plastics and alternative materials.

We’re also seeing brands embrace new compostable, biodegradable and paper packaging options. Berlin Packaging offers pre-roll tubes that are 100% compostable in industrial or municipal facilities and are better for the environment while also protecting the product inside. With zero migration, zero odor, and zero visibility, these air-tight tubes maintain freshness and meet regulatory requirements. We also offer a variety of paper tubes for pre-rolls, vape carts, and flower that are reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable.

Other sustainable packaging strategies include refill & reuse systems, which have gained popularity over the past several years, especially among personal care categories. Other tactics to consider when evaluating your package’s sustainability scorecard are eliminating unneeded packaging components like outer wraps and neck seals, ensuring labels are recyclable, and lightweighting (reducing the weight of your package). Berlin Packaging evaluates all of these avenues when developing sustainable packaging solutions.

Beyond the packaging itself, we encourage our customers to consider aligning their branding design and on-pack messaging to tell their sustainability story. We’re seeing many brands elevate their packaging sustainability benefits on their packaging’s primary display panel. The How2Recycle labeling program is another tool that helps educate consumers about how to dispose of packaging to ensure it gets recycled properly. Berlin Packaging’s sustainability specialists assist companies with comprehensive messaging strategies. Given the rise of greenwashing and consumer confusion and skepticism, effective and impactful messaging is a critical part of a sustainable packaging strategy.

Working with packaging suppliers and design partners who understand the cannabis market and have sustainability expertise is key to a brand’s success. A holistic approach that considers consumer insights, design functionality, aesthetics, manufacturability, regulatory requirements and sustainability results in packaging solutions that grow sales and build brand loyalty.

New Book On Cannabis Describes A Global Market In Transition

By Marguerite Arnold
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Editor’s Note: This piece is an excerpt from Marguerite Arnold’s Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu. Click here to buy the book.


THC as of February of 2019, certainly in the recreational sense, was not much seen in either Switzerland or much of Europe. Even in Holland, the coffee shops were getting more regulated along with the supply chain for them. In Spain, the cannabis clubs thrived in a grey area. But outside of these two very narrow exceptions, the biggest, most valuable part of the cannabis market (medical and THC) was just as fraught with similar kinds of issues. And those were occurring not in Spain, Holland or even Switzerland, but just across the border, in Germany.

In fact, the real news on the industry side in Europe, as it had been for the past few years, was not the consumer CBD market, however intriguing and potentially valuable it was in the foreseeable future, but the medical, and “other” cannabinoid universe that included THC. And the real triggering event for the beginning of the European march towards reform was certainly influenced by what happened both in the United States and Canada as much as Israel. Where it landed first and most definitively was not Holland, circa 2014, or even Switzerland or Spain soon thereafter, but rather Deutschland.

Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu

The Canadian market without a doubt, also created an impetus for European reform to begin to roll right as German legislators changed the laws about medical cannabis in 2017. But even this was a cannabis industry looking to foreign markets that they presumably knew were developing (if not had a direct hand in doing so, including in Berlin, come tender-writing time).

Divorced from inside knowledge about moving international affairs, why did Germany – certainly as opposed to its certainly more “liberal” DACH trading partner Switzerland- suddenly turn up in the summer of 2016 as the “next” hot thing for Canadian cannabis companies?

The answer is in part political, certainly economic, and absolutely strategic.

Germany is in the EU, unlike Switzerland, and is a G7 country.6  It also was, by 2016, certainly much closer to legalizing federally authorized and insurer-reimbursed medical use cannabis. This was because sick patients had by this time successfully sued the government for access (including home grow). And the government, citing concerns about the black market and unregulated cannabis production (see Canada) wanted another option.

Not to mention was a market, certainly in 2016, helped with a little CETA inspired “juice.”

The international trade treaty between Canada and the EU (if not the other big treaty, the pharmaceutically focused Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) with the U.S.) has been in the back of the room throughout the entire cannabis discussion during the expansion of the Canadian industry across Europe.  It is still unclear at this writing if the juxtaposition of CETA and the start of the Canadian cannabis trade had anything to do with lengthening the process of the German cultivation bid – but given how political the plant had also become, this was at this point more than a reasonable assumption to make.

As a result so far at least, since the beginning of the real German cannabis market in 2016 (namely the beginning of an import market from not just Holland but Canada) and Europe beyond that, Canadian companies have played an outsize role (starting with bankrolling operations in the first place). The growth of the Canadian market as well as developments within it absolutely spawned if not sparked the change if not beginning of the changeover within Europe by starting, of all places, with Germany.

