Tag Archives: EU

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Does Germany Have a Gray Market Problem?

By Marguerite Arnold
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german flag

Tilray just did something very interesting. In addition to announcing that it was shipping product to German distributor Cannamedical via its Portuguese facility, it also announced that it had begun outdoor cultivation.

Groovy.tilray-logo

Even more intriguing: the company is claiming that somehow, via its proprietary technology (apparently), this kind of crop will be legit for distribution within the EU medical system.

There is only one problem with this. Outdoor growing does not sound remotely GMP-certified.

Here is the next bit of exciting news. Tilray, apparently, is not the only large Canadian cannabis company now operating in Europe that appears to be trying to get around GMP certifications for medical market penetration. Or appear oblivious to the distinctions in the international (and certainly European market).

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

And things are a bit smelly on that front, not only in Denmark post CannTrust, but in truth even in Germany, the supposed “Fort Knox” of regulatory consumer and pharmaceutical standards.

In fact, at least according to insiders, there is apparently quite a bit of gray market product sloshing around in the Teutonic medical market. Even though so far, at least not publicly punished for the same, nobody has been caught. Or at least publically reprimanded.

And who is on the hot seat at least according to most of the licensed if not just pre-licensed indie producers and distributors who were contacted for this story? Sure, there are dark horse “start-up” indie violators, but they are not the only problem. Many who talked to CIJ named big public Canadian companies too. And potentially Bedrocan beyond that.

Who Is Who And What Is What?

Part of the problem, beyond any kind of deliberate flouting of regulations on the part of many companies who are at least trying to understand them, is that global standards are different. “GMP certifications” of every country, even within a region like Europe, are in fact, not uniform. That is why, for example, the new EU-US MRA agreement had to be signed first regionally and then on a state-by-state level across the EU.

Beyond Germany of course, there are other problems that are coming to the fore.In the medical cannabis space, in particular, right now, that is causing problems simply because many with pharma experience are not hip to the many risks in the cannabis industry itself. On the Canadian, Australian and American side, there is also a lot of bad advice, in particular, coming from consultants who should know better.

To be properly EU and German GMP-certified, one of the required steps is to have German inspectors walk your production floor. It is also not good enough to have “pesticide-free” or national organic certification at the crop cultivation site, and add GMP cert at time of “processing.” That piece of misadvise has been showing up not only in Canada, but Australia too. And creates a nasty reality if not expensive retooling upon entering the legitimate market in Europe, for starters.

These Issues Affect Everyone In The Industry

German Parliament Building

In an environment where ex-im is the name of the game, and even the big guys are short of product, compliance is getting granular as smaller players step up to the plate – and many if not most hopeful Canadian producers (in particular) now looking to Europe for sales are not (yet) up to speed.

A big piece of the blame also lies in the lack of proper administration at the federal and state level too – even auf Deutschland. To get a distribution license, a company must actually get three licenses, although there are plenty in the market right now who begin to describe themselves as “distributors” with less than the required certs.

The lack of coordination and communication, including which certs to accept as equivalent and from where is creating a market where those who know how to game the system are.

For example, several people who contacted CIJ, claimed that uncertified product was making its way into Germany via Central and Latin America, through Canada, picking up “GMP cert” along the way. In other words, not actually GMP-certified but labelled fraudulently to make it appear that way.

The same claims were also made by those with on-the-ground industry knowledge in South Africa (Lesotho).

Beyond Germany of course, there are other problems that are coming to the fore. As CIJ recently learned, a firm authorized by the Dutch government to provide cannabis packaging, including for exports, was not GMP certified until July 2019 – meaning that all product they shipped internationally even within Europe before that date potentially has labelling issues. Cue domestic importers. If not regulators.

Grey Market Product Is Making Its Way In Through Official Channels

For those who are taking the time to actually get through the legal registration and licensing process, it is infuriating to see others who are apparently fairly flagrantly buying market position but are in no position to fulfil such obligations. It is even more infuriating for those who intend to meet the requirements of the regulations to realize that the vast amounts spent in consulting fees was actually money paid for inaccurate information.

And the only way ultimately the industry can combat that, is by standing up, as an industry, to face and address the problem.German distributors are so aware of the problem that they are starting to offer gap analysis and specific consulting services to help their import partners actually get compliant.

Government agencies also might be aware of the problems, but they have been reluctant to talk about the same. CIJ contacted both BfArM and the local Länderauthorities to ask about the outdoor grow in Portugal and the lack of GMP cert for a Dutch packager. After multiple run-arounds, including sending this reporter on a wild rabbit chase of federal and state agencies (who all directed us back to BfArm) and an implication by the press officer at BfArM that the foreign press was not used to talking to multiple sources, CIJ was redirected back to state authorities with a few more instructions on which bureau to contact. The state bureau (in Berlin) did not return comments to questions asked by email.

Here is the bottom line that CannTrust has helped expose this summer: the entire global cannabis industry is trying hard to legitimize. Not every company is shady, and there are many who are entering it now who are playing by the rules. But those who are hoping to exploit loopholes (including “name” if not “public” companies) are also clearly in the room.

And the only way ultimately the industry can combat that, is by standing up, as an industry, to face and address the problem.

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From CannTrust To Canopy: Is There A Connection To Current Cannabis Scandals?

