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european union states

The Economics of Ex-Im In Europe

By Marguerite Arnold
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european union states

You have read the press releases. You may have heard about such ideas at a recent cannabis conference in and around the EU of late. Or you may have encountered new distributors coming into the game with a German presence and a decidedly interesting ex-im plan that sounds a bit, well, off the map.

No matter how geographically creative some of these plans are, the problem is that many of these ideas literally do not make economic sense. Either for the companies themselves (if not their investors), and certainly not for patients. Not to mention, truth be told, the looming price sensitivity issues in the European market that North Americans, for starters, seem to still just be waking up to.

Some Recent Examples….

Yes, exports from Denmark have been much in the news lately (including into both Germany and Poland). Truth be told, however, this makes about as much sense, economically, as importing ice to eskimos. Why? Denmark, for all its looser regulations and less-uptight approach to the cannabis discussion generally, is one of the most expensive labour markets in Europe. Fully automated production plants are one thing, but you can build those in other places too. Especially warmer climates, with lots of sunshine. German production, as it comes online, will also make this idea increasingly ludicrous.

Who on earth got on this bandwagon? It seems that the enthusiasm in the room began when Denmark began to import to Germany (where the disparities in wages in production are not so noticeable). However, lately, several Canadian companies with a Danish footprint have been eying Poland of late.

And on that particular topic – there are many who are doing the math and trying to figure out, as the alternatives get going, if even Canada makes much sense, or will in a few years.

Low Wage Markets With Sunshine Are Hotspots For European Cannabis Production

Like it or not, the European market is extraordinarily price sensitive – namely because it is not “just” consumers called patients picking up the tab but health insurance companies demanding proof of medical efficacy.

That starts, a bit unfortunately, with understanding wage economics across Europe. The warmer the climate, in other words and the further east on the map, wages drop precipitously. That is “good” for an industry looking to produce ever cheaper (but more compliant) product.

It is also good, at least politically, for countries whose elected leaders are being forced to admit that cannabis works, but are less than copacetic about encouraging local production. See Germany for starters, but places like Austria, Poland and most recently France (which has just embarked on a first of its kind medical cannabis trial).

Here, no matter the temporary buzz about Denmark, are the places that cannabis production makes sense:european union states

Portugal: The country is a newcomer in the cannabis discussion this fall, although in truth, the seeds of this reality were sown several seasons ago when Tilray began to build its production plant in the country in 2017. They are far from the only company who has seen the light, and these days, farmers are getting hip to the possibilities. Especially if they are already exporting crops throughout Europe.

Spain: The industry that can afford GMP certification is getting going, but everyone else is stuck in a limbo between pharmaceutical producers and the strange gray market (see the patient clubs in Barcelona). That said, political groups are beginning to discuss cultivation as an economic development tool, if not sustainable food and medication strategies.

Greece: The weather is warm, and the investment climate welcoming. Of all the countries in the EU, Greece has embraced the economic possibilities that cannabis could bring. How that will play out in the next years to come is an intriguing story.

Italy: The southern part of the country in particular is ripe for cannabis investment and it’s full of sunshine. However, as many have noted, organized crime in this part of the world is a bit fierce and starts with the letter M.

Malta: The island is a comer, but does importing cannabis from here really make economic sense? There are trade routes and economic treaties tying the island both to the apparently Brexiting British and Europe. Why not, right? Just remember that along with labour, transportation costs are in the room here too.

And Just Outside The EU…

The country now (sort of) known as North Macedonia and struggling to get into the EU if France would just get out of the way is also going to be a heavyweight in this discussion for years to come. Wages, of course, will increase as part of EU membership, but in general, this country just north of Greece is going to play a highly strategic role in exports throughout Europe.

Wayland Group’s GMP Certification Begins To Clarify German Cultivation Scenarios

By Marguerite Arnold
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Wayland Group just announced that they received GMP (good manufacturing practices) and GDP (good distribution practices) certification for their Ebersbach facility near Dresden, Germany. The plant already produced 2,400 kg of CBD isolate last year.