Marguerite Arnold, CIJ contributor and author of Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu

But again, why Germany? And why the coalescence of the industry as well as other Euro hot spots outside its borders since then?

There are several explanations for this.

One is absolutely timing and strategic positioning.

Germany had, since 2015, begun the slow process of dealing with the medical cannabis issue on a federal basis, informed if not greatly influenced not only by what was happening in events abroad in Canada and the U.S. but also Israel. At home, there was also pressure to begin to address the issue. Albeit highly uncomfortably and at least in the eyes of the majority of centrist legislators, as far at a distance as possible.

Namely, patient lawsuits against insurers began to turn in favor of patients. Technically, between the turn of the century and 2016, patients could buy cannabis in pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription in Germany. But it was hugely expensive and beyond that a cumbersome process. Only 800 patients in fact, by 2017 had both managed to find doctors willing to prescribe the drug and could afford the €1,500  (about $1,700) a month to pay for it.

Everyone else, despite nobody’s willingness to admit it, found their supplies in the grey (non-profit patient collective) or black (street and largely criminally connected) market.

Günther Weiglein, a patient from Wurzburg, a small town in Bavaria, changed all of that.

In 2015, he won his court case against his insurer, claiming that even though he qualified as a patient, he could not afford the cannabis for sale in pharmacies. With that, he and a few patients temporarily won the right to grow their own (with permission).

Weiglein is the epitome of the German “everyman.” Blond, stocky and in his fifties, he has suffered chronic pain since a devastating motorcycle crash more than two decades ago. He has also taken to the cannabis cause with a dedication and singularity of purpose that sets him apart even from most other patient activists (in Germany or elsewhere). He is fiercely independent. And not afraid of expressing his desire for a “freedom” that has not yet come.

However, in 2015, there seemed to be several intriguing possibilities.

Indeed, at the time, it seemed possible, in fact, that Germany seemed poised to tilt in the direction of Canada – namely that patient home grow would be enshrined as a kind of constitutional right.

However, it did not turn out that way. Desperate to stem the pan European black market, which is far more directly connected to terrorism of the religious extremist and Mafia kind in these waters and to avoid a situation where Berlin became the next Amsterdam, the German parliament decided on a strange compromise.

On one level, it seems so predictably orderly and German. If cannabis is a medicine, then Germans should be able to access the same through national health insurance.

In fact, however, the process has been one that is tortured and has been ever since, not to mention compounded the difficulties of just about everyone connected to the market. From patients to producers.

“In practice it has so far not evolved quite so smoothly.”Here is why. The government decided that, as of passage of a new law which took effect in March 2017, the German government would regulate the industry via BfArM, the German equivalent of the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and issue formal federal cultivation licenses.

This makes sense from a regulatory perspective too. Cannabis can be used as a medical drug. Even if its definition as a “narcotic” – even on the medical side – leaves a lot to be desired.

This is especially true on the CBD part of the equation. It is even more particularly relevant for those who use THC regularly for not only chronic pain, but as an anti-convulsive or anti-inflammatory agent.

However unlike Canada, the German federal government also chose to revoke patient grow rights while mandating that insurers cover the cost of the drug if prescribed by a doctor. In practice also spawning a specialty distributor market that is still forming.

All very nice in theory. In this abstract world, these rules make sense for a pharmacized plant if not drug beyond that. This is the route all other medicines in Germany take to get into the market if not prescribed in the first place.

In practice it has so far not evolved quite so smoothly. Indeed, while understandable for many reasons from stemming the black market to setting standards, this rapid switch from patient or collective grown cannabis to requiring patients to interact with both a doctor and a pharmacy (beyond the insurer) with no other alternative also creates its own serious problems. For everyone along the supply chain. But most seriously and problematically for both patients and doctors.


Support Marguerite Arnold’s work by buying your copy of Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu from us! 

Soapbox

Being an American Cannabis Entrepreneur in Europe

By Michael Sassano
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I have heard everything from “No one in their right mind would spend the energy in Europe when the U.S. has the most developed infrastructure in the world and $13 billion in sales” to “Is it even legal there?”. And yes, when you come from the West Coast cannabis world, it’s hard to imagine anywhere else but the West Coast of the U.S.A. 

Europe has taken an infrastructural leap forward by starting off the pharmaceutical, medical and GMP supplements path. As an American-European from the West Coast cannabis world, remembering how the U.S. started/progressed, remaining patient and stretching the grey matter crossing the thresholds of pharmaceutical manufacturing, is serious.