By Marguerite Arnold
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Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

As Europe swooned under record-breaking heat this summer, the cannabis industry also found itself in a rather existential hot seat.

The complete meltdown at CannTrust has yet to reach a conclusion. Yes, a few  jobs have been lost. However, a greater question is in the room as criminal investigatory and financial regulatory agencies on both sides of the US-Canada border (plus in Europe) are getting involved.

As events have shown, there is a great, big, green elephant in the room that is now commanding attention. Beyond CannTrust, how widespread were these problematic practices? And who so far has watched, participated, if not profited, and so far, said nothing?

Who, What, Where?

The first name in the room? Canopy Growth.Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

Why the immediate association? Bruce Linton, according to news reports, was fired as CEO by his board the same day, July 3, 2019, that CannTrust received its first cease and desist notice from Health Canada.

Further, there is a remarkable similarity in not only problematic practices, but timing between the two companies. This may also indicate that Canopy’s board believed that Linton’s behaviour was uncomfortably close to executive misdeeds at CannTrust. Not to mention, this was not the first scandal that Linton had been anywhere close to around acquisition time. See the Mettrum pesticide debacle, that also broke right around the time Canopy purchased the company in late 2016 as well as the purchase of MedCann GmbH in Germany.

Reorg also appears to be underway in Europe as well. As of August, Paul Steckler has been brought in as “Managing Director Europe” and is now based in Frankfurt. Given the company’s history of “co-ceo’ing” Linton out the door, is more change to come?

What Went Down At Canopy?

Last year, Canopy announced its listing on the NYSE in May. To put this in context, this was two months after the first German cultivation bid went down to legal challenge. By August 15, 2018 with a new bid in the offing, the company had closed the second of its multi-billion dollar investments from Constellation.

Bruce Linton, former CEO of Canopy Growth
Photo: Youtube, TSX

Yet by late October, after Bruce Linton skipped a public markets conference in Frankfurt where many of the leading Canadian cannabis company execs showed up to lobby Jens Spahn (the health minister of Germany) about the bid if not matters relating to the Deutsche Börse, there were two ugly rumours afoot.

Video showing dead plants at Canopy’s BC facility surfaced. Worse, according to the chatter online at least, this was the second “crop failure” at the facility in British Columbia. Even more apparently damning? This all occurred during the same  time period that the second round of lawsuits against the reconstituted German cultivation bid surfaced.

Canopy in turn issued a statement that this destruction was not caused by company incompetence but rather a delay in licensing procedures from Health Canada. Despite lingering questions of course, about why a company would even start cultivation in an unlicensed space, not once but apparently twice.  And further, what was the real impact of the destruction on the company’s bottom line?

Seen within the context of other events, it certainly poses an interesting question, particularly, in hindsight.

Canopy, which made the finals in the first German cultivation bid, was dropped in the second round – and further, apparently right as the news hit about the BC facility. Further, no matter the real reason behind the same, Canopy clearly had an issue with accounting for crops right as Canadian recreational reform was coming online and right as the second German cultivation bid was delayed by further legal action last fall.

Has Nobody Seen This Coming?

In this case, the answer is that many people have seen the writing on the wall for some time. At least in Germany, the response in general has been caution. To put this in true international perspective, these events occurred against a backdrop of the first increase in product over the border with Holland via a first-of-its kind agreement between the German health ministry and Dutch authorities. Followed just before the CannTrust scandal hit, with the announcement that the amount would be raised a second time.

German health authorities, at least, seem doubtful that Canadian companies can provide enough regulated product. Even by import. The Deutsche Börse has put the entire public Canadian and American cannabis sector under special watch since last summer.

Common Territories

By the turn of 2019, Canopy had announced its expansion into the UK (after entering the Danish market itself early last year) and New York state.

And of course by April, the company unveiled plans to buy Acreage in the U.S.

Yet less than two weeks later, Canopy announced not new cultivation facilities in Europe, but plans to buy Bionorica, the established German manufacturer of dronabinol – the widely despised (at least by those who have only this option) synthetic that is in fact, prescribed to two thirds of Germany’s roughly 50,000 cannabis patients.

By August 2019, right after the Canopy Acreage deal was approved by shareholders, Canopy announced it had lost just over $1 billion in the last three months.

Or, to put this in perspective, 20% of the total investment from Constellation about one year ago.

What Happened At CannTrust And How Do Events Line Up?

The current scandal is not the first at CannTrust either. In November 2017, CannTrust was warned by Health Canada for changing its process for creating cannabis oil without submitting the required paperwork. By March of last year however, the company was able to successfully list on the Toronto stock exchange.

Peter Aceto arrived at CannTrust as the new CEO on October 1 last year along with new board member John Kaken at the end of the month. Several days later the company also announced that it too, like other major cannabis companies including Canopy, was talking to “beverage companies.” It was around this time that illegal growing at CannTrust apparently commenced. Six weeks later, the company announces its intent to also list on the NYSE. Two days later, both the CEO and chair of the board were notified of the grow and chose not to stop it.

Apparently, their decision was even unchanged after the video and resulting online outrage about the same over the destroyed crops at the Canopy facility in BC surfaced online.

