According to a press release sent out last week, Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures (CBDV) has expanded their testing capabilities considerably with the new addition of a vapor/smoke analyzer. CBDV is a licensed cannabis and psilocybin research laboratory embedded in the University of British Columbia, led by CEO Dr. Markus Roggen.
The ability to analyze vapor and smoke is a relatively novel concept for the cannabis space, but has been utilized by the tobacco industry for years now. In the early days of adult-use cannabis legalization in the United States, stringent testing regulations for contaminants like pesticides were adopted out of a fear for what would happen when consumers ingest toxic levels of contaminants.
One of the common refrains iterated throughout the industry over the past ten years was that there just wasn’t enough research on how different contaminants affect patients and consumers when burned and inhaled. We still don’t know too much about what happens when someone smokes a dangerous pesticide, such as myclobutanil. Beyond just contaminants, the new technology allows for companies to measure precise levels of cannabinoids in vapor and smoke, getting a more accurate reading on what cannabinoids are actually making it to the end user.
This new development coming from our neighbor to the north could lead to a breakthrough in the cannabis lab testing and research space. CBDV claims they can now analyze cannabis material with a much more in-depth analysis than basic compliance testing labs. The new technology for analysis of smoke, vapor, plant material and formulations allows companies to thoroughly understand their materials in each stage of the product formulation process, all the way to product consumption.
Beyond just smoke and vapor analysis CBDV also offers NMR spectroscopy, metabolomics, nanoparticle characterization, computational modeling and other testing services that go far beyond the traditional compliance testing gamut.
“Our new services offer comprehensive insights into plant material, extracts, end-products and even the smoke/vapor by using state-of-the-art analytical instruments,” says Dr. Roggen. “By understanding the chemical fingerprint of the material, cannabis producers can eliminate impurities, adjust potencies, and optimize extraction processes before wasting money and resources on producing inconsistent end products. As a chemist I am really excited about adding NMR and high-res mass spectroscopy to the cannabis testing offerings.”
The cannabis marketplace is an ever changing one. The opportunities being generated in the UK space are immense. Yet despite the countless benefits cannabis can bring to the economy, patient care and supporting health and wellness for consumers, an image problem continues to persist.
Despite its expansive growth, there is still a lot of uncertainty and misinformation. Having worked with several cannabis businesses in recent years, I firmly believe there are a myriad of ways in which the industry can benefit from PR support. A strong PR strategy can not only drive media coverage, but help to reach customers, shorten sale cycles, bolster brand reputation and drive change within political and regulatory circles.
Whether you are a flourishing cannabis brand, a start-up or ancillary cannabis business, PR can help you stand out from the competition and become a credible voice in this competitive market.
Here are some key ways in which cannabis businesses can profit from PR:
Campaigning for progress
Each category of the cannabis sector faces its own reputational challenges. Medical cannabis is perhaps the most significant of these, yet it still goes largely misunderstood by the general public. This, along with regulatory restrictions and a lack of education in the clinical community means cannabis stigma continues to exist.
For the thousands of patients suffering with the likes of multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, still struggling to access this fully legal drug, this is a tragic, pressing issue. There are several families and individuals across the UK who campaign for medical cannabis access to be improved, by leveraging their story via the press and lobbying Parliament. Some of these high-profile families have been supported through strategic communications at The PHA Group, most notably Hannah Deacon, the mother who successfully campaigned for the first NHS cannabis license for her son, as well as the parents of toddler Charlie Hughes, who are currently seeking Judicial Review against NICE.
Both cases offer strong proof of the powerful role PR can play in supporting those in need of medical cannabis. Through speaking to media and generating coverage of the stories of both families, the complex issue of medical cannabis access has been thrust into the public eye, this in turn putting fresh pressure on the Government to address this through much-needed change. For cannabis leaders and professionals looking to invest in PR, it is critical that your PR partner understands the key issues, culture and complexities of the industry to create credible stories and campaigns to gain cut through in the media.
CBD is the most established sector of the UK cannabis industry, having become firmly attached to the lifestyle scene in recent years with its broad spectrum of health and wellness products. With approximately 7.3 million people in the UK using CBD products each year through a market already worth an estimated £300 million, the industry is predicted to grow at a rapid rate, with experts claiming this figure will more than triple in the next five years.
