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USDA Announces Hemp Regulations

By Aaron G. Biros
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This morning, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the establishment of the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. The program, as stipulated by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill, will establish a regulatory framework for hemp production in the country.

Secretary Perdue made the announcement in a YouTube video titled “USDA’s Hemp Policy.” Later in the week, an interim final rule formalizing the program will be published in the Federal Register, according to the USDA’s website. “The rule includes provisions for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to approve hemp production plans developed by states and Indian tribes including: requirements for maintaining information on the land where hemp is produced; testing the levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol; disposing of plants not meeting necessary requirements; and licensing requirements,” reads the press release. “It also establishes a federal plan for hemp producers in states or territories of Indian tribes that do not have their own approved hemp production plan.” The interim final rule will go into effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register, which should be by the end of this week.

You can find a preview of the rule here. The agency has also developed guidelines for sampling and testing procedures, which you can find here. Those documents are meant to provide more information for hemp testing laboratories.

You can watch the YouTube video and read the announcement he made below:

Hello everyone, as I travel across this great country of ours, I hear a lot about a strong interest in a new economic opportunity for America’s farmers: the production of hemp. Which is why today I am pleased to announce the USDA has published the rule establishing the US domestic hemp production program. We said we’d get it done in time for producers to make planning decisions for 2020 and we followed through. We have had teams operating with all hands-on-deck to develop a regulatory framework that meets Congressional intent while seeking to provide a fair, consistent and science-based process for states, tribes, and individual producers who want to participate in this program. As mandated by Congress, our program requires all hemp growers to be licensed and includes testing protocols to ensure that hemp grown under this program is hemp and nothing else. The USDA has also worked to provide licensed growers access to loans and risk management products available for other crops. As the interim final rule, the rule becomes effective immediately upon publication in the federal register. But we still want to hear from you. Help us make sure the regulations meet your needs. That’s why the publication of the interim final rule also includes a public comment period continuing a full and transparent rulemaking process that started with a hemp listening session all the way back in March 2019. At USDA, we are always excited when there are new economic opportunities for our farmers and we hope the ability to grow hemp will pave the way for new products and markets. And I encourage all producers to take the time to fully educate themselves on the processes, requirements and risk that come with any market or product before entering this new frontier. The Agricultural Marketing Service will be providing additional information, resources and educational opportunities on the new program. And I encourage you to visit the USDA hemp website for more information. As always, we thank you for your patience and input during this process.

Poland Pushes Forward On Reform

By Marguerite Arnold
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Given all the fuss about newly opened markets in Europe of late (see all the hullabaloo recently in the UK), it would be remiss for anyone in the industry to forget about Poland.

The Eastern European country that shares a large part of its border (if not recent history and long cultural influence) with Deutschland has been proceeding slowly into the cannabis space for the last couple of years.

There are a couple of similarities (and differences too) about the market development in the country to its Teutonic sister to the West as well as the emerging fight over access that is sparking patient revolutions all over the continent now.

A Brief History Of Polish Cannabis Reform

Like other culturally conservative places (see state reform in the United States in places like Georgia), Poland has moved towards reform in a way that may make political sense, but has left patients in much the same boat as British ones. Reform began happening without access as of late 2017.

Polish Flags Image: włodi, Flickr

Poland, or so the joke goes in Germany, is Deutschland’s “trailing sister,” on most things, and cannabis reform in some ways, is absolutely following that pattern. But it is not exactly analogous, starting with patient access. In fact, the first opening of the market did not touch import much less cultivation. It only authorized patients to cross borders in search of their medication. No matter the high cost involved. And of course, the still dodgy proposition of returning across a border with a highly stigmatized narcotic product.

Fast forward a year? Many of the major Canadian cannabis companies had achieved some sort of import (mostly of small amounts of the drug and mostly to single hospitals). See the announcement of Aurora last October on the same day that the Polish government announced a change in the law that they had imported in bulk to a hospital.

But what is going on now, particularly with a growth in acceptance of the medicinal impact of the drug across Europe? And will the Poles, like the Germans, launch a domestic cultivation bid anytime in the near future? Not to mention learn the lessons that so far have continued to stymie German domestic cultivation as well as frustrate a smooth supply chain if not operations on the ground?

The Market Is Coalescing

According to Andrew Makatrewicz de Roy, managing director of Bearstone Global, a market research and investigative firm moving into the cannabis space, Poland has one of the more progressive laws in Europe, but still is lagging behind other countries in terms of organisation and a political lobbying movement.