On May 10, just over a week after the Bioronica purchase in Germany, the first inklings of a scandal began to hit CannTrust in Canada. A whisteblower inside the company quit after sending a mass email to all employees about his concerns. Four days later, the company announced the successful completion of their next round of financing, and further that they had raised 25.5 million more than they hoped.

Six weeks later, on June 14, Health Canada received its warning about discrepancies at CannTrust. The question is, why did it take so long?

Where Does This Get Interesting?

The strange thing about the comparisons between CannTrust and Canopy, beyond similarities of specific events and failings, is of course their timing. That also seems to have been apparent at least to board members at Canopy – if not a cause for alarm amongst shareholders themselves. One week after Health Canada received its complaint about CannTrust, shareholders voted to approve the Canopy-Acreage merger, on June 21.

Yet eight days after that, as Health Canada issued an order to cease distribution to CannTrust, the Canopy board fired Bruce Linton.

One week after that, the Danish recipient of CannTrust’s product, also announced that they were halting distribution in Europe. By the end of August, Danish authorities were raising alarms about yet another problem – namely that they do not trust CannTrust’s assurances about delivery of pesticide-free product.

Is this coincidence or something else?

If like Danish authorities did in late August 2019, calling for a systematic overhaul of their own budding cannabis ecosystem (where both Canadian companies operate), the patterns and similarities here may prove more than that. Sit tight for at least a fall of more questions, if not investigations.

Beyond one giant cannabis conspiracy theory, in other words, the problems, behaviour and response of top executives at some of the largest companies in the business appear to be generating widespread calls – from not only regulators, but from whistle blowers and management from within the industry itself – for some serious, regulatory and even internal company overhauls. Internationally.

And further on a fairly existential basis.


EDITOR’S NOTE: CIJ reached out to Canopy Growth’s European HQ for comment by email. None was returned.

Correction: This article has been updated to show that the Danish recipient of Canntrust’s product announced they were halting distribution one week after Bruce Linton’s firing, not one day. 

The Fall of Farmako?

By Marguerite Arnold
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Chances are if you follow the European cannabis scene, particularly out of Germany, that you might have heard of a firm called Farmako. They have certainly, in the three quarters or so they have been in business, been given a lot of “good press.” They certainly worked hard to get into the headlines.

The problem is that no matter how scintillating initial claims were to many members of the media if not industry beyond, the bloom was quickly off the rose in the same circles. Since at least March, these grumbles have earned the company increasingly bad press. Industry insider complaints and background knowledge also began appearing in places like Manager (a top German business magazine), Vice and Business Insider Germany. Behind the headlines and insider quotes, however, quite a few people are admitting, even if off the record, that while initially impressive enough to be believed – at least on the surface – most of Farmako’s claims have panned out so far to be just hot air. And there have been a lot of them, not only from the sourcing perspective but also from the research, scientific development and certainly tech fronts.

The rebutting, editing and confronting of which has also set off a round of really bad press.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Further, apparently even the embarrassing fallout (and of course resulting reorganization) is not what it seems to be. Which of course has also been described so far publicly by the Frankfurt-based company itself, and Berlin-based tech funder, Heartbeat Labs. The former of which are so far unsuccessfully walking back just about every claim made over recent months. The latter of which has a great deal of embarrassing egg on its face on the compliance front.

When reached for comment by Cannabis Industry Journal, Heartbeat Labs responded via email that they had none.

While Farmako is struggling to regain the confidence of the industry if not regulators and appears to be trying to hang on to its distribution license, the story itself is also illustrative of many of the failings of the so-far establishing cannabis industry. In Germany and elsewhere. Coming as it does within the summer of scandal involving both larger companies and start-ups, bigger questions about industry practices, in general are in the room. If not the backgrounds of those boasting about “industry experience” (or even worse when caught, “oops I have none, really”). Highly stereotypical fixes so far have also not helped.

Everyone makes mistakes in a world where everything is new and one where the regulations are constantly changing. The problem with Farmako in particular, is that there were so many.All the bragging in the English and German language press had consequences.

The Story So Far

Farmako made headlines earlier this year when they issued a press release claiming that they had inked a deal to “import 50 tonnes of cannabis from Poland.” They further claimed, when contacted by CIJ that they stood by the story. At this point, their claims were clearly about a future delivery. However, Farmako CEO Niklas Kouparanis then embellished further on Bloomburg. Kouparanis claimed that they were already distributing product from Macedonia.

The reality of course was nothing of the sort. While Farmako was distributing product it had sourced from other places, no Macedonian product had ever crossed the border. But as May rolled into June, it was clear that there was something else afoot. All the bragging in the English and German language press had consequences. The German press had a field day with the storied and very colourful past of both Farmako founders. The regulatory agency, BfArM conducted an investigation. Kouparanis was out by the beginning of July.

Producers Do Not Trust Them

Cannabis industry insiders (both producers and distributors) who contacted CIJ about this story, but wished to remain off the record, confirmed that many producers who had initially heard of the firm in both Poland and Macedonia, in particular, were distancing themselves from Farmako. But the stories were not limited to Eastern Europe. In the UK, where Farmako had used a chunk of its investment from Heartbeat Labs to also open a London office, cannabis professionals expressed scepticism of almost all of the company’s claims including not just sourcing, but on the tech and R&D side. One senior executive in the Canadian industry said on deep background that he was tired of the lies from Diemer in particular, and never wanted to speak to anyone associated with the company ever again.