Despite its impressive growth, the industry has faced its own stumbling blocks. Until this year, CBD had been in a period of regulatory uncertainty and the industry faced understandable criticism when high profile cannabis probes found over half of the most popular CBD oils did not contain the amount of CBD promised on the label. This did nothing to help the already precarious public perception of CBD in the UK, meaning firms have had to work extremely hard to heal their reputations and ensure their brands are deemed trustworthy by consumers going forward.
With hundreds of brands claiming to be the best option, establishing credibility and becoming a trusted voice is key. Educating your audience by positioning company experts will help to keep your audience up to speed on the most current information and allow your brand to achieve an authoritative voice within the cannabis space.
Driving awareness drives revenue. It doesn’t matter if your story and products are revolutionary if nobody knows they exist! PR can help build a narrative which conveys the purpose of your business, along with its vision and products, whilst promoting key insights to keep your company relevant. The power of public relations in this regard is very similar to that of positive word-of-mouth.
Strategic brand building
Cannabis companies can’t advertise like mainstream companies, so they must tread carefully in the marketing of their products. However, there are great possibilities within PR. Through case studies and careful product placement, PRs can work carefully with CBD companies to raise awareness of the benefits of their products and solidify their brand image, without risking trouble with the ASA. With CBD brands and manufacturers springing up left and right, there are opportunities aplenty for PR firms to lend support, whether that’s from a consumer perspective, across food and drink, beauty or general wellness, or from a strategic business view.
Stories sell. It’s vital for a brand that wants to develop a sustainable, long-term plan to build a story which resonates with its audience. Strategic PR can therefore increase brand value and coupled with a digital marketing and social media strategy, boost engagement and elevate the profile of the business.
A wealth of opportunities
The legal cannabis industry is gaining traction and is one to watch. In relation to medical cannabis, the industry has called for change to improve patient access and pressure has been exerted on the government and regulatory bodies to normalise cannabis as an effective treatment for a myriad of health conditions In parallel, the CBD sector is only set to grow and in recent years, there has been increasing interest and investment into hemp, a versatile variety of the cannabis plant hailed as the next big thing in sustainability.
Cannabis is a commonplace yet spectacularly complex plant. It therefore needs a PR strategy which can uncover key angles and opportunities across a multitude of avenues to position brands within the space for success and growth.
Whilst there is still much to learn and navigate in cannabis, PR has an important role to play in changing attitudes as the industry continues to expand and evolve. I am excited to see where it goes next.
Reports estimate that up to 8 million people in the UK use CBD for its variety of wellness benefits. The market is currently worth £300 million, a figure which is expected to more than triple in the next five years.
Sales of CBD already outstrip those of Vitamin C at £301 million vs £119 million and given that almost 90 percent of users in the UK purchase CBD online, new investments into omnichannel and e-commerce capabilities are likely to lead to even more growth.
Yet, for all this excitement, the truth is the UK’s CBD industry is facing a bit of a roadblock.
Until this year, CBD has been in a period of regulatory uncertainty and the industry faced understandable criticism when high profile cannabis probes found that over half of the most popular CBD oils did not contain the amount of CBD promised on the label. On February 13, 2020, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) unveiled new plans to better regulate the industry and announced a deadline of March 31, 2021 for the submission of a valid application for novel food licence for businesses selling food and food supplements containing CBD in the UK. Contained in the announcement was a warning to all CBD companies that failure to comply may result in products being taken off the shelves.
Consumers are also advised by the FSA to “think carefully” about taking CBD, and not to consume more than 70mg a day, making the UK the first country in the world to set recommended limits for CBD consumption, despite no scientific basis for the 70mg recommended limit.
Whilst it is undeniable that the CBD market requires some form of regulation and standards need to be raised for CBD products, to ensure consumers are receiving safe, legal and quality products, this will be a complex and costly process. CBD companies, particularly smaller CBD brands, will need to ensure they have the necessary infrastructure, expertise and resources to meet this deadline.
The deadline is fast approaching, and no extension has been granted despite of the difficulties caused by COVID-19. This will put all businesses under pressure, as the process for applying for Novel Food status requires supplying a large amount of data from rigorous testing. For larger players, this will likely be nothing more than a costly inconvenience, but for smaller, nascent businesses, these costs may put their longevity at risk. There are hundreds of CBD start-ups which have done great work to future-proof their businesses and create safe, high-quality products. Now, instead of preserving costs to try and stay afloat during the pandemic, these businesses must put a significant amount of precious resource and funds into finalising their applications in time.