“There is a lot of vibrancy in the market, but we want to make sure that there is an initial forum where the market can meet and discuss the industry here”.There are also a few (low volume) transactions taking place.

However, as in other places (see the UK in particular), there is a lot of heat if no fire yet behind the scenes. Both individuals and companies are starting to appear who will help build a wider ecosystem in the cannabis space.

As in other countries in Europe, despite the market potential, there is still a general political lag in further development of the industry. Perhaps because of complications in the German market. And almost certainly because of complications with German reform and its own cultivation bid. There have been rumours of a Polish bid circulating for at least a year. Licensed cultivation is beginning to take place.

In response, Makatrewicz de Roy is moving to establish one of the first industry conferences in the country in October. In late July, he also held the first precursor to the same – an online streamed event that attracted 70 major thought leaders from the industry including many members of the political class, producers and distributors (including some of the biggest Canadian ones), doctors and patients.

“We want to build an ecosystem,” de Roy said. “There is a lot of vibrancy in the market, but we want to make sure that there is an initial forum where the market can meet and discuss the industry here”.

South American Firms Begin Exporting Cannabis To Germany

By Marguerite Arnold
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In a sign of how widely the German government is now casting its net for medical cannabis, even South America is not off the table. At the end of last month, two firms– one from Uruguay and another from Columbia- announced that they would begin importing medical cannabis of the THC and CBD kind.

Fotmer Life Sciences (from Uruguay) and Clever Leaves (Columbia) are entering a market where domestic cultivation has been on the drawing board for two years so far, but so far, brought down by lawsuits.

At present, Aphria, Aurora and Wayland are the big Canadians in front position on the German bid- but so far that is only importing. There are legal challenges against what appears to be the domestic cultivation licenses that appear so far to be unresolved. And against that backdrop, the big Canadians are also facing competition from indie German distributors now casting a wide net for product, globally.

Due to the timing of the announcement from South America and the firm involved in the import, CanSativa GmbH is clearly connected to the large gap in demand that is now developing in the German market and supply requirements. Further CanSativa is also a German firm engaged in what insiders on the ground admit is basically the only way to enter the market here right now, namely via an agreement with one of the new (and Frankfurt-based) distributors who are interested in this space.

Cannabis Central Is Not Berlin

To the great surprise of outsiders, who have long believed that Berlin is the center of all things cannabis in Germany, CanSativa is now one of quite a few firms who have not only called Frankfurt home, but have begun to put the city on the global cannabis map. That started of course with MedCann GmbH (later acquired by Canopy Growth), now with a huge new office in the center of the banking district.

However that also includes the now controversial Farmako, and several other new distributors who are setting up shop with a “Mainhatten” address.

Why Frankfurt? It has one of the best and busiest airports in the world just 20 minutes from the center of the city, and of course, it is home to the Deutsche Börse, the center of not only German, but European finance.

What Does This Announcement Mean?

For those interested now in setting sail for Europe, there is clearly a strategic path to get there, even if it means picking up stakes and setting down cultivation roots in places where there is an ex-im market. While the announcement about Latin American exports is not unexpected, it is also surprising that the very competitive young distributors now popping up in Germany, in particular, cannot find closer sources to bring cannabis into the country from.

However, it is early days yet. The Israelis are coming as of this summer. German inspectors are also on the ground in Macedonia through June, certifying the early movers in the market there to begin importing presumably just before Israel enters the global ex-im business, finally.

There will also be an uptick in firms exporting at least medical grade (GMP-certified) CBD and hemp in the direction of Europe from the United States, although at present that traffic is a trickle as firms begin to find out about the possibility.

Regardless of the source, however, the news is yet another sign that the medical market is taking root, no matter how ambiguous the numbers still are, and no matter how hard it is on the ground to obtain.

Cannabis is now, indeed, entering Europe via Germany from all over the world, and it’s only going to get hotter this year.

Federal Funding Is Flowing To Canada’s Cannabis Production

By Marguerite Arnold
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The Canadian federal government is going where the U.S. (for now) is not: namely allowing provinces to channel federal agricultural funds into commercial cannabis production on the provincial level. The program is called the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (or CAP), which is a $2.2 billion annual initiative designed to support agricultural businesses across the country.

So far, not every province has opened this funding to cannabis production, although British Columbia already has, and Alberta is currently considering it.

Even more intriguing of course, are other programs that tie into such agricultural subsidies (including government support for exporting product). See Europe for one.

These programs are of course nothing new, including in the United States.

What is new, different and intriguing, is that unlike the United States, for the first time such government funds are being used to support not only the domestic cultivation of cannabis, but its global export. If there ever was the beginning of a “green new deal” then this might be it.