And clearly all was not well within Farmako itself, no matter the constant cheery optimism, if not “shucks we didn’t know” attitude of all involved when actually confronted or questioned about their behaviour – and or statements – particularly to the press.

What Has Been The Upshot To Date?

Kouparanis may be history but Diemer remains with the company. Although Heartbeat Labs claims this has nothing to do with the subsequent company re-org and Kouparanis’ departure, insiders in the industry claim otherwise. Further, several also suggested that any attempt on the part of Farmako to enter into contracts until July was fundamentally compromised by the actions of Farmako execs themselves.

Diemer certainly, has been remarkably candid at least in review about one aspect that most in the cannabis industry who have encountered him so far agree with. He has come clean in interviews that he knows very little about the legitimate cannabis industry. Perhaps that is also why he has continued to claim that there is no crisis at the company.

Both statements of course also raise questions about why he is still there.

The company is still in business although apparently finding it very difficult to source product.The appointment of a new CEO, Geschäftsfüherinen– a female and first head of any kind of cannaspecialist distribution company auf Deutsch, Katrin Eckmans is also interesting. Eckmans makes her apparent cannabis industry debute with a professional background that includes ex-im at Frankfurt airport, after the quick departure of Kouparanis. Particularly given that he co-founded the company with Diemer after leaving a year long stint at Cannamedical (the second indie cannabis specialty distributor in Germany, established in 2017 by David Henn). And she is apparently being hired for both complementary experience and her gender (which while refreshing in a still male dominated industry is widely also regarded as at this point fairly easy-to-spot window dressing conveniently proffered to regain confidence of investors if not customers in a gender-friendly twist when a company or organization hits an existential crisis).

Calling in even a highly competent if inexperienced in the cannabis niche woman, in other words, even in this industry, does not necessarily “fix” things. This goes from company culture to critical relationships within the industry (upon which distributors like Farmako depend on at this point).

For now, at least, Farmako, and its financier in Berlin appear to have deflected criticism of their efforts although those who have had interactions with the staff are placing bets on when the doors in both Germany and the UK will shutter.

Farmako’s detractors may yet also lose such wagers. The company is still in business although apparently finding it very difficult to source product. Not, in this case because they cannot find it – but rather because producers are flat out refusing to work with them.

In the meantime, particularly other German canna specialty distributors are taking a lesson from this story. If Farmako survives, in other words, it will do so by overtaking the competition that has sprung up all around them – which is not only unburdened by the baggage, but is also determined not to make the same mistakes.

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How Much Cannabis Astroturfing Is Afoot In The UK?

By Marguerite Arnold
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Astroturfing is the practice, in political messaging and campaigns, of creating what seems to be a legitimate, grassroots inspired campaign that is actually bought and paid for by an industry lobby or other corporate interests.

It is also clear that this practice is now entering the cannabis space, certainly in the UK.

How and Where?

On August 1, the British Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group sent out a group email entitled “Strategic litigation on medical cannabis access in the UK.” The email, from the group’s senior communications manager, was to announce the kick-off of a crowdfunding campaign to defend a cannabis patient.

It’s beneficiary? A British female MS patient, Lezley Gibson, now facing prosecution for growing her own cannabis after being unable to afford what was on offer at her local pharmacy.

Here is the first flag: MS is the only condition for which Sativex (manufactured by British firm GW Pharma) is prescribed on label (in other words without special approvals).

The problem is that the NHS (along with most of the German statutory approvers) feels that Sativex is still too expensive and not effective enough. And that problem won’t be solved with either patient home grow access or a lawsuit to gain that right, but rather funded trials.

UKflagHowever, more disturbingly, the email referenced the supposed success of a similar legal tactic in Germany several years ago. This is to say it used a highly inaccurate analogy. In Germany, a male chronic pain patient sued the government for the right to grow his own cannabis. He won the right temporarily, but this was taken away from him after the law changed in March 2017. Now he, like every other cannabis patient in Germany, must get his cannabis from a pharmacy. German patients also must get their initial prescription approved by health insurers – which is for everyone – but particularly non MS patients – the biggest fight in the room right now on the topic of medical efficacy.

Further, the right to grow one’s own medical cannabis, no matter the condition suffered, has been removed from patients in every legal jurisdiction where there is no constitutional right to it first – namely patients sue for the same.

As such, it is entirely conceivable that as a “strategic” case, this is more likely to put pressure on the NHS to pay the sky-high price of Sativex for MS patients (which it has already refused to do) than create any other kind of access for anyone else.

When contacted by Cannabis Industry Journal, a CDPRG spokesperson said that the patient had given her support for the crowdfunding campaign and needed help.

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Most German Patients Are Still Only Getting Dronabinol

However, there are other issues here. Namely that when selecting a strategic case (no matter how harsh this sounds to the individual patient), the entire discussion at this point – certainly from an efficacy point of view, might be better served with supporting the case of a patient who has less access because of either physical condition or economic status.

In fact, in Germany so far, thanks to the change in the law that the British group references, while there certainly are tens of thousands of cannabis patients at the moment (including many MS patients), the majority of them receive Dronabinol or Sativex. And all of them have to fight for medical access and approval from their insurers. That is of course, when they can find a doctor to prescribe in the first place. There are also estimates that there are close to a million patients in Germany who cannot get access, thanks to the change in the law created by one patient’s law suit.