Improving end user confidence in CBD products and understanding the process from seed to shelf is crucially important in this developing industry, however, I firmly believe these regulations are suffocating the market. I fear that on April 1, 2021, many smaller firms who haven’t managed to achieve Novel Food status yet have a superior product, will suddenly find themselves unable to legally trade.
On the other hand, there is the argument that the FSA ruling may increase the importation of CBD products from firms based outside of Europe. So far, the large cannabis firms in North America, which have the budget and expertise to meet FSA standards, have held back on importing CBD products to the UK. This may well have to do with the slightly dubious legal status CBD has so far had in the UK, so it will be interesting to see whether this changes in April next year and which players will enter the market. The CBD market will continue to grow and diversify but it will be essential that this leads to increasing consumer choice rather than confusion.
In my opinion, the only way the UK will be able to fully harness the potential of CBD is to create an independent, self-sufficient industry that not only helps consumers but contributes to the wider economy through jobs, skills and investment. The pandemic has done well to put a spotlight on the huge access issues cannabis patients face in the UK, bolstering the case to ‘onshore’ the industry.
Whilst this would require a streamlining and simplification of the licensing laws around growing cannabis, the development of a UK-based industry would have endless benefits. Not only would medical cannabis patients see improved access to their medication, CBD firms would no longer have to ship oil in from the dominating wholesale nations such as Poland, Czechia and Italy, this in turn having huge economic benefits. The development of a UK industry should involve the creation of a new regulatory system specifically designed for cannabis products and preferably for a new regulatory body, similar to the Office of Medicinal Cannabis in the Netherlands, to oversee all cannabis regulation, licensing, importation and approvals. This would mean a move away from the current solution of forcing CBD products into the Novel Food category and subjecting them to inappropriate regulations which will soon begin to smother the market with unnecessary red tape.
People are increasingly turning to more natural health and wellness solutions, so as Britons become better informed about CBD products and as the market matures, demand will certainly increase. Yet with both Brexit and standardisation of cannabinoid regulations occurring in parallel, the future and scale of the CBD market is still to be determined. A huge UK market could potentially help push it in a positive direction, facilitating processes for CBD producers.
The cannabis industry is resilient and until this point, has managed to grow at an exponential rate despite regulatory uncertainty. As acceptance and demand continues to increase, so the case for an independent UK industry will strengthen and regulatory roadblocks finally overcome.
The news is intriguing in a world overwhelmed with pandemic news. THC Global, a Canadian-Aussie company now raising money and signing global deals, has just bought a “clinic network” of 30 prescribing physicians that will be able to supply up to 6,000 Australian patients this year.
In doing so, this entity is clearly beginning to establish a pattern of expansion in a new medical market not seen so far outside of Canada. Namely being able to obtain the all-important prescription for one’s brand at the doctor or prescriber’s office which is affiliated with a certain producer. Pharmacies and dispensaries downstream have no discretion for any other product to sell if the brand is written right on the prescription itself.
And this marks a new step in an industry frustrated with the high prices and high levels of red tape in other international environments where more widespread medical cannabis reform has come.
The Situation in Germany Germany represents, so far at least, the destination market of choice for Canadian cannabis firms (for the last several years at least). This is for several very sound business reasons (at least in theory).
The German medical market is the largest in Europe. Health reforms which swept the country at the time of reunification also created a system that is in its own way a hybrid of the more European (and British) NHS and American healthcare. Namely, 90% of the German population is on the system, but it is tied to employment and income. Freelancers, even of the German kind, must use private healthcare as must all non-passport foreigners. If you make over a certain amount of money (about $65,000), you must also pay for private healthcare. As the cannabis revolution rolls forward, many cannabis patients are caught in changing rules and a great reluctance by public health insurers to allow fast entry of any new drug, including this one. This is based on “science” but also cost.
Bottom line? Yes, the market is lucrative and growing, and yes, cannabis is covered under public health insurance, but the ability of any producers to be able to maintain a reliable, steady market of “prescribers” is highly limited. Furthermore, unlike anywhere else in the world, pharmacists play an outsized role in the process – namely because there are no chains (more than four brick and mortar outlets are verboten). Prices and availability vary widely across the country.
There are also no “online” drug stores where patients can send prescriptions in the sense that this vertical has developed in other countries.
Hospital dispensation is, for all the obvious reasons, highly expensive and generally prohibitive for the long term, if not serving much larger numbers of patients.
The Problem in the UK Like Germany, the UK decided to launch medical “cannabis” – or at least cannabinoid-related drugs under the purview of the NHS, but there are several issues with this.