Canadian companies are certainly seeming to benefit from this federal largesse at the production point. For example, in the first weeks of April, CannTrust Holdings Inc. announced that its entire 450,000 square foot, perpetual harvest facility in Pelham, Ontario is fully licensed and will be online by summer 2019. THC BioMed just announced that it received Health Canada’s permission to begin additional production at its flagship location in Kelowna, B.C. And Beleave has just commenced sales of cannabis oil products at licensed facilities in Hamilton, Ontario.

The Rise of Government Funding In a “Publicly Owned” Company Environment

One of the more intriguing impacts of the rise of government funding for the industry comes at a time when the industry itself, certainly coming out of Canada, is facing a bit of a zeitgeist moment.

Sure, the industry has gained legitimacy, and there might be nascent cannabis funds in the UK, Switzerland and Germany, but the entire “public cannabis company” discussion is hitting a bit of a reset at the moment.

It was after all, ostensibly “public” Wayland that just dusted much higher fliers from the stock price perspective on winning the German cultivation bid. In fact, some insiders on the ground have commented that it is precisely because Wayland is not a stock market favorite, rather focused on fundamentals that they got chosen in the first place. Starting with the old-fashioned idea of committing resources and elbow grease to create production on the ground, locally.

There are also firms who are benefitting from the first tax funds that have flowed to promote the hemp industry (those are available from state governments here).

However, it is not just Germany where this discussion is going on in Europe right now. In Spain, there is political discussion about ensuring that the nascent and valuable cannabis industry does not end up in the control of “outsiders.” Namely international firms who have more of an eye on profit than community building. The idea of the cannabis industry as an economic development tool has certainly caught on in Europe (see Greece and Macedonia). And core in that idea is that the euros generated by this still remarkably price-resilient plant, and the products produced from it, should stay local.

Cannabis Socialism?

For now, and certainly in Canada, federal public funding looks pretty much like a fancy agricultural grant. But in the future as prices drop and the wars over strains and “medical” vs. “recreational” really begin to rage in Europe, the idea of government-funded cannabis cultivation may be an idea whose time has come.

The German automobile industry, for example, did not come from nowhere – and even today receives massive government funding. For now, certainly in Deutschland, that is not the case with cannabis, but things may be changing with the resolution of the first tender bid.

In the future, in other words, as countries across Europe begin to think about posting their own production bids and Germany contemplates additional ones, government funding of the industry and certainly incentives to help its growth will become much more widespread.

Marguerite Arnold

Countries Take Lessons From Others On Legalizing Cannabis

By Marguerite Arnold
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As the German bid fiasco proves, and in spades, there is no easy transition out of prohibition. As of this April, it will be two years since the German Cannabis Agency issued its first cultivation bid. Since then, the first attempt went down in legal flames (in court) and the agency in charge, BfArM took an embarrassing hit for committing a “technical fault.” As of April, the second issuance gets its day in court. And then presumably, hopefully, cultivation can start to get going.

However, the German cultivation bid is far from the only time that government officials and regulators have created canna Frankensteins. In every legalizing market so far, in fact, from Colorado’s recreational start in 2014 to Canada, lawsuits, flubs and mistakes have been the order of the day.

There is a growing debate in Europe over how the cannabis industry should be allowed to flourish.States throughout the US continue to model their legalization frameworks off of states that have already done so. No wonder, then that as legalization rolls on, other countries are beginning to study the early movers- for tips on what to do and what to avoid.

New Zealand Takes A Look At Portugal

New Zealand is widely expected to become either the “next” country (or the one after that) to fully legalize recreational cannabis. Further it plans to do so during a national election (presumably ahead of the U.S. but that will be interesting to watch). New Zealand has jumped the gun already and put it on the electoral agenda.

That leaves the Kiwis with at least another 18 months to consider how they might pull it off. Don’t forget, it took the Canadians that long, with one failed initiation date last summer that was pushed to the fall. And that was with a medical market that was already three years old.

As of this month at least, New Zealanders are looking at several options, Portugal being one of them. Portugal gained distinction by decriminalizing all drugs at the turn of the century and has not looked back.

The country has seen a steady decline in all the bad stuff associated with the black market. Overdoses, drug crime, teen use and HIV infections have all dropped dramatically.

That said, for all Portugal’s forward motion, nobody else, yet, has quite followed suit.

Decriminalization, it should be pointed out, is also only one of the many issues facing a national change in policy. As Canada knows well.