Costs to Do Business

Which country you choose to begin operations in decides if cannabis is more or less expensive cap-x and opp-x to the U.S. And don’t forget the Euro conversion. Clearly, working near main cities like Berlin and Geneva will be expensive both for land and competition for talented staff. I chose Portugal, which greatly reminds me in terms of geography to a mini-California on the coast of Europe. Portugal also boasts the most progressive cannabis rules and is home to large cannabis producers like Tilray and Clever Leaves paving the way in the EU market. Greece is also one of our top locations, due to being cannabis friendly and another coastal country with great talent and reasonable costs to live and operate. 

Excitement

The coast of Portugal

All of Europe is buzzing with cannabis. Somai Pharmaceuticals tracks over 387 star-ups in cannabis around Europe, South America, Australia and Asia. The excitement when Colorado first announced cannabis legalization in 2014 is the same feeling in Europe now. Most groups are collaborative yet guarded at the same time with the uncertainty of how EU cannabis plays out. Patient demand exists, and similar government wills are at play, but all in the direct backyard of big pharma. 

Right now you see huge companies that will always exist and small companies that will always be a part of competition. It’s likely that Europe will shake out to be 30% large to medium company mix and 70% medium to small companies. So, the feeling of room for everyone exists there. This is not surprising considering the legal market in the world is $17B in sales while the illegal market is estimated at ten times that market. And new demographics from around the world are opening up to cannabis for pain relief, sleep and other ailments for new age groups. 

Brand New Infrastructure

european union states
Member states of the European Union

Conforming to standard guidelines like pharmaceutical manufacturing, GMP supplement manufacturing and GACP farming is just plain normal. U.S. state-by-state expansions really missed the boat on this, and state rules without federal guidelines aren’t good for businesses left guessing or consumers. Eventually, with federal legalization, some infrastructure rebuilding will be needed to conform to standard procedures. I am unsure if the systems are even capable of handling tens of thousands of operating facilities with or without regulation, but starting off at the highest level of pharmaceutical grade is a good way to build consumer and regulator confidence. Learning pharmaceutical and supplement GMP manufacturing is a precise and studied endeavor coming from the U.S. cannabis market. The US hemp industry is embracing this on a supplement level. I now curl up to online courses and formulation books.

In time, all of Europe’s 741 million population will have access to cannabis related products. With standardized processes, new infrastructures and good-old fashioned entrepreneur energy Europe will be a massive market. Sure, the early adopters will need to struggle through regulations and rule creation, but the lifestyle in Southern Europe is the envy of West Coast USA, where laid-back lifestyle and organic food is the minimum standard. 

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A Snapshot of The German Cannabis Market: Year 3

By Marguerite Arnold
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german flag

Despite the limitations and privations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Germany’s market is “up” in terms of sales and overall insurance approvals. For all the victories however, there are still many kinks along the way. That is of course, not just on the medical front (where flower is yet again in short supply this summer), but also in the CBD space.

There is also clearly a drumbeat for more reform afoot in a country which has bested the COVID-19 pandemic like few others in the world. And like France as well as other countries in Europe, the conversation across the region has turned to including cannabis in recovery efforts, and in multiple ways. That includes not only relying on a new crop and industry for economic revitalization, but also of course, on the topic of further reform.

A Brief Overview Of The “Modern” German Cannabis Market
Germany kicked off the entire cannabis discussion in a big way in Europe in the first quarter of 2017. The government got sued by patients and changed the law mandating that public insurers had to reimburse the drug. They also kicked off a cultivation tender bid which promptly became mired in several rounds of lawsuits and squabbles. The first German grown cannabis will hit pharmacies this fall, but it is not clear when, and the unofficial rumour is that the pandemic will delay distribution. The German distribution tender has been delayed three times so far this year.

In the meantime, the German market has developed into the world’s most lucrative target for global exporters, particularly (but not limited) to GMP and other certifiable high-grade cannabis (and in all its forms).

The German Parliament Building

Other Issues, Problems and Wrinkles

Nothing about cannabis legalization is ever going to be easy, and Germany has been no exception.

The first problem on the ground is that the supply chain here has had several major hits, from the beginning. This is even though the supply has come from ostensibly otherwise reliable sources. Companies in Canada and in Holland have all had different kinds of problems with delivery (for different reasons) throughout this period.

Right now, there is a major reorganization afoot in Holland which may also be affecting the recent decision on the Dutch side to reorganize how the government picks (private) German narcotics distributors. Aurora also had product pulled last fall because of labelling and processing issues. But these, no matter how momentous momentarily, are also just waves in a cannabis ocean that is still choppy. Domestic sales continue to expand and foreign producers can still find a foothold in a still fairly open market.