The problems start with the fact that the system remains a monopoly for one British company, GW Pharmaceuticals. The medication produced by them, including Sativex and Epidiolex is expensive and does not work for many patients that it is produced “on label” for (such as MS or childhood epilepsy).
And then of course, the largest group of cannabis patients anywhere (chronic pain) have been explicitly excluded from the list of conditions cannabis can be prescribed for under public health guidelines in the UK. This, like Germany, has created a highly expensive system where those patients who obtain the drug on a regular (and legal basis) have to have both private healthcare and obtain help through private clinics. While there are several chain clinics now forming in the UK, this is not the same thing as “buying” patients in the thousands – the model seen in Canada from the beginning of 2014.
The market has a lot of potential, in other words, but like Germany, via very different paths to market than seen in Canada, in particular.
Why Is Canada Different? The development of the medical market came through federal change in the law around the turn of the century. Namely, after patients won the right to grow for themselves, via Supreme Court legal challenge, patient collectives gradually formed to grow and sell cannabis that was more “professionally” cultivated. This, in turn, became the right of private companies and indeed household names in the Canadian market saw buying patient pools as their path to financing on the equity markets as of 2014.
This is not widely popular within the industry. Indeed, the last legal challenge mounted by the industry to ban non-profit patient collectives fell apart in 2016 – the year that the larger Canadian companies began to look abroad to Europe.
It is also undoubtedly why, beyond the red tape they face in Germany and the UK if not across Europe, Canadian firms are looking to hybridize a model which worked well for them at least in the early days of capitalization of the private industry. And maybe Australia will be “it.” Stay tuned.
The Canadian-German market connection has been a “thing” ever since the middle of the last decade. But this is not the only international cannabis connection. Indeed, firms in multiple countries have been developing international partnerships for quite some time – and not just deals involving the plant or its extracts, but on the cannabis technology front.
This year and going forward expect these to bear fruit, and in interesting ways.
What are the trends? And who is doing what?
Europe The entire European cannabis market has slowly been developing momentum since 2017 when Germany kicked off its first attempt at a domestic cultivation bid. The first German-grown cannabis is expected to hit pharmacies this fall, and further at a price that will keep everyone else hopping (€3.20 a gram from BfArM to distributors). However, because domestic cultivation was never expected to keep up with patient demand, Germany has become one of the hottest destination markets on the planet.
While there is clearly product still coming in from Canada, the big importer into Germany is actually from Holland (Bedrocan), right across a common border.
But Holland is not the only game in town anymore. Europe has long had promise as one of the most international cannabis markets in the world, simply because of relatively open, cross-border trade. Cannabis from Denmark, Portugal and Spain as well as Australia and South Africa have already made it into the German market. Greece, Italy and Poland are all moving into position as major sources of at minimum, floss if not extracts, along with growing interest in Eastern European entries (and not only the Czech Republic).
The intra-European market for cannabis is well underway, in other words, and this is likely to be an increasing trend, particularly as cannabis continues to make waves on the medical front as well as continually mounting evidence that the drug treats difficult to treat conditions including neurological disorders, cancer and the ever-present chronic pain.
Then of course, there is Israel, which is expected to be a big contender now that the country is finally in the export game.
Beyond the direct imports, however, there are also multiple country hops in play (such as Uruguay to Portugal to Germany). Malta is also increasingly shaping up to be an intriguing pass through port, if nothing else.
But of course, Europe is not the only international game in town.
The UK Despite all of the problems that British patients face in obtaining high quality medical cannabis at a price that is affordable, the UK has actually led the world in cannabis exports (benefitting so far only GW Pharmaceuticals). However many firms have also been cooperating to bring cannabis into the country (from Canada and Holland in particular so far). The biotech partnerships set up by firms like Canopy Growth are also expected to bear fruit as cannabinoid research begins to truly come into its own in the coming decade.
The Americas Despite the fact that exporting from the U.S. is still difficult (although some firms have managed to export hemp to Europe), there is a lot of cross border cooperation going on throughout the hemisphere (including investment and all kinds of creative partnerships). Canada of course, got its export game going early. Yet one of the more intriguing cross border stories of the last 18-24 months is the amount of South American cultivated cannabis ending up “north of the border.” Changing laws in the region make Latin America a major export location as well as a source for product bound elsewhere including Europe (see Columbia, Uruguay and Jamaica in particular). Mexico is expected to be a power player globally going forward too.
There are also many American firms who have developed strategic partnerships globally beyond the actual plant (including in Israel).