Is this flavour of litigatious advocacy now afoot in the UK, in other words, the kind of lawsuit that is designed to benefit the industry more than patients looking for affordable, home-grown, if regulated product?

Astroturfing Cannabis Issues Under Brexit Colors?

No matter the real versus stated intent of the instigators of the Gibson case, or the eventual outcome of such litigation, there is no doubt that cannabis is being brought into larger political debates. And further, no surprise, “patient access” is an issue just as ripe for “issue manipulation” and astroturfing as anything else.

“Strategic” if not “crowdfunded” cause or tactical lawsuits are another form of this technique.

That foreign cannabis money is already in the room is also no surprise. The British press was alight with stories during June of the amount of money contributed to the CDPR Group from Canadian sources.

Seen within the context of Brexit itself, this is disturbing locally.There are other issues involved in this kind of challenge to the law.

Not to mention the fact that in May, none other than Arron Banks, the self-styled backer of the Leave Campaign, decided, suddenly, to throw his hat into the CBD oil ring on Twitter. Not to mention repeated the same information repeatedly, including his $4 million investment into the space during the following months so far. Plus, of course, wildly optimistic valuations of the U.S. market.

Suing For Patient Justice Or A Backdoor For Canadian and Other Corporate Interests?

There are other issues involved in this kind of challenge to the law.

The first is that in the British case this is actually not a constitutional case per se, but a human rights one. See the problems that those who are trying to define the British constitution right now on other matters (see Brexit) are running into.

The second is that while the patient in question in this case (Ms. Gibson) is undoubtedly relieved at the prospect of a legal defence for growing her own medication in the face of insurmountable cost, on the “positive” side, her case is unlikely to do much more than make impoverished patients fight NHS paperwork if they can find a doctor. See Germany, as a prime example.This lawsuit, in other words, no matter how it might get one woman out of a terrible legal situation, is not necessarily “pro-patient.”

But what it will do is something else. It may well remove the current widespread prohibition on the harvesting of cannabis flower in the UK. And while patients would face again being moved into the slow lane of NHS approvals (with lots of fights over efficacy looming and still unsolved), corporate growers and processors if not importers, already investing millions into such efforts across the UK and Ireland, benefit.

At the exclusion, also, as has been the case in Germany, of local producers who are not already large corporate interests or existing farms.

This lawsuit, in other words, no matter how it might get one woman out of a terrible legal situation, is not necessarily “pro-patient.” It also may well do everything to frustrate, slow down and further complicate medical access for those at the end of the chain, while only opening up “investment opportunities” for large companies and well-heeled interests who have nothing but profit, if not the destruction of the NHS in mind.

Luxembourg Announces Plans For Two Year Transition To Recreational Use

By Marguerite Arnold
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For those who have been watching, Luxembourg has played an inordinately influential role on the entire cannabis discussion in Europe for the past year.

This summer, the country announced that it had plans to implement recreational use (for residents only) within two years.

Last summer, the country not only changed its medical use policy as the Deutsche Börse tried to halt the clearances of cannabis trades made in Germany (Luxembourg is the place where the stock trades clear), but set a five-year mandate and timeframe as well.

This new announcement certainly is an attempt to signal at any rate, that the government is not going to run out the clock. But, realistically, with the extra six months already in front of the start date necessary to enshrine the legislation, plus whatever complications arise after that, Luxembourg could initiate its market on January 1, 2022.

Or, as is more likely, it could not. Including rolling delays caused by everything from EU objection and internal logistical hurdles of other kinds to lack of access to product.

Refom Redux?

Will Luxembourg be the “Colorado of Europe?” Probably not.

Will Luxembourg “be the next Canada?” Probably not either. However it is also worth noting that legislators and lawmakers from Luxembourg have drawn recent inspiration via numerous fact finding trips to Canada of late.

It is also worth remembering that even Canada’s great, green, “well-oiled” cannabis machine delayed its recreational market start by months last year. And that was a scenario already a generation in the making.

Further, as some would argue this summer, certainly post CannTrust, the relative “speed” with which Canada embraced its recreational market is again being criticized for not only being precipitous but a direct cause of problems in financial compliance and tracking.

The lack of regulatory muster, in other words, that even allowed a CannTrust to happen, will not fly in Europe. Certainly not in a country where regulations, including that of the European kind, are decided upon (the other center of EU regmaking is of course Brussels).

For that reason, no matter how exciting the news to an industry fighting an uphill battle on medical efficacy, there is plenty of room to temper enthusiasm.

Luxembourg is not going to be “just like” anywhere seen so far. The needle has moved. And the conversation is morphing if not moving on.

One of the most intriguing aspects of all of this, of course, is how insurers will treat the entire discussion.

Holland Round 2?

Here is what Luxembourg also won’t be. A new tourist mecca for out of towners. At least according to the current discussion. How the government will prevent that, is of course unclear. The same grey areas exist in the law behind Barcelona’s social clubs. The Dutch have tried for most of this decade to discourage this – and have largely failed.

What it very well might be, however, is a catalyst for change.  A before and after moment if you will.

european union statesThe Swiss are moving ahead with recreational and medical trials. The British, whatever their relationship with the world after Halloween, are too.