Luxembourg Takes A Look At Canada

The Greens in Luxembourg certainly made news last year when they announced that recreational cannabis legalization was on their five-year legislative plan. In a tip to both U.S. and Canadian discussions about how legalization can increase tax revenues, Luxembourgers are also clearly looking at how to follow suit.

Auroraaurora logo cannabis so far has the only distribution agreement inked with the country to provide medical supplies, but it is unknown at this point whether Luxembourg will be content to merely import or grow its own.

One of the biggest problems Europeans will encounter immediately in looking at the Canadian transition to recreational use is that the government literally had to mandate an additional five-year period for medical use after the beginning of the recreational market. So far, at least, Luxembourgians appear to want to do this the other way around. They have already created a multi year test and study program for medical uses of the drug.

A Big Difference In Approaches

There is a growing debate in Europe over how the cannabis industry should be allowed to flourish. On one end of the discussion who see no issues with the North American model of public companies, in particular, having the greatest influence over the shape of the industry. But this is not the only discussion in the room at this point, particularly given the huge head start the Canadian public companies now have in the rest of the world.

In places like Spain and Thailand, for example, politicians are also starting to bring other models to the fore- including protectionist policies around domestic cannabis production.

Regardless, compare and contrast is a trend that is still in its infancy as the market leaders struggle with the implications of half-baked policies and those who follow seek to emulate the successes but avoid the mistakes.

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Where Is The German Cultivation Bid?

By Marguerite Arnold
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For those following the German cultivation bid drama, there appears to be a real light at the end of a now two year tunnel– driven by a domestic demand that essentially requires that there be no more delays.

Then again, given developments so far, who knows really what will happen in April. It could be a whole new “fresh start” for a much-beleaguered process or it could just go down as yet another “train” on the basis of a “technical fault.”

One thing is for sure: BfArM again appears to be cautiously optimistic. Yet they have been there before, too. Yes, there is a rising patient count. But there are also now many other import options and cheaper prices coming into the EU. As a result, there is still the likelihood, however implausible, that the German government will want to kick this can a bit further down the road.

German Parliament Building

What is the newest development? In late January, BfArM, the German equivalent to the FDA and the agency in charge of oversight and regulation of all medicines and medical devices, issued a press release about the status of the cannabis cultivation bid they are tasked with overseeing.

If things are not taken off track by the next still pending lawsuit (due to be heard by the high court in Dusseldorf on 10 April of this year), the agency will award the bid. Not before, as the press release also states categorically.

The Highlights

There is no award date yet of course. However, if the court case is decided in favour of BfArM this time (namely defending their exclusion of a bidder even though the deadline was delayed again for seven weeks last fall), there is reason to believe the public airing of that final list of license holders will be released soon after. That means the bid decision could come as soon as the next day and certainly by the end of April.

There were over 200 questions asked of the agency this time by around 79 bidders who submitted a total of 817 bids for a total of 13 cultivation lots. No more than five lots can go to any one bidder or consortium.

The amount to be cultivated under this first bid is 10,400 kg over four years (up from the first amount). Even this is expected to be too low to meet a clear and increasing domestic demand. That said, there is clear expectation that the remainder between what is cultivated domestically and consumed will be taken up by imports (although from where was not explicitly discussed).

The agency also stressed that they are responsible only for the administration of the tender itself. They will not receive, store or redistribute the cannabis or cannabis products. Further, BfArM also stressed that they are not responsible for the regulation of the final retail price at pharmacies.

Finally, the target date for the delivery of the first crops is a conservative estimate which says two things. One, BfArM are not tipping their hand in favour of Wayland (who at present has the largest licensed GMP facility in the country), and second, they are leaving themselves and bid respondents a little more wiggle room. Just in case. For whatever reason.

As the bid states, successful respondents do not need to have suitable real estate under contract until the finalists are announced, but if they are awarded the bid, they will have to not only move fast to secure a facility, but also set up a grow facility that can be certified in the next interim period.

By way of contrast, Wayland announced its purchase of the Ebersbach facility in the summer of 2017. They have just received, 18 months later, their GMP certification. Anyone starting from scratch, in other words, would have to move at least as fast as Wayland has. If not a bit faster, considering that Wayland is already up and running, and at this point certified.

Between The Lines

The entire cannabis legalization discussion has been caught up in the cultivation bid since the beginning. Patients in fact, lost their temporary right to grow if they could not afford the expensive cannabis being sold in pharmacies before 2017. After the law changed, only licensed and regulated operators were allowed to distribute the imported variety and then only from Holland and Canada.

Since then, the first cultivation bid went down in a legal challenge, the price of cannabis at the retail end has effectively increased at least 1,000 euros a month and there are as many as 80,000 German patients taking some kind of cannabinoid, mostly for chronic pain.