As a result, even with a new dronabinol competitor, Israel, Australia and South Africa as well as multiple European countries now in advanced export schemes, the supply problem is still a thorny one, but not quite as thorny as it used to be.

However, On The CBD Front…

Things have gotten even more complicated since the repeated decisions on Novel Food at the EU level. Namely, last year’s decision that the only CBD extract that is not “Novel” is extracted from seeds, has thrown the entire industry into a major fluff. Especially when such decisions begin to filter down via a federal and regional approach. This has begun to happen. Indeed, the city of Cologne, in Germany’s most populous state just banned all CBD that is not labelled per an EU (although admittedly) non-binding resolution on the issue.

This in turn is leading to a renewed push for the obvious: recreational cannabis.

Where Is the Recreational Discussion Auf Deutschland?
The recreational movement, generally, has been handed several black eyes for the last three years. Namely, that greater reform was not preserved in the first cannabis legalization that passed, albeit unanimously, in the German Parliament in 2017. However, as many recognized, the first, most important hurdle had just been broached. And indeed, that cautious strategy has created a steadily increasing, high quality (at least for the most part) medical market that is unmatched anywhere in the world except perhaps Israel.

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

Now, however, there are other issues in the room. The CBD discussion is mired in endless hypocrisy and meddling at both the state country level and the EU. There are many Germans who are keen to try cannabis beyond any idea of cannabis as therapy. Remember that Germany has largely managed to contain the outbreak, despite the emergence of several recent but isolated hotspots of late. In Frankfurt, for example, with the exception of more people on kurzarbeit (which is not visible), most street traffic proceeds apace these days with masks on, but with that exception or two, feels pretty much back to “normal.” And of course, economic development in the form of exports is one of Germany’s favorite pastimes.

Beyond that, the needle has absolutely moved across Europe. Several countries, including Greece and Portugal as well as the UK’s Channel Islands, have already jumped on the cannabis economic development bandwagon, and this is only going to encourage the Germans as well as other similar conversations across the region. It has even showed up in France.

And of course, it is not like the implications of Luxembourg and Switzerland as well as recent efforts in Holland to better regulate the recreational industry there, have not been blatantly obvious to those in Europe’s largest medical market.

Look for new shoots and leaves, in other words of the next stage of cannabis reform to take hold auf Deutschland. And soon. It is inevitable.

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German Medical Cannabis Imports Doubled in 2019. So What?

By Marguerite Arnold
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german flag

Germany, for all of the other developments going on right now (globally) is still chugging forward, in integrating medical cannabis. It is slow going – but certainly going.

In terms of overall numbers, there is certainly an interesting story to tell. The import of medical cannabis grade flowers also more than doubled last year over 2018.

Hooray.

But does the “average” German patient have easier access even with more product in the market?

Answer: There are certainly more Germans with more cannabis prescriptions. See the increase in imports and the numbers from the statutory health insurers.

But even though these are clearly positive signs, it has not necessarily gotten much easier so far. That said, it is about to get quite a bit cheaper.

The Mainstreaming of the German and EU Cannabis Market

National pride aside, the German government is in fact the entity which got this whole ball of wax rolling here, and it is they who still determine the pace of regulated change. The cultivation of medical cannabis is now fully underway in the country, with Demecan still in the most interesting position. Aurora has just gotten another certification and is back on the ground in pharmacies.

But many issues remain.

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

On the ground, pharmacists cannot get enough product on a reliable basis. Patients are still caught in the never-ending merry-go-round of chasing down willing doctors, battling insurance companies for reimbursement and trying to have a good relationship with their local pharmacist. If, of course, they can afford both the drug itself, along with its outlying costs and frustrations to access, and their health insurance company plays ball.

Even then, chances are, the most seriously ill patients are still relying on “other” sources. A reference wholesale price (of €2.30 a gram set by the German government last year) is likely to stabilize the market if not pricing. For everyone – not just those on public healthcare.

The plant is becoming commoditized, even if slower than most people in the industry long to see.

On top of that, while certification is currently gaining steam in the industry, especially in Europe, there are many problems and issues remaining – on everything from processing of the flower to registration of products made from it. And in both the medical and recreational market.

Overall, in other words, markers are all good. But the process is going to be (very) slow if steady for the next several years.

Don’t Expect Continual Explosive Growth

Dronabinol is still at least a third of the public healthcare market. The majority of patients who receive the drug still fit the same overall treatment profile (chronic pain). And doctors are still highly reluctant to consider it as a more standard practice.