Israel The country is absolutely in the export market, but that is not the whole story. Earlier in the year, the country received its first import from Uganda. There are also multiple U.S. companies in partnership with Israeli firms, and this will increasingly play out in terms of both product and cannabis technology as the market continues to open internationally. American firms, in other words, are still largely prohibited from shipping from the U.S., but they can now do so from Israel, and further, anywhere in the world.
South Africa Another newcomer, South African firms are partnering internationally (including with American firms) to develop not only product but extraction technology. Cannabis firms here have also already shipped product to Canada and Europe.
Australia Agricultural exports generally are a major part of the Aussie economy, and cannabis is shaping up to be no exception. Domestic firms are increasingly exporting to Europe (in particular), but partnerships here will be intriguing to watch, particularly as the Chinese market comes into its own. And there are already plenty of firms with partnerships now established or in the last phases of inking out deals with Israeli firms. Canada has been the largest source of imports into the country since 2017.
Cannabis as a tool of local or even regional economic development has rapidly gained traction in many jurisdictions within the United States and Canada. It has also caught on particularly in the poorer states of the EU (see Greece) and those countries hoping to enter the Union (North Macedonia).
These days, the concept is also spreading even to the UK, where reform has lagged significantly behind other countries both in North America and Europe. Indeed, two island communities are now investing heavily in the idea that cannabis is not only here to stay, but may invigorate communities and the economic health of islands looking for a new path, post-Brexit.
Cannabis so far, certainly in the United States and Canada, has proved to be a job creator just about everywhere for the past five years. Indeed, despite a few large corporate restructurings (see Aurora and Canopy Growth) of late, the industry itself has not slowed down, even with bumps in the road in terms of full and final legalization and the new challenges of a global pandemic.
House Of Green, Guernsey
This project is moving along, with its first harvest set for later in the year. The ₤2 million facility plans to be able to process up to 800 pounds every eight-hour day. Raw product is being grown at vineyards on the island itself by independent farmers and partners from other islands. Indeed, it is a unique facility on the European side of the Atlantic.
The company plans to process cannabis into tinctures, balms and salves as well as alkaline waters.
The idea is to create the base ingredients from which other products – bound both for the medical and recreational market – can be made.
Vecticanna, Isle of Wight Just off the southern coast of the UK, Vecticanna is also embarking on an ambitious project – a fully solar-powered facility which plans to eventually employ 60 people. Their mission? To “unlock the therapeutic potential of cannabis” for the treatment of Fibromyalgia and related conditions.
Vecticanna has partnered with several large institutions, including the University of Southampton, and CAR Laboratories in Cambridge, and plans to produce its products in an R&D and research setting with the ambitious hope of furthering the potential of cannabinoid-based healthcare.
Where Goes UK and European Reform?
Reform across Europe has indeed been frustratingly slow. This includes the many hiccups in the German cultivation bid, which was first launched in 2017, and will only see the first nationally produced cannabis in the country sometime this fall. That amount is far too little for the patients who have already obtained prescriptions, and certainly will not be enough to serve the expected million plus patients in market here in just a few short years. Indeed, medical cannabis distributors in Germany are scouring the planet right now for properly certified product that comes from other European countries as well as South Africa, Australia, and even Latin America.
In the meantime, a new generic producer of dronabinol (synthetic THC) has just gained access to the German market.
In the UK, reform so far has also been torturously tortoise-like, with the National Health Service (NHS) favouring local producer GW Pharmaceuticals and forcing all other patients and their families to import pricey product from the Netherlands or Canada. While, it should also be added, excluding chronic pain patients.
Why Are The UK’s Island Cannabis Projects So Intriguing?
With a few exceptions (see Greece and Malta), European cannabis development remains mired in complications that include everything from a lack of reform and high prices to fights over basic regulations, including whether cannabis is a “novel” substance or not. This has slowed down the ability of growers to obtain the right certifications, find financing and actually go into business.
With two new producers on islands close to Europe and the UK however, there appear to be projects on the horizon which have jumped the regulatory queue, and are lining up for an intriguing future, supported from the ground up, by local policies that are looking at two simple things: the efficacy of the plant itself, and the economic well-being of their neighbors.
There is no doubt all industries are feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic; however, cannabis businesses face a unique set of challenges.
Business operations, consumer behavior and financials will be analysed more than ever as businesses seek to position themselves during the pandemic and beyond when lockdowns will eventually be alleviated. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.” COVID-19 is an opportunity for cannabis firms to restructure their business model from a direct, consumer, wholesale and partnership level; eradicate inefficiencies and reassess launch or expansion plans.