It is insurers, in other words, at least as much and now more than patients who are now on the sharp and expensive end of the stick.

Then again, until the actual announcement from the Dusseldorf high court if not BfArM itself, expect late breaking developments and drama until the very end.However, the interim frustrating period auf Deutschland plus the continuing needle of political reform just about everywhere (certainly in Europe) has changed the scenery dramatically in just two years. There are cultivation operations in Spain and Portugal with crops ready to be exported to the German consumer. Eastern Europe and Italy are also cultivating. Greece is preparing to. And Israel finally allowed its producers to jump into the medical game globally.

Prices will inevitably come down. The German government and insurance industry beyond that are two powerful drivers to insure the same. And a big part in bringing that price down is setting a bid reference price to begin with.

The situation, in other words, is being staged to move into the next “four-year plan” where Germany begins to understand how widely effective cannabinoids can be, for what conditions and what kind of delivery mechanisms work best for different patients.

It also aligns the country’s medical program perfectly with Luxembourg’s own four-year medical trial and now stated timeline of ensuring there is recreational reform by 2022.

All of which, in other words, also spells victory and potentially the end game to the first part of the German medical cannabis cultivation question and a larger first step for the EU beyond that to finally end medical cannabis prohibition.

Then again, until the actual announcement from the Dusseldorf high court if not BfArM itself, expect late breaking developments and drama until the very end.

Stay tuned.

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Canopy Growth Announces UK Expansion

By Marguerite Arnold
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On December 28, 2018, Canopy made the unsurprising announcement that it would begin exporting medical cannabis to the UK. The move comes shortly after the formation of Beckley Canopy, the research effort founded in partnership with the Beckley Foundation and Amanda Fielding, the woman who has continued to pioneer the field of cannabinoid research, and the announcement that Canopy will jumpstart medical trials here.

The two events are also connected, as the company will most likely start its export direct to the trials now planned and in general for research purposes as well as pharmacies, based on doctor’s orders.

Impact On The UK Market

Canopy of course, is now in a race with several other Canadian firms to establish market presence both on the trial and patient front. Tilray, Namaste and Wayland Group have all lined up to enter the market, if not having secured first patient orders. That said, entry will be slow for all, namely because of import regulations that may well still go off the cliff because of Brexit.

Intriguingly, however, the Canadians are not the only ones now in the ring. And the “Irish Question” is becoming even more of a potential source of cannabis. That became obvious in the aftermath of an announcement for additional funding and a 25% equity stake in Dublin-based Greenlight Medicines by SOL Global, a Canadian-listed company. Greenlight has already established an extensive network of not only researchers but has a reach at this point to over 1,000 pharmacies across the UK and Ireland.

Bottom line? Look for discussions on access to be fundamentally caught up in the impending, larger political discussions that are still deadlocked, with no certainty in site.And while so far at least, Scotland has remained quiet on the discussion, along with Wales and Cornwall, these are also places domestically in the UK where there could be new cultivation operations coming shortly.

Why? Wales is the “duchy” of none other than the Prince of Wales, Charles, the man who will be the next king of England. For most of his life, he has been pilloried for his ideas about alternative healthcare and organic farming. However, he also owns vast lands in Wales that support him, supported by rents, that are likely, in the near future, to switch to cannabis farming. Whatever reluctance he might have had to take the plunge, this is likely to change course with the next generation when he becomes king. Oversight of the management of all of this bounty will switch to his son, William. And this is a no-brainer, beyond of course, the fact that his sister-in-law, the Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) already has a cannabis brand named after her.

Apart from this political and Royal twist, look for cannabis farming to occur in places like Cornwall, which has temperate weather brought by the Gulf Stream, a tourist economy and a desperate need, like many parts of the UK, for urban renewal. A high tech, high worth agricultural injection, in other words, is just what these parts of the country need.

Scotland, still, is an unanswered question mark, but it is unlikely that much growing will occur in the northern climes. That said, with cannabis production (of all sorts) beginning to wake up, there is no reason that the processing question will escape this part of the British Isles.That also means that calls for domestic cannabis to be grown in the UK itself could become much louder.

What Impact Will Brexit Really Have On Cannabis?

There is no way to really understand this question until the dust settles with negotiations that now have the potential to disrupt all trade between the UK and the rest of the world, including the Republic of Ireland. Ports and transportation through them are facing major disruption. Preparations for an off the cliff exit far beyond cannabis, have also been repeatedly criticized as being far too little, too late.