Luxembourg, whatever it ends up being, in other words, is well timed, if nothing else, to be a reference point if not conversation starter about real reform.

Including of course, medical impact, if not, beyond that, efficacy.

Here is where Luxembourg might in fact, be much closer to the Dutch experiment than any other place. Despite the fact the country has had a coffee shop culture for over 30 years, and Dutch medical cannabis is exported to countries all over the world, here is what is missing in Holland: Medical health insurance coverage for patients. In fact, Dutch insurers, en masse, stopped reimbursing the drug as soon as Germany changed its insurance rules in March 2017.

If that is on the agenda for Luxembourg, in other words, no matter how exciting a timeline for recreational is anywhere in Europe, this will be a pyrrhic victory indeed.

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European Cannabis Summer Roundup

By Marguerite Arnold
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european union states

There have been many significant developments this summer in Europe that will shape the debate about reform and the legal cannabis market that trails it, for at least the next year. Here is Cannabis Industry Journal’sroundup of our biggest events and trends over the summer so far.

Medical Sales Across Europe Are Slow

In Germany, it is easy to maintain a fairly ballpark understanding of patient count. Find the number of prescriptions issued in the trade press and divide by four. Everywhere else, however, the true realization of what is going on across Europe is slowly starting to hit everyone outside producers wanting to know what is going on.Establishing territorial footprint has been what the race in Europe has been all about since mid 2016 for the Canadian LPs so far.

This is going to start to hit stock prices soon beyond the wobbles already evident in the market thanks to this summer’s breaking industry scandals (CannTrust, lawsuits in every direction) to lack of financial performance for investors (Bruce Linton’s firing from Canopy). It is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone that just because a public Canadian company issues a press release about a (cultivation, import, export or processing) “event” does not mean anything other than a slew of social media telling everyone about it. The frustration with “forward looking” statements has hit European investors big time, from the retail to the institutional kind.

Despite a lot of press releases in other words, which clearly show market penetration, there is not much else going on from the sales perspective when it comes to growing those first numbers. Establishing territorial footprint has been what the race in Europe has been all about since mid 2016 for the Canadian LPs so far.

However, from an industry, if not investor and of course, patient perspective, patient numbers are what really count. And unlike Canada, where patients remain the biggest existential threat to the industry, the same industry may not sign them up or ship to them directly in Europe. For several reasons.

Germany is still the only country in Europe with a significant patient count, and while growing, slowly, is still a group where 2/3 of patients obtain dronabinol. It should shock nobody that the most accurate patient count right now in the UK is hovering somewhere under 20. For the whole country, 9 months after the law changed. While the peculiarities of Brexit are also in the room, this is so far, compared to U.S. state markets, Canada, Israel and Germany before it, pathetic.

The Industry Says It Supports Patients…But Does It?

There are several levels to this debate which start with the still appallingly high level of price gouging in the room. 2019 and certainly this summer is a time when the Canadian companies are clearly learning that European governments negotiate for drugs in bulk. Even (and especially in the near future) this one. See the difference between the EU and the US.

UKflagThe level of industry promotion vs patient access recently reached a new nadir this summer when it emerged that despite a great deal of interest, more people showed up (by far) to the week-long cannabis industry conference (European Cannabis Week in London in June) than there are legitimate patients in the UK right now.

That is about to change, but so far, industry support for trials has not materialized. When the various trials now being planned do get going, look for new battles over a couple of issues, starting with patient access to and control of their medical data.

Novel Food: The Regulation That Keeps On Giving

The issues involved in this discussion are complex, certainly by North American standards. This of course starts with the fact that there is no such regulation on the continent. But also rapidly bleeds into puncturing the amount of hot air entrepreneurialism there is in the room.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

The CBD market in Europe that everyone got so excited about in investor releases, in other words, is basically dead for the time being. Yes, there are a few smart niche players weaving around the regs, but it is a full-time job.

Here is the reality: Since Christmas last year when Austria put the kabosh on all products containing the cannabinoid CBD, several major countries have weighed in on the issue. It is not going away. And it is here to stay, even after recreational.

Political Advocacy Is Stirring In Europe

Whether it is the vagaries of Brexit, the discussion across the continent about how the EU will work together, right wing populist screeds about “too much regulation” or national elections, cannabis is in the room from now until the end of at least 2021 as one of the hottest global political issues under the sun. That includes of course, a discussion about global climate change, sourcing, pricing and resource use so far unaddressed but rapidly looming.

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

Further, patients are still having a voice – whether it is making sure that their children obtain imported CBD, or that they can obtain their own THC prescriptions without going bankrupt or having to solicit in the black market.

Cultivation Bids Looming?

One of the surest signs yet that the German authorities at any rate, are in no mood to solve the cultivation issues still on the ground and the bid itself, is that the government just renegotiated, for the second time since last fall, the amount of medical cannabis to come over the Dutch-German border. Who is going to go next? With the Italian hybrid now done and dusted, Poland is likely to be next. And when that happens, expect a raft of similar initiatives across Europe. But probably not until then.

And in the meantime? Distributors are looking for product. The demand is clearly there. But across Europe this summer there is a clear sense that the hype machine that has been the industry’s mouthpiece is at minimum overenthusiastic about the bottom-line details behind it all.