But the most important conversation, by far, is still basic legalization and regulation beyond that. That too will change. Not to mention the recreational discussion now absolutely on the table. Four years of a medical market only continue to open doors, not close them. And elsewhere, across the continent, reform is generating new producers from not only southern Europe but just about everywhere else on the globe where cannabis is becoming legit.

For the next year, however, as all of these issues continue to be debated, and at both a national and increasingly local level, don’t expect “explosive” anything.

Those who have established themselves are dug in. It is going to be trench warfare from now on out, barring a major surprise, for the next few years.

What Is Likely To Change The Equation?

CBD battles are absolutely strategic manoeuvres through the intricacies of this regulatory shift (legalization of the plant). This alone, particularly for the next few years, is likely to also move the conversation forward – and not just on the medical front.

It is also patently obvious that governments (starting with Italy) are beginning to again consider the topic of limited home grow and recreational reform.

But the most important conversation, by far, is still basic legalization and regulation beyond that. And until that happens, nothing will be “normal” about a market that is clearly being allowed to grow, in a market which is being carefully tended and managed.

“Explosive” in other words, is far from the agenda of anyone in authority who is making the decisions. And that includes regulated market growth and numbers for the next 48 months at least.

Doctors & Researchers Push Medical Efficacy Forward at 10th IACM

By Marguerite Arnold
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It is easy to forget as one steps inside this world-class medical conference (held this year in Berlin), that cannabis is disputed as medicine anywhere in the world.

Inside a packed conference hall in an upscale hotel in East Berlin, international researchers presented evidence that when taken as a drug, this simple plant can make a world of difference to patients suffering from a range of illnesses.

There were also doctors who talked about prescribing this as medicine (even to children), with dramatic and affirming results (if not heart-warming pictures).

In sum, as always, the IACM is the best place to find facts if not evidence galore to convince even the most hard-boiled egghead that this drug works – and across a broad range of so far “other” drug-resistant medical conditions.

As a participant in the IACM said after the opening remarks on the very first morning, it is so easy to ask the question – “Why are doctors still so afraid of if not resistant to this drug?”

Medical efficacy is no longer an unanswered question…

For those seeking affirmation and evidence, this year’s IACM did not disappoint. There were presentations on the drug’s impact on neurological, oncological and inflammatory conditions that while not all new, are increasingly impactful in an aging planet.

A full house of attendees for the patients panel

But that is not all that was discussed. The broader implications of adding cannabis into skincare, diets and medicine chests were also presented – from cannabis’ impact on lowering obesity and positively affecting acne to impacting the opioid epidemic.

Also intriguing this year was a far-reaching study on how polluted the CBD supply chain is in Europe, even for non-medical and nutraceutical products. Not to mention a socio-political plea for legalization of personal use in South Africa.

And that was just the presentations from the stage and in the poster hall.

The conversations swirling around were just as interesting. Because of course, nobody at this three-day gathering, for all the normalization on display, did forget that this gathering of doctors, scientists, cannabis companies and patients is still an anomaly.

The fact is that there are still too few doctors prescribing. And too few trials. And too many fights over efficacy still in the room.

As Alice O’Leary Randall (wife and former partner in activism with her late husband, Professor Randall who initiated the medical efficacy fight in the U.S. in 1975 over glaucoma) said to Cannabis Industry Journal, “It is hard to believe that we are still fighting the same fights all over again.”

Another “AIDS” Crisis?

There is a more dramatic sense of urgency at the IACM than other conferences that focus just on the “business.” In part, this is because the conference is made up of not only doctors and researchers who fight to prescribe the drug or get trials funded, but also patients on the front lines in a country where the drug is supposed to be covered by health insurance.

Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen (seen on the table) and others during a panel discussion

The patient panel, as a result, was an international face of accusation: To national authorities who still refuse to mandate cannabinoid care – across Europe and beyond. To medical establishments who are not demanding cannabinoid treatment be made mandatory in hospitals and emergency rooms in every country in the EU and beyond. To individual doctors who refuse to come to such conferences, where, if they wanted to, could learn how to begin prescribing the “next penicillin.” To payers and insurers who are still too slow to pick up the message if not the tab.

Indeed, one of the best panels of the conference was a gaggle of doctors, led by Grotenhermen, who discussed the particulars of approaching a new drug – for the very first patient and first time.

Act Up, Speak Out, Silence Equals Death

As the conference wrapped up with its awards dinner, there was of course, a sense of needing to go home with not wanting this to end. For those in the thick of this multi-generational fight, there of course were words of encouragement to colleagues from the industry, internationally. But there was also a new sense of needing to up the pace, if not create faster change.