Bottom line? Look for discussions on access to be fundamentally caught up in the impending, larger political discussions that are still deadlocked, with no certainty in site.

That also means that calls for domestic cannabis to be grown in the UK itself could become much louder. Along with an impetus for greater reform.

Regardless, this drug, so often just below the surface of international affairs for so long, is clearly going to be in the room in larger political discussions now unfolding in the UK.

Impact On National Healthcare

British people, since the end of WWII, have had access to free healthcare thanks to the NHS. That said, after a decade of austerity, the system is now facing crisis unseen since the war. There are 100,000 doctor vacancies at the so-called “Trusts” across the UK which manage regional healthcare. Waiting times even for lifesaving operations are at an all-time high. And approvals for drugs, especially like cannabis, which fall into the territory of “special approval” across Europe are also caught in the mix.

UKflagAs in other countries, in other words, while the news of exports beginning to enter the market is good for patients and the industry beyond that, it is just a start to a longer battle that is still playing out across Europe.

That said, there is another issue in the room that is also absolutely on the table and will be part of the medical cannabis conversation going forward. Digital healthcare–and of all kinds–is being touted as the solution to doctor and service shortages. Look for innovative cannatech solutions in particular that target this market in particular, in the near future.

In the meantime, the green trickle has begun. That said, given all that is at stake and on the table, there are many questions in the room about when the flood will actually take off.

israel flag

Israel and Thailand Approve Cannabis Exports

By Marguerite Arnold
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israel flag

On Christmas Day, not only did Israel, global leader in medical cannabis in particular, finally decide to legalize medical exports, but in a surprise move, so did Thailand.

Both developments are likely to have huge implications on the entire global cannabis discussion, albeit in slightly different ways.The impact will be interesting to watch.

Israel’s Export Decision

The issue of exports from the original home of the medical cannabinoid revolution has been a perennial sticky wicket for the last several years. As the Israeli medical market liberalized at home and certainly in the last five years, the government steadfastly refused to export the drug. Further, the country’s president Benjamin Netanyahu also cut a political deal with Donald Trump to move the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that delayed this discussion over the last 18 months. With a global market now exploding that Israel to date has been excluded from and Netanyahu’s political capital tarnished with corruption, things are about to change.

The impact will be interesting to watch. Especially with the network of Israeli production farms also sprinkling around particularly Eastern Europe and Greece.

Thai Surprise

Thailand’s parliament voted to legalize the use of medical cannabis, making it the first country in Southeast Asia to do so.

Here is also what is intriguing: The country is, like Israel, looking at creating a domestic boon with a tightly controlled domestic economy booster. Not to mention clearing the jails, which are filled to bursting with people on even low level drug offenses.

Thailand’s Parliament

And just like Israel, Thailand is also, already, talking protectionist measures to shield domestic producers from being bought out by foreign interests, certainly of the corporate kind.

The Combination Package

In the short term this means, at least on the export front, that there will be more competitors to the Canadian giants now entering the room. And between Israel and Thailand alone, this also means that new strains on the medical side, will begin to enter global medical markets.

For all the future promise of tweaked product, cheap cannabis flower and oil flooding markets globally by importers and distributors realizing that the game is far from over, is going to be the first real challenge the Canadian cannabis companies have yet faced.

In the wake of the news that Epidiolex is not as effective longer term as hoped (which is a common phenomenon in the pharmaceutical industry known as a “drug holiday” where users initially improve and then develop tolerance to the drug), this is also an intriguing new development. This means that new strains are entering the global market at an unprecedented pace, literally competing with pharmaceutical products at a time when reform continues apace.

At a time when cannabis investments (particularly in the US), quadrupled in 2018, this also means that western dollars, if not companies, will begin to find other markets and market outlets.

And that is a Christmas present in 2018 that will reverberate long into the future.

mgc-pharma

MGC Pharma Makes Its Slovenian Moves More Final

By Marguerite Arnold
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Right now the map of Europe, from a cannabis cultivation perspective at least, is shaping up to be very much like a game of Risk. Throw the dice, move your armies (or more accurately line up your financing), and apply for federal import and cultivation licenses.

In the process, all sorts of interesting strategic plays are popping up. And as a result, here is a new and actually pretty cool “alternative” reality that is easy to verify in several different ways. Medical cannabis is being cultivated in multiple countries across Europe as of 2018, however unbelievable this was even four years ago. Even though it is still cleary just early days. And those cultivators are already international, operating across federal jurisdictions in Europe and across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

With all the excitement and attention paid to the American hemisphere and the European moves of big Canadian LPs (and they are pretty amazing), there are still other moves afoot that are absolutely of note. Specifically, Australian firms and MGC Pharma in particular, have been moving steadily to establish both distribution and cultivation presence on the ground in Europe.