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”.

Sweden Joins Italy In Path To Defining CBD Oil Regulations

By Marguerite Arnold
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The highest court in Sweden has weighed in on the novel food, and the darling of the Swiss marketplace, CBD conversation. Further, it has done so in a move that seems predetermined to push the so-far escalating novel food debate EU-wide. Along, of course, with what constitutes “narcotic” cannabis.

Namely, Sweden’s highest court ruled in June that CBD oil with any concentration of THC falls under the narcotic jurisdiction.

Sound confusing? Welcome to the world of every CBD producer and purveyor on the “right”  side of the Atlantic.

Beyond The Lingo and Legal Mumbo Jumbo

When one follows the logic, there is one, hidden in the Swedish meatball of careful legal wording. Here is a translation, more or less of what the court intended.

The first is that the Swedes, along with the Italians (and expect this attitude to be reflected all over Europe) accept that cannabidiol when it comes from hemp, if not CBD oil derived from the same, generally, is excluded from the definition of cannabis (as a narcotic). Therefore it is not a narcotic drug.

However, according to the court, the loose definitions of what “CBD oil” is both legally and in the marketplace, no longer applies if the plant has been converted into a preparation containing THC. This is a clear shot across the bow of the “Cannabis Lite” movement that has been so popular across the continent for the last year or so and has absolutely electrified certain regions (see not only Switzerland but the UK and Spain).

This has added to the sky-high evaluations of the cannabis industry (or even the CBD part of it) in certain industry predictions, rosy scenarios and forward-looking statements.

However, in a nod to reality, the court also recognized that there is an exemption for trace amounts of CBD in the current frameworks, although it is indeterminate. In other words, this is a move to force regulators to determine what trace levels of THC are permitted. And further, to force regulation and licencing of the so-far, fairly free-wheeling industry that hoped, much like Holland, to establish itself in the grey spaces between the regulatory schematic of Europe.

Just some of the many CBD products on the market today.

No dice. See Holland of late. But also see Italy, Austria and Germany.

For those who still held out a vague dream of hope that this whole issue was going to go away, or get swept under the carpet of anti-regulatory Brexit mania (in the British case), think again.

In the Swedish situation, much like the Italian CBD caper, the individual at the heart of the court case was a man who escaped a minor drug charge for possession of CBD oil. However, the message is clear: Large scale distribution of CBD oil with “undeterminable” levels of THC (essentially all of it in the market until the rules are set), is courting a criminal drugs charge.

Look for licensing definitions soon.

What Does This Say About The CBD Future In Europe?

Much of this debate is also caught up in larger issues, namely labelling. The British, for example, have just seen recalls at some of the largest supermarkets in the country because of the same. It is a hot topic in several places.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

Europeans, in general, and this includes the British, are generally also horrified at how Americans in particular, consume food and other products exposed to chemicals they know are toxic. However common chlorinated chicken is in the U.S., for example, this is a discussion as toxic to all Europeans, including the British, as well, chemically treated anything.

This is also a reflection of the much “greener” lifestyle Europeans aspire to lead (even with bizarre gross-outs like “fatbergs” in the Victorian recesses of London sewers). Even if they have not managed it yet, here. Climate change denial, especially in mostly air-conditioner free Europe, and especially this summer, is a rare concept indeed.

The novel food issue where it crosses with cannabis, in other words, has just popped up again, in Sweden. And given its proximity to not only recent legal decisions on the same, especially by their neighbors, if not on the calendar, the industry and all those who hope to chart its projections if not successfully surf its market vagaries, need to take note if not adjust accordingly.

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UK Non-Profit Launches Project TWENTY21 To Register 20K Cannabis Patients

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

In late June, as more than a thousand people descended on the South Bank Center to attend the largest cannabis conference held so far in the UK, another development was taking place away from the headlines.

Drug Science, a non-profit research group founded to reform drug policies based on scientific evidence rather than politics or even economic considerations, launched an ambitious trial project in the UK.

The goal? To get medical cannabis to 20,000 British patients suffering from a range of conditions that the drug is well known to help treat.

Who Is Drug Science?

Founded by Professor David Nutt, the former chief drug advisor to the British government who was fired in 2009 for stating that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol, the group itself is clearly not afraid to tackle controversy. The Project TWENTY21 initiative is an ambitious if not desperately needed undertaking.

Targeted patient groups include those suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, MS, Tourette’s and addiction.

Several cannabis companies have already signed up to support the effort which also includes the United Patients Alliance ,and academic researchers.

According to Abby Hughes, Head of Outreach for UPA, “Whilst a change in UK law has given clinicians the green light to prescribe medical cannabis, the majority of patients are denied access, some even being criminalised, whilst corporations are profiting from the same plant.”

UKflagHughes also noted that the goal of the project is to begin to ground patient demand in research and hard data. “We hope that by having a dataset that proves the efficacy of medical cannabis, thousands of patients will be able to access legal, affordable medicine, which may improve their quality of life,” she said.

What Is The Scope of Project TWENTY21?

It is the first-of-its-kind project in the UK where, 9 months after the law changed to allow prescription of cannabinoids as well as the medical importation of the same, there are less than 20 (legal) patients in the country. And all of the successful candidates so far have fought for the right and still do.