The battles are far from over – in fact, they are just beginning in many places. As one questioner said of a panel about halfway through the conference – “We need to pick up the fight the same way the AIDS community did on this drug.”

That remark perhaps means less today than it did 20 to 30 years ago when an embattled LGBTQ subculture was the organized point of the spear that fought the early state legalization battles as pioneers for a cause that sought equality as much as it sought a cure.

The plea did not fall on deaf ears.

In the midst of studies, statistics and scientific evidence, in other words, there was a new sense of a need for a renewed fight – and from the medical and scientific community as well as patients.

Bremen Steps Up Its Cannabis Campaign As Other Groups Lobby For More Access

By Marguerite Arnold
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The German city of Bremen (perhaps you know it from the Brothers Grimm and the animal musicians) is determined to force the federal German government to play another tune when it comes to basic access within the city.

For those without the special geographic knowledge that comes with being a “local” this is also a deliberately strategic political move. Bremen, like Berlin, is a strange German hybrid, a city-state.

Change here, of course, like Berlin, would have wide impact on other German states.

It is not a new campaign of course. None of these city campaigns for home-grow really are. They are the result of efforts, at this point with elected officials involved, of literally decades of patient activists, who are still necessary. But this time, they have politicians involved. When the national ones don’t listen, the local ones are being dragged in.

That said, don’t expect any breakthroughs or miracles from Bremen or Berlin either right now for that matter. This experiment, in Bremen just like the country’s capital, is still at least several years off, no matter its regular recycling in news stories for the last several years.

The German city of Bremen
Image: Chaim Dönnewald, Flickr

Politically right now it is hard to understand the CDU’s continued reluctance to embrace the weed. The CDU is Germany’s strongest and largest “middle of the road” party. Particularly because they along with everyone else of alternative political persuasions are highly alarmed by the right wing AfD’s popularity and spread. It is not inconceivable that even Germany’s largest if not highly beleaguered party might use a little cannabis to stop that. And they are being pushed, hard now, by the fringes.

The Outpricing Of The Patient Movement

Talk to any cannabis-connected company right now and chances are you will hear the phrase “patient first.”

That means nothing in an environment where most patient groups are kept out of the room when legislation opening markets is being written (certainly in Europe). And of course, it is precisely the individuals that these groups represent who cannot afford the legal medication hitting the markets early.

Here, because of the focus on high-quality, GMP-certified product, the chances of a patient collective actually being able to afford a cultivation license (for example) are so far non-existent.

As a result, there is an active foment on the ground right now in almost every country in Europe. This is meeting other kinds of frustration right now and that can be a powerful weapon for change. However, without funded lobbyists in most European capitals and Brussels, there is more power and money behind the established industry right now to keep the (almost) status quo.

As strange as they seem to the cannabis industry right now, GMP certification is a standard pharmaceutical designation.

The boogeymen in the room right now, in other words, for every strong patient group, with its own grey market distribution channels, are the well-funded companies who are in fact getting the laws to change.

Patients, in these environs, as well as their concerns, are left out entirely.

The Strength of The European Gray Market

For this very reason, the gray market problem is going to be large in Europe for quite some time to come. Patients are effectively priced out of the legitimate market if they cannot get insurer approvals and for most that is still the biggest problem in the room.

Are there large gray market grows all over Europe? Yes. As one German activist told Cannabis Industry Journal recently, echoing the comments and practices of thousands of others, “Yes, they made me jump through the hoops, and I have packaging from all the big guys. That’s how I carry my home grow these days.”

Forget “patient cards” that some enterprising distributors are trying to get patients to carry.

The cops don’t challenge legit packaging. And every producer, distributor and patient knows that. Buy once, no matter how exorbitant, and that is all she wrote.

For that reason, “patient numbers” if not “sales” actually mean very little.

It does not matter, in other words, if a cannabis company announces its market entry in any country right now. What matters is that they can prove consistent supply and sales and real patient numbers – which if GDPR (European privacy legislation) is strictly followed, producers and distributors should never really know at a level that such sales are trackable per patient.

And that is where this all gets difficult down in the weeds.

Are there large gray market grows all over Europe? Yes. Are they all under the purview of the criminal black market? No. There are very organized patient non-profit networks locally in just about every city and town in Europe. If not other places.

And, where those fail, certainly in Germany, there is always the area around every local train station. If you are hard up enough and desperate enough, skunk and hash albeit of an indeterminate source, will cost you about $12 per gram.