Like many other sectors, the cannabis market should still expect to lose revenue due to factors like store closures, disrupted supply chains and restricted transport.
The outlook may seem bleak, but it’s not all doom and gloom when looking at the CBD and medical cannabis markets in more detail.
With social distancing measures still in place, cannabis firms which offer an online sales platform are seeing a surge in business. During COVID-19, there has been a greater focus on staying healthy and boosting immune systems which is driving consumers to a variety of health-focused products including CBD.
Fortunately, many of the physical retailers who stock CBD products in the UK have been permitted to stay open, despite a nation-wide lockdown, so some consumers are bulk buying their usual products while others are turning to e-commerce and delivery services. This demonstrates how quickly some firms have adapted to keep their businesses afloat.
However, border restrictions have tightened and as many supply and logistics workers remain in quarantine, the CBD market could see challenges in maintaining supply lines as the pandemic continues.
This comes in addition to CBD firms working to process a Novel Food Application and fulfill the necessary requirements by March 31, 2021. Despite lobbying from the Cannabis Trades Association (CTA) and despite the impact the global pandemic is having on the sector, the deadline has not been extended.
CBD businesses need to capitalise on the opportunities arising during this downturn; be creative and pin-point ways to keep CBD consumers engaged. By building on their brand and refreshing where necessary, they can attract consumers and develop a loyal customer base. Sustaining a strong online presence and enhancing social media and marketing strategies can lead to an increase of online sales. The brands which can leverage awareness and embody trustworthiness will be the winners.
CBD cannot cure COVID-19
As the epidemic continues into May, there has been no shortage of scammers attempting to try and short-change a fearful, confused population. Unfortunately, the cannabis industry has seen some shameful claims by CBD and hemp companies, notably in the US, who claimed their products could cure or fight off the symptoms of COVID-19.
CBD has been positioned as having several positive health effects by manufacturers and retailers – most notably in reducing pain and inflammation, decreasing anxiety and helping sleep – which may be on the rise within this unsettling environment.
The International Association for Cannabinoid Medicine (IACM), issued a statementon the coronavirus pandemic saying, “there is no evidence that individual cannabinoids or cannabis preparations protect against infection … or could be used to treat COVID-19.” Trials have been launched in Israel to explore whether CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties can be an effective COVID-19 treatment. Until this has been clinically proven, cannabis firms must not make unsupported claims.
During COVID-19, health systems are under unprecedented pressure, which is impacting patient access to all medical treatments, including cannabis.
The medical cannabis industry has swiftly adapted to these challenges by rolling out video consultations and other online consultation services to enhance patient access.
While the Home Office activity for licencing will be limited during this time, companies must work with regulators to keep supply lines open, so that those in need receive their medicine without relying on black-market activity. On April 29, the government published emergency legislation to allow patients to continue accessing controlled drugs for the duration of the epidemic, from pharmacies, without a prescription. This only applies to patients with ongoing NHS treatment, so there is still a long way to go, as private cannabis clinics must fill the gap in the meantime.
The global pandemic has impacted us all, and many patients are concerned about how they will access vital services. Many patients receiving medical cannabis have underlying health conditions which make them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 and those with chronic neurologic conditions like epilepsy are in danger of suffering potential side effects.
Several of the qualities needed to survive the coronavirus pandemic – awareness, self-containment and support – are basic skill sets to carers. Beyond the pandemic, policy shifts, investment and education are needed to lift the barriers to medical cannabis access, and this will require all businesses operating in the cannabis industry to drive change.
2020 is a defining year for cannabis
The cannabis industry is resilient against socio-economic, political and policy drivers- this we’ve seen time and time again. Now we must create an even stronger UK industry, where products are safely and readily available to those who need them. As the cannabis market matures and the competition things out, only quality cannabis products and services will be in play. Those that can innovate their approach to production, distribution and consumption during the pandemic can be the catalyst for long-lasting changes for the cannabis industry to operate for the better.
The village of Langholm, known locally as the “Muckle Toon,” with its most famous descendent being Neil Armstrong (the first man on the moon) is about to get another first. Namely, it will be the location of the first Scottish cannabis farm.
Father and son entrepreneurs William and Neil Ewart (who also own an agricultural farm, raise Angus cattle and have a racehorse stable) have obtained permission to produce enough cannabis to create 200 liters of oils a year. The production facility is also expected to employ about 50 people – from scientists to growers and IT staff.