While important in its own right, the concept if not forward motion on the same, is also poised to create similar trials all over Europe. This is especially true in countries (like France) where the issue of reform has not moved at all. Or even in Germany (with well over 50,000 patients two and a half years after similar reform was passed by the Bundestag) where problems with access and questions about medical efficacy still frustrate the close to a million Germans who cannot access the drug. Switzerland and Luxembourg may yet prove to be similiarly interesting.

Why Is This Timely?

There has been an increased call for the need for widespread and sustained population trials across Europe as the cannabis industry has really begun to establish itself since mid-2016. This is the only way to help forward medical understanding of cannabinoids at a level that leads to mainstream acceptance. And more importantly, medical and payer mainstream approvals. Until that happens, despite all the press releases, overall sales across the continent remain low.

One of the most important issues beyond this – the extraordinarily high pricing seen in Europe until late last year – has also played a role of course. Payers (see the German “statutory” health insurers) on the front lines of uncertain medical efficacy are still reluctant to pay for a drug, in any form, they do not understand, do not have evidence for, and are still highly suspicious of.

There has been an increased call for the need for widespread and sustained population trials across Europe With cannabis companies agreeing to provide product (in this case potentially from Australia), a research organization with national chops and brave leaders is likely to take the conversation far. And not just in the UK.

While Drug Science is of course not the only British entity planning canna trials and in part supported by the Canadian industry (see The Beckley Foundation for starters), Project 2021 is also certainly likely to be a study with both local as well as regional and global implications.

In Europe, there are other regional trials now in the offing (see Switzerland, Germany and France). Only Germany of course, has a patient population that is starting to be large enough to be effectively studied, and of course, the majority of these patients are still receiving dronabinol.

It is also clearly a steady state march, rather than a discussion that is likely to see significant boosts in patient numbers any time soon. Unless of course, there are other contributing factors.

Regardless, unlike the U.S. and even Canada, the strict medical focus of Europe (including the UK) is finally moving the conversation to the next level. Large, regional and/or national medical trials – and further for conditions the drug is well-known to treat but are so far considered “off-label” for most Europeans will be the watchword here for the next several years.

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The Face Of Cannabis Education In Europe

By Marguerite Arnold
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More than a few cannabis “education companies” – mostly from Canada and the U.S. but some with Israeli ties, plus German and British efforts have targeted Europe as the next logical expansion plan in their global roadmap.

These include most recently Cannvas Medtech Inc., and several initiatives funded by Canopy Growth, including teaching children about the drug. It also includes training programs for frontline staff, launched by Organigram (although in this case it appears to be geared towards “brand education.”)

There are also doctor training programs launching in the UK.

In Germany, there are several efforts underway, helmed by both doctors and cannabis advocates generally, in several cities around the country.

But how effective is all of this “education” in both preventing illegal use, and promoting legitimate sales?

Particularly if such “education” platforms are exported from a foreign market for use in Europe?Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

Education Is Desperately Needed, But So Is Channel Penetration

Nobody is arguing that “education,” as well as trials and more information for payers and doctors are not required. The problem is that some education is more effective than other campaigns. And most of the talk in most places is more a discussion of the need for further regulatory reform, more trials and more investigation.

That has to get paid for somewhere.

That, at least in Europe is also tricky, as both early educational movers Weedmaps and Leafly have both found out, especially in medical only markets in the EU. Why? There are also highly limited opportunities for advertising either a drug, or to doctors.

Different Regulatory Environments Cause Bigger Issues

Even in Canada and the United States, there is an ecosystem of supplying the demand that has very much grown up customized by the strange paths to reform if not the first mover discussion.

That is not going to be the case in Europe, which in effect creates a brand-new ecosystem to educate, with new players, and every ecosystem participant group has a different kind of educational needs.

Here is one example of where this shows up. So far, in most countries, doctors are still highly resistant to prescribing the drug. Nurses, on the other hand, in both the United States and Canada at least, have proven to be a much more reliable source of converts for the cannabis cause. That approach of course is not possible in places like Germany where only doctors may issue prescriptions, including of the cannabis (and narcotic) kind.

european union statesAccess issues also play a big role in just about every country- from cost to privacy. And on the privacy front, it is not just foreigners who are getting used to new rules. So are German doctors.

The pharmacy discussion is also very much in the room – and this is not “just like” approaching a “dispensary” from North America. They are regulated chemists. Which causes a whole new set of issues and a serious need for new kinds of educational materials.

In Germany, for example, pharmacists are being recruited and trained by not only staff recruiters specializing in the same, but also sent on special training courses funded by the big Canadian companies (Tilray being the noticeable one recently). The brick and mortar vs. online discussion is also a big topic across Europe. Notably, where it is allowed and where it is, as in Deutschland, verboten.

And, of course, the big green giant in the room everywhere in Europe, in particular, is payer/insurance approvals, which are based on a kind of education called proven medical efficacy.

And that, so far, is in markedly short supply.

In the UK, it is so far the main reason that NHS patients (for example) cannot access coverage for the drug to treat conditions like chronic pain.

In the meantime, the most widespread “education” that is going on, is still mostly at the patient level. Especially when patients sue their insurers, or lobby doctors to prescribe.

The cannabis industry may be maturing, in other words, to be able to answer these questions – but there is also clearly a long way to go.