CannEpil MGC
CannEpil, the company’s first pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis product for the treatment of refractory epilepsy.

The latest news? MGC’s production facility in Slovenia was officially inspected by authorities and issued an interim license for its production plant in January, before presumably being given a green light of approval permanently. The company is also moving forward with the production of CannEpil, the company’s first pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis product for the treatment of refractory epilepsy.

Refractory epilepsy affects about 30% of all those who suffer from the condition. Refractory is one of those words however, that hides its real meaning. Translation for those without an MD? This is “drug resistant” epilepsy. Resistant to all drugs before, of course, except cannabinoids.

And that is a welcome relief for patients domestically and throughout Europe. It is also a note to investors looking for savvy Euro plays right now.For all manufacturers now considering entering this market, this is a complicated environment to begin negotiating

This is a major win for MGC. Not to mention a vibrant medical market. No matter where specialty drugs are now going to be sourced from.

A Treatment-Driven “Branded” Pharma Market

What more traditional American pharmaceutical companies have known for a long time (certainly since the 1950’s) is now a fact also facing all cannabis brands coming to the European market and Germany in particular. The regulatory environment is hostile to the extreme for Auslanders in particular. Specifically, the development of “branded” or “name brand” drugs runs economically and philosophically counter to the concept of public health insurance itself even as their market accessibility is required by the same. This is even more the case for foreign firms with such ideas.

Here is the problem. Name brands are expensive. They are also usually outlier drugs for specific, relatively rare conditions. This is also the place where new drugs enter the market, no matter what they are.mgc-pharma

In an environment where the government negotiates bulk contracts for common drugs and these can be bought at every apotheke (pharmacy) for 10 euros and a doctors rezept (prescription), the chronically ill and those with drug resistant conditions are left out of the discussion. They face steep and usually inaccessible bills up front for all meds not in bulk purchase categories. And that as of last year in Germany specifically, includes cannabis. That is the case even though technically the government is now buying cannabis in bulk and making purchase commitments to foreign companies for the same. Insurance companies, however, are still forcing patients to pay the entire out of pocket cost up front and wait to reimbursed.

“Generic” Brands For Off label Chronic Conditions

However medical cannabis is clearly not just another drug. Cannabis falls on both sides of every fence in this discussion.

The first problem is that the providers (importers and soon to be domestic cultivators) are private companies. All of them are foreign helmed at this point, with a well-developed bench of branded products. That makes all cannabis drugs, oil and flower, by definition, fall into the “expensive” branded category immediately. The German, Italian, and Danish governments appear to be now negotiating bulk buys during a licensing season that is well on the way to domestic cultivation too. That alone will affect domestic prices and new products. But again, this is now several years behind other countries – notably MGC in Slovenia, Tilray in Portugal, all things now afoot in Denmark and clearly, Greece.

Next, cannabis’s status as a still imported, speciality, semi-trial status in the EU means it is in the most restricted categories of drugs to begin with (no matter the name or strength of the cannabinoid in particular). And because it can be bought as bud, in an “unprocessed” form as well as processed oils or other medicine, this is throwing yet another spanner into the mix.

Look for distribution deals all over Europe as a result, starting with PolandThen there is this wrinkle. Cannabis (even CBD) is currently considered a narcotic within the EU and even more specifically the largest continental drug market – Germany. The German regulatory system in particular, also imposes its own peculiarities. But basically what this means in sum is that the legal cannabis community including distributors and pharmas at this point, have to educate doctors in an environment where cannabis itself is a new “brand.” Who manufactures what, for the purposes of German law, at least, is irrelevant. It is what that drug is specifically for that matters.

For all manufacturers now considering entering this market, this is a complicated environment to begin negotiating. This is sure not how things are back home.

What this also means is that low cost, speciality cannabis products will continue to be imported across Europe for the German and other developing, regulated sovereign markets here as doctors learn about cannabis from condition treatments. And that is what makes the news about MGC even more interesting.

Look for distribution deals all over Europe as a result, starting with Poland. And, despite the many well-connected and qualified hopefuls from Canada, a little competition in the German market too.

MS is the only “on-label” drug at present for cannabis treatment in Germany. As a result, particularly when it comes to paediatric treatment for drug resistant epilepsy, this is the kind of strategic presence that will create a competitive source for highly condition-branded medication for a very specific audience of patients. It is also what the German market, for one, if not the EU is shaping up to be at least in the near term.