However, this is just the beginning. Despite being given planning permission, the Ewarts will now have to apply for a license to actually produce medical cannabis.
Reform in the UK marches on
At present, British patients are in one of the toughest situations anywhere cannabis reform has ostensibly started to happen.
Domestic production, in other words, is a vitally needed part of British reform.The UK has moved forward on cannabis reform in fits and starts – one step forward and several back, for the last several years. Late last year, a full year after the drug was approved for prescription, in an abrupt change, cannabis was denied to everyone but Epilepsy and MS patients and those suffering from nausea due to chemo treatments. NICE, the agency in the UK who sets domestic prescription policies, shamefully excluded chronic pain patients from the new guidelines. This is despite the fact that there are chronic pain patients in the UK who had received prescriptions for cannabis after the law changed in 2018. Not to mention the fact that this subset of patients represents the largest percentage of people prescribed the drug in every other jurisdiction, from Colorado to Canada.
Those who have “qualifying conditions” must now find a doctor to prescribe – still no easy task. If GW Pharmaceuticals’ products (Epidiolex and Sativex) do not work, patients must then import the drug, at great expense from overseas. Even though this importing process has gotten significantly easier in the last months, supplies are still highly expensive imports from elsewhere (mostly Holland and Canada). This runs, at minimum, about $1,000 a month.
Domestic production, in other words, is a vitally needed part of British reform. It is also seen, increasingly, as a high value crop that can be exported elsewhere. Time will tell however, if the expensive British labor market can compete with product grown in Europe (in places like Spain, Portugal and Greece).
So far, the UK has lagged behind Germany, which itself went through a torturous and expensive process to not only approve its first cultivation bid, but is also now in the process of lowering prices. The first German grown cannabis is likely to hit pharmacy shelves by the third or fourth quarter of 2020. Don’t expect any cannabis exports to the UK, at least for now however, as there is not enough domestically cultivated German product to even serve existing German patients.
An Aberdeen clinic plans to be the first Scottish private facility to prescribe As of mid-February, the privately run Sapphire Medical Clinics announced plans to become the first Scottish private medical clinic to prescribe cannabis. The facility will require a referral from a regular GP. This has so far, not been popular with the National Health Service (NHS). Some administrators have expressed concern that the process will result in doctors using their time to funnel patients into private healthcare to receive treatments not available or recognized by the NHS.
That said, as Sapphire has pointed out, the approximately 1.4 million patients in the UK have few other options beyond the black market.
Cannabis reform, in other words, is clearly inching forward in the British Isles. One cultivation facility and prescribing clinic at a time.
The cannabis industry is not immune from global setbacks. Discussions about how resistant the vertical is to this (next) setback have been widely disseminated, from mainstream news to the blogosphere.
Yes, the UN punted global reform down the pike another 9 months – affecting the international industry. And so far, the entire vertical has been left out of the relief bill in the United States (although there are lobbying efforts everywhere to correct the oversight on subsequent bills now almost inevitably in the legislative hopper).
However, there are signs that the industry is actually gaining credibility if not forging new victories during a time likely to go down as this century’s “Great Depression.”
Here is a look at some of the trends afoot that are already bearing fruit and bringing relief.
Cannabis Business Is Essential Business
Some important battles have been won in many states in the U.S. as well as several other countries (including but not limited to Canada). This starts with the designation of the industry as “essential,” at least on the medical side. The issue of delivery and cashless payments have been on the front burner just about everywhere. And this time, there are few if any objections with a national lobby to voice said concerns.
In Europe of course the conversation is also different depending on where you are, but there are still signs that things are clearly changing.
In the UK, authorities have made it easier for cannabis importing. In Germany, pharmacies are on the front line in a way unseen just about anywhere else.
And in Spain, with most patients reliant on cannabis clubs, the lockdown and subsequent hardship for the most vulnerable has led to widespread calls to make deliveries a possibility. Even if the clubs are not functioning as “lounges,” their operators might not get fined for opening their doors, much less “importing” product from the outskirts of town to a central distribution point.
Pivoting To Respond In Times Of Crisis
It is impossible to forget that the emergent industry has been on the forefront of the medical industry and certified production for a long time, even if that, at least up to this point, has received little respect.
Health Canada has asked testing labs to repurpose their activities for Covid-19 testing.