There is no cannabis company in the room anywhere in Europe that can provide legit product via any pharmacy, for that price at point of sale. Yet. And therein, as always, lies the rub.

Cannabis Featured At Germany’s ExpoPharm For The First Time

By Marguerite Arnold
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Expopharm is a big deal in Germany and Europe beyond that. It is the largest expo for pharmacists on the continent.

This year, there were two firsts in a convention already looking to the future with digitalization – itself a huge issue in not only the European medical space, but Germany in particular. There is a national obsession with privacy auf Deutschland that does not exist anywhere else.

Beyond digitalization, however, medical cannabis was also a major theme this year. Many of the largest producers and distributors showed up in force. So did the smaller, newer ones. There are now 19 licensed importers in the country – and quite a few of them showed up in Dusseldorf last week.

Beyond that, the expo also saw the birth of the VCA – the Verband der Cannabis versorgende Apotheken e.V (German Cannabis Pharmacists Association). This is a group of pharmacists who are on the front lines of the medical cannabis revolution on its most complicated, expensive and paper-laden end, determined to make their voices heard.

the VCA ,German Cannabis Pharmacists Association

According to Tobias Loder, the owner of Luxe 99 Apotheke in Cologne and one of the organizers of the VCA, “There is huge interest in our association.”

For those of American extraction, at least, there has yet to be such a conference anywhere in the U.S. simply because of the lack of acceptance at the federal level of cannabis as medicine. In Canada, and elsewhere, national pharmacy chains are already getting into the action.

Germany, however, remains the strange, and as a result, most interesting exception.

In Düsseldorf this year, despite added traffic and a great deal of excitement, cannabis as medicine was, as the press attendant said as he handed out the Cannabis Industry Journal press pass, “par for the course” and “no big deal.” Even though of course, the generation of all the interest and intrigue.

The drug is, while still highly stigmatized, on its way to legitimacy here. And in a decidedly normal, Deutsch weg (way).

The Inside Skinny On What Is Changing For German Pharmacists

As revealed during the Denton’s medical cannabis conference in Berlin in late September (about a day before the news hit the expo floor in fact), things are indeed changing at the last mile of the regulated cannabis path. Why?

Several reasons.

Within the next thirty days, doctors will be able to prescribe up to 100 grams of floss (dried cannabis flower) or cannabis oil by the gram per patient prescription. That means that patients can indeed go to the doctor every three months – and that there are in fact more regular users in the system. This is also an indication that the supply chain is also beginning to normalize – although there is a huge demand so far unmet by supply. And as a result, while two of the three bid winners are now getting down to cultivation, imports are still the name of the game.

On this front, things are also changing. Cannabis just came into the country from Portugal. Other countries lining up to import include not only Canadian producers, but those from Spain, Malta, Greece, Australia, South Africa, Columbia and of course, Israel.

This is also a step towards international normalization on the pharma side. Schedule II narcotics in the American system are dispensed every 90 days.

The rules about pharmacy mark-ups are also in flux. One of the reasons, for example, that medical cannabis has been so expensive is that, up until now, at least, pharmacists were required to mark up such product 100%. That is also changing. In fact, the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA) and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (GKV Spitzenenverand) have had to agree on a new surcharge that is expected to see significant and immediate savings of a projected 25 million euros.

It is not a casual argument or discussion. One of the reasons that the German pharmacy vertical has remained so strong and resistant to buyouts and consolidations is that by law, owners are limited to no more than three (and in so far one case discovered by CIJ in Bavaria) four brick and mortar pharmacies. The reduction in this preparation surcharge means that pharmacies will have to find ways to become more efficient. That is also a concern for the VCA, who, among other things, are looking to reduce their own overhead costs while gearing up to serve more patients.

Digitalization, innovation and more, in other words, is on the table. And German pharmacists, for one, are not only on the front line – but stepping up to the challenge.

margueriteICBC

Berlin’s ICBC: Meeting the European Cannabis Industry

By Marguerite Arnold
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margueriteICBC

The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin is now officially over. The speeches have been made, the parties have been attended. The hard-working crew behind it all has wrapped up, checked out and is off to Vancouver. And most of all, the marathon of meetings and deal discussions that were the mark of this budding and certainly by now established market are done. Even if there are still details to be ironed out in all the new business in the coming months.

As always, the dilemma for conference attendees was how to spend the limited time in this concentrated cannabis gathering. With all of the networking and excitement, people still wanted to hear the experts who spoke on topics ranging from cannabis financing to actually doing business in Germany to new medical advances. Traffic in the expo section was also heavy, as attendees visited the wide range of vendors. Producers and distributors of both plant and derived product were present, along with vape companies brave enough to compete with Storz and Bickel on their own turf, various tech solutions and of course, international consultants.