As this interesting abstract from 2006 clearly shows, this kind of epilepsy is also high on the German radar from a public policy and healthcare-cost containment perspective. The costs of treatment per patient were between 2,600 and 4,200 euros for three months a decade ago, and not only have those risen, but so have the absolute number of people in similar kinds of situations.

Further, with indirect costs far higher than direct costs including early retirement and permanent semi disability, MGC’s market move into an adjacent (and cheaper) production market might be just what the German doctors if not policymakers now looking at such issues, will order.

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Aurora Leads Cannabis Import Race in Italy by Winning (Mostly) Exclusive Rights

By Marguerite Arnold
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Just as the dust had settled on the news that Canadian LP Aurora had signed agreements to finance a major growing facility in Denmark, the company also added another European feather to its cannabis cap.

On January 18, the company announced that it is the sole and exclusive winner of an EU-wide tender bid to begin to supply medical cannabis to the Italian government through the Ministry of Defense. Why is this federal agency in charge instead of the federal ministry of health? So far, the Italian cannabis program has been overseen exclusively by the Italian military.

pedanios cannabis
Pedanios cannabis, produced in Canada and imported through Germany

But the military just isn’t cut out to cultivate cannabis for the entire medical needs of a country, which should seem obvious. And that is where the Canadian LPs apparently are coming into play.

There were two stages to the bid, with Pedanios, Aurora’s German-based arm prequalifying in the first. In the final round, Pedianos won exclusive rights to begin supplying the government with medical cannabis.

What is interesting, however, is what this says not only about the potential growth of the cannabis market in Italy, but beyond that, Germany.

A German-Canadian Sourced Italian Product?

Pedanios, who won the bid, is the German-based arm of Aurora, one of Canada’s largest LPs. And Italian medical cannabis is now about to be routed by them from Canada, via Berlin, to market locally via pharmacies. It is certainly one of the stranger paths to market globally.

This announcement is even more interesting given that Aurora is widely suspected to be one of the top contenders in the still-pending German bid.aurora logo

Could this herald a German-sourced cannabis crop for an Italian neighbour?

And what does this say about the sheer amount of volume potentially needed for cultivation next door (or even in Italy) as Germany begins its own cultivation program, presumably this year, to source an already undersupplied domestic market where growing numbers of patients are getting their medical cannabis covered under public health insurance?

Will Germany further antagonize its neighbours over a cannabis trade imbalance? Or does this mean that a spurt of domestic Italian cannabis production is also about to start?

There are 80 million Germans and about 60 million Italians. Who will be the cannabis company to supply them?

Nuuvera Also Makes Italian Moves

Less widely reported, however, was the news that Aurora/Pedanios would not be the only private supplier to the Italian market. Nuuvera, which just announced that they had become finalists in the competitive Germany cultivation bid, also just acquired an import license to Italy for medical cannabis by buying Genoa based FL Group.Nuuvera logo

One thing is clear. The pattern of establishing presence here by the foreign (mostly Canadian) firms has been one of acquisition and financing partnerships for the past 2 years.

Import until you cultivate is also clearly the guiding policy of legalizing EU countries on the canna front.

The question really is at this point, how long can the import over cultivation preference continue? Especially given the expense of imported cannabis. Not to mention the cannabis farms now popping up all over the EU at a time when the Canadian market will have enough volume from recreational sales to keep all the large (and small) LPs at production capacity for years to come.

In the next year, in fact, look for this reality to start changing. No matter who has import licenses now with flower and oil crossing oceans at this point, within the next 18-24 months, look for this pattern to switch.

The distributors will be the same of course. But the brand (and source) of their product will be from European soil.

Foreign Invasions, Domestic Cultivation Rights & More

ICBC logoOne of the more interesting professional conferences this year globally will clearly be the ICBC in Berlin, where all of these swirling competitions and companies come together for what is shaping up to be the most influential cannabis business conference in Europe outside of Spannabis (and with a slightly different approach). Nowhere else in the world now are international companies (from bases in Canada, Australia and Israel primarily) competing in such close proximity for so many foreign cannabis markets and cultivation rights to go with them.

With the average cultivation facility in Europe going for about USD $30-40 million a pop in terms of sheer capital requirements plus the additional capital to finance the inevitable delays, such market presence does not come cheap.

It is increasingly clear that the only business here will also be of the highly regulated, controlled medical variety for some time to come.

That said, when the move towards recreational does come, and within the next four years or so, the global players who have opened these markets on the medical side, will be well positioned to provide product for a consumer base that is already being primed at the pump. Even if for now, the only access is via a doctor’s prescription.