Canadian and American producers are also on the front lines of providing PPE (personal protective equipment) that can be multi-purposed. Masks, gowns and gloves have all been donated from multiple companies. Others are literally repurposing ethanol used for extraction to make hand sanitizer for vulnerable populations. More than a few, including in Europe, have directly been involved in helping to fundraise for foodbanks.
GMP Licensing and Other Developments Still Cooking
While some companies waiting for certification have been stymied because of a lack of foreign travel (EU-GMP requires German inspectors to travel to Canada for example), there are other indications that global companies are finding the way through anyway.
New deals are being inked all over the planet, including international provision deals from unlikely places. This is in part because new export and sales channels are being forged – literally out of desperation. See the story of Little Green Pharma and Astral Health, an Australian company now exporting to the UK (a first). Or the New Mexico company Ultra Health, which just started to export to Israel. Not to mention the source of Israel’s other international purchase of cannabis this month – from Uganda of all places.
Down under, things are certainly developing in an interesting way during the crisis. Indeed, New Zealand decided to proceed with its own cannabis cultivation, with signs that more reform is on the agenda for later in the year.
Back in the Northern Hemisphere, North Macedonia, home of one of the most developed cannabis economies adjacent to Europe, is literally one amendment away from entering the European and global business with flower as well as extracts (which is on the table this month as the government begins to reconvene.)
In summary, while times are tough, everywhere, the entrepreneurs who have forged their way through laws of man to create reform, are also showing up to battle against this century’s so far most emergent threat.
As of March 2, right before the UN punted on reclassification of cannabis at the international level for another nine months, the UK government eased import restrictions for people in search of the drug.
Specifically, licensed wholesalers will now be able to import larger quantities of cannabis-based products and hold supplies for future use by patients with prescriptions.
Previous restrictions meant that patients had to wait for weeks or months to obtain the still highly expensive drugs (an import license from Canada can take 8 weeks).
Essentially, while welcome, this also means that every single potential cannabis patient who does not suffer from epilepsy or MS must import, via private means, a drug that is still unbelievably expensive. Those with the means are subjected to high prices and bureaucratic complications (like a regular thirty-day review of the prescription).
Cynical Cannabis Moves
While those who can afford to pay approximately $1,000 a month now have options, this is not exactly cannabis reform that is inclusive. Indeed, the entire conversation appears to be about making sure that private companies make profits rather than scientific advancement.
While the government is planning to engage with patients and to participate in trials to figure out how the NHS can utilize the drug, this is little help for sick patients now. Particularly in the middle of a global pandemic and almost as surely, global recession.
Soundbites by government ministers are also putting a cheery face on a situation that is dire, not just because of access but because of cost.
Per British Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, “We still have a long way to go. We need more research into the quality and safety of these medicines, and to do all we can to cut down the costs and remove barriers so that, when appropriate, patients can access it, including on the NHS.”
As recent events, including not only Brexit and cannabis reform, but indeed the now global pandemic have proven, healthcare systems globally are not up to the kinds of threats now thrown in their direction. Designed mostly after WWII, with a far different tax and economic base to support them, as well as far different demographics, most are also clearly not up to the rigors of the 21st century.
It is not just the supply chains for cannabis or even pharmaceuticals that are in the mix of course. Food security in the UK is now also, according to one international expert, Tim Lang, World Health Organization advisor, “in serious trouble.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, in other words, caught the world with its pants down, despite numerous warnings and even models predicting almost exactly this situation as recently as last year. Just like the AIDS crisis. This time, however, there are options available.
The question is, will governments and international organizations rise to the challenge to meet them?
A New World Drug Order
The British, while behind the Germans, are unfortunately, delaying a decision which has been already extended for too long. Relaxing drug import rules are one thing. But recommendations about the uses of the drug are still very narrow in the UK (even more stringent than in Germany).
Beyond that, overall food and drug security (supply chain) issues are in the room and for drugs far from cannabis. As many have begun to point out, cannabis is now prescribed for patients (and in many countries) and these patients are the most vulnerable to a virus like Covid-19. They are vulnerable not just because their immune systems are weak, but frequently because they are also economically exposed.
As the world battles another retrovirus pandemic, perhaps it is time that the lessons of the past be learned by those with the power to make decisions that will ultimately affect billions of people globally.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
We use tracking pixels that set your arrival time at our website, this is used as part of our anti-spam and security measures. Disabling this tracking pixel would disable some of our security measures, and is therefore considered necessary for the safe operation of the website. This tracking pixel is cleared from your system when you delete files in your history.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.