The certifications give Wayland the right to sell directly into German and other EU markets, and more significantly, the ability to store bulk product domestically.They have, by far, the largest cultivation site now legal in the country, with distribution to not only German pharmacies, but Europe beyond that.

Wayland is also widely believed to have applied for the much-stalled German cultivation bid. With per-gram production prices at Ebersbach cited at 1.34 euros, this certainly also sends an interesting message about who might win what in the bid, and where the price of cannabis might be headed.

Currently, cannabis is being sold to pharmacies in Germany at prices almost twice the retail price per gram in Canada. In turn, this means that the “retail” price of floss (flower) is running much higher than it is in more established markets (read Canada and of course the U.S.). Point of sale prices in Germany, for example, run between $2-3,000 per month per user. That is an era that is clearly also now coming to an end.

The Cultivation Bid

With the news of Wayland’s certifications, comes an almost certainty that they will become finalists in the pending cultivation bid in Germany. Why? They have, by far, the largest cultivation site now legal in the country, with distribution to not only German pharmacies, but Europe beyond that.

If Bedrocan was the incumbent favorite to win the majority of the licenses handed out to any one firm (especially given the recent increase in cannabis allowed to be sold into Germany across the Dutch border), this places Wayland in a strong second. If Bedrocan is not involved in the bid, this news might indicate that Wayland might be the largest winner in German cultivation licenses this time around.

The plot indeed thickens.

Prices: In General, Across Europe

The firm will be providing product, no matter what the outcome of the bid, at a production price, which is in line with the widely estimated requirements of the bid itself. Winning firms must also be able to provide pricing that is competitive to each other. It is unclear where the government will set that floor, but all medical cannabis sold in Germany after that, will then be competing with that price.

Could it be that the reference price of cannabis, in other words, has just been indirectly announced with the Wayland certifications?

Then there is this wrinkle. Given that production in Germany is more expensive than other countries in Europe (see Portugal, Spain and Greece in particular), the difference in labor costs may still outweigh the costs of shipping across the continent. Or, as the market gets going, it may not. Regardless, in a country like Germany where drug prices are routinely pre-negotiated in bulk by the government, cannabis prices will start to be regulated in a way they have not in other places, notably Canada. This means that heady visions of “mark-ups” to meet a so far unmet demand are also probably not in the cards, although government supported cannabis exports might be.

Insurance “Brands” And Bulk Buys Ahead?

Then there is this intriguing wrinkle. German “public” insurance patients (in other words 90% of the population) are not always free to choose the products they use. Why not? Beyond bulk purchases by the government, insurance companies are also allowed to enter into bulk contracts with some providers, namely medical equipment manufacturers. This is sort of the same situation as visiting an “in network” provider in the United States. In other words, the equipment is free (or vastly cheaper) to the patient if the selected brand is chosen.

Could cannabis go the same route?

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

At this juncture, that is unclear. Dronabinol, the only widely available source of cannabinoids in the country until 2016, is considered more of a generic than “name brand.” So far, neither it nor Sativex were pre-negotiated drugs. This was also for a very simple reason. There were only 800 registered patients in Germany until that year. That is far under the “orphan drug” category, which in Germany is 10,000 people. At this point, there are already much higher patient numbers (some cite as many as 79,000), with the majority of treatment going to patients with chronic pain.

By definition, this means that cannabis prices here will continue to be negotiated with little room for high mark-ups as the market consolidates. The more patients there are, the more attention will be paid to ensuring that the drug becomes affordable- not just to patients, but also insurers.

There is zero chance that the government will allow German public healthcare to be bankrupted over this still stigmatized plant, no matter how medically efficacious it is.

Germany and Israel at this point, have the longest established insurance mandate for cannabis- and in the German situation, this is now just two years old. The British NHS just announced that cannabis would be covered, with Luxembourg and Poland now also in the mix. However, the place of the insurance community in this debate is also a factor to be considered into the entire conversation as it unfolds here, beyond efficacy.