As the dust clears and the contracts get signed, what are the takeaways from the second edition of the ICBC in Berlin?

Germany Is Going Green

The simplest takeaway? The ICBC Berlin is not a market to be missed in the future for the global cannabis executive. Even if you are an American firm (and for the most part still largely excluded from a rapidly expanding worldwide trade that is establishing itself now with authority), you need to be here. The contacts you make are global, and you do not want to be left out. For foreign investors interested in this market, it is a must. For everyone else, this is a meet and greet, not to mention education, barnone. The German medical and even prosumer CBD market is attracting the world.

Yes, there have been ups and downs even in the last three weeks that include the crashing of the German bid along with news stateside that the Trump Administration is going to hang Jeff Sessions out to dry for Russia with his latest “Make American States Great For Cannabis Again” contortion.

Guenther Weiglein
Guenther Weiglein, activist patient, being interviewed in front of MedPayRx booth

But here on the other side of the Atlantic, it is clear that the federal cannabinoid horse has left the barn. There are now rumorsfloating that the bid is not yet entirely dead (now apparently in a legal purgatory of appeals and even potentially “bid amendments”) that nobody is willing to go on record to discuss. Beyond that, however, as was clear from the frenzied deal-makingon the floor and off it at the ICBC, the market is open, distributors are finding new channels to move product, and patients demanding access are not leaving the streets.

Far from it. In fact, the budding nascent umbrella national non-profit campaign designed to open access for patients and educate doctors, The German Patients Roundtable, had a huge second meeting during the conference, with both German and international attendees from countries including Israel and South Africa.

The CBD and THC genie cannot be stuffed back into the local bottle. And everyone knows it. This is federal medical reform, and even better, covered under German national public health insurance. Despite the hiccups and challenges that still remain, this is open blue water for a medical market that has never existed anywhere to date.

ICBC logoAnyone with a GMP facility, Euro cleared export rights and crop or product ready to ship will be welcome here in a market that at this point, cannot get enough plant or oil. Edibles are still a to-come discussion.

To the extent that this is also negative, it is very clear that the market is still highly inefficient. Producers who do have productare not being found by those on the ground who want to sell it to patients. That will also begin to change. But for now, many on the ground are playing a digitalized Rolodex game of “who do you know” that still consists of personal emails between conference-met colleagues if not LinkedIn contacts and impromptu (and freebie) favors. Those who hope to gain an income merely by connecting the source of product and outlets the old fashioned way are also about to be left in the dust by a market that will not be held back and activist businesses who are eyeing both the United States and Canada right now (if not Israel and Australia), and translating all of that into both euros and German.

It is also very clear that the savvy Germans who were largely left out of the bid proceedings last time do not mean to sit this party out – and are angling to get into the game however they can. This is taking some interesting forms, but processing and testing are going to be huge issues of the market here for a long time to come. And so is home-grown, high-quality CBD. The German government is even offering tax credits for growing certain kinds of hempright now. Sound familiar Kentucky?

Trends and Takeaways

It is not just the Canadians who are going to get market share. The Canadian LPs are still in a good position to dominate the early market but it is clear that there is still room for others to enter. Whether the government allows an appeal of the court’s decision to hold up, there is a quick bid “redo” for the top 10 finalists, or a second bid, the market has now arrived and is in its second year.

margueriteICBC
Marguerite Arnold presents on the impact of blockchain on the cannabis industry

CBD is going to be an important path to other kinds of provision and cultivation. Despite the widespread misconceptions about Germany being a “CBD only” market (it is not), it is clear that a consumer CBD only strategy will be an interesting path into the market here but not one for the faint of heart. The Canadian companies in particular are beginning to move into the realm of big pharma (their market caps certainly are). But it is also clear that more local competition is hip to the same. And as a result, even this part of the market will be a highly competitive one.

German firms are first at this gate, beyond the big Canadian LPs, but they are not the only ones now in the market. See Dutch, Austrian and Swiss firms, many with pharmaceutical company credits and market entry already under their belt.  Not to mention producers from both Greece and the Baltics. Everyone on the import side is eyeing the opening market and stalled bid as a fantastic opportunity. Look for products from these locales as testing and certification protocols become more effective.

Central to all of these developments? The conference is theplacefor the global cannabis industry to meet and get to know one another, put together by Alex Rogers and a seasoned, international team behind the ICBC.