Dutch insurers in fact, stopped covering the drug almost as soon as Germany announced its own experiment.

It is unlikely that Wayland is unaware of such realities. The company has former executives from AOK on its German board. AOK is one of the largest statutory health insurers in Germany and one on the front line of cannabis reimbursements for the last two years.

Documentation: Are You Prepared?

By Radojka Barycki
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Documents play a key role in the world of regulations and global standards. Documents tell a story on programs development, implementation and verification during an inspection or audit. Documents are used as evidence to determine conformance to the law or standard. However, do you know what kind of documents may be reviewed during a regulatory inspection or a food safety audit? Are you prepared to show that the implementation of regulatory requirements or a standard is done efficiently at your facility?

Inspectors and auditors will look for compliance either to regulations or to a standard criterion. Regulations and standards require that documentation is controlled, secured and stored in an area where they cannot deteriorate. Therefore, writing a Document Management Program (DMP) will help a business owner ensure consistency in meeting this and other requirements.Radojka Barycki will host a a plenary session titled, “Cannabis: A Compliance Revolution” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn More

A well-developed and implemented DMP provides control over documents by providing a number sequence and revision status to the document. In addition, ownership for development, review and distribution of the documents are assigned to specific individuals within the company to ensure that there are no inconsistencies in the program. Documents must also have the name of the company in addition to a space to write the date when the record is generated. It is recommended to include the address if there are multiple operational sites within the same company.

There are different types of documents that serve as support to the operations:

  1. Program: A written document indicating how a business will execute its activities. When it comes to the food industry, this is a written document that indicates how quality, food safety and business activities are controlled.
  2. Procedures: General actions conducted in a certain order. Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs) allow the employee to know what to do in general. For example, a truck receiving procedure only tells the employee what the expected conditions are when receiving a truck (cleanliness, temperature, etc.) However, it doesn’t tell the employee how to look for the expected conditions at the time of the truck arrival.
  3. Work Instructions: Detailed actions conducted in a certain order. For example, truck inspection work instruction tells the employee what steps are to be followed to perform the inspection.
  4. Forms: Documents used to record activities being performed. 
  5. Work Aids: are documents that provide additional information that is important to perform the job and can be used as a quick reference when performing the required activities within the job. 
Are you prepared to face document requirements now and in the future?

The inspectors and auditors base their role on the following saying: “Say what you do. Do what you say. Prove it!” The programs say what the company do. The procedures, work instructions and work aids provide information on implementation (Do what you say) and the forms become records that are evidence (prove) that the company is following their own written processes.

Regulatory requirements for cannabis vary from state to state. In general, an inspector may ask a cannabis business to provide the following documentation during an inspection:

  1. Business License(s)
  2. Product Traceability Programs and Documents
  3. Product Testing (Certificate of Analysis – COAs)
  4. Certification Documents (applicable mainly to cannabis testing labs)
  5. Proof of Destruction (if product needs to be destroyed due to non-compliance)
  6. Training Documents (competency evidence)
  7. Security Programs

As different states legalize cannabis, new regulatory requirements are being developed and modeled after the pharma, agriculture and food industries. In addition, standards will be in place that will provide more consistency to industry practices at a global level. The pharma, agriculture and food industries base their operations and product safety in programs such as cGMPs, GAPs, HACCP-based Food Safety Management Systems and Quality Management Systems. Documents required during an inspection or audit are related to:

  1. Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)
  2. Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs)
  3. Food Safety Plan Documents
  4. Ingredient and Processing Aids Receiving
  5. Ingredient and Processing Aids Storage
  6. Operational Programs (Product Processing)
  7. Final Product Storage
  8. Final Product Transportation
  9. Defense Program
  10. Traceability Program
  11. Training Program
  12. Document Management Program

In the always evolving cannabis industry, are you prepared to face document requirements now and in the future?