In early September, Polish authorities halted medical cannabis product registrations.
It is still unclear what this was caused by. However, in conversations with the Dutch Cannabis Agency, Cannabis Industry Journal learned the Dutch government ran into significant problems with Polish acceptance of documents in the February 2019 timeframe. Further, CIJ has also learned that several other Canadian companies had apparently been trying to target Bedrocan products in Poland with this knowledge.
Even before authorities halted the registration process, it is clear that the often cut-throat game-playing seen in Germany frequently over the last few years, has also clearly entered the room just a bit east.
Is Cannabis Really Coming to Poland?
There is a national election in late October in Poland. There is a great deal on the line.
Including, of course, not just the dreams of Polish entrepreneurial hopefuls, but all of the largest cannabis companies on the planet. Poland has been a strategic and often unheralded market for most of them over the last 18 months. Aurora in fact, even announced its first import into the country last fall when the government announced a loosening of restrictions. And as the last country to enter into the EU-US MRA Agreement, with a conservative approach to cannabis at least in government, the country is ostensibly a big blue ocean for all things canna reform.
However, since most of the big companies use Germany as their product breakpoint, the news of a product registration delay nationally means that companies already in the room with EU-recognized product just got a big break.
Even if it is only short selling as much as they can into the market until product registration finally occurs.
A new kind of German-Canadian canna blitzkrieg of Poland is about to get underway this fall – certainly of the cannabis kind, although anyone with already registered EU product (see Germany for starters) has a big competitive leg up.
Cannapolitics Are In Play Across Europe
If this is the temperature in the room already, look for more machinations over the apparently pending Polish bid – although perhaps by that point, reform will have progressed far enough in Europe to prevent the same kind of local market hijacking by those with a public company and a will to dominate the market.
That said, expect backlash too, now from frustrated advocacy patient groups tired of more government blather about widespread reform that is clearly not mapped to come their way any time soon.
Here is the inconvenient and certainly unsolved reality in the room that so far has remained unsolved.
There is zero way that even the largest companies in the room can provide enough product, local producers are on the rise, and there is clearly a building “green-vest” kind of uprising in the burgeoning industry itself. EU local and national sovereign producers are getting into the game and in a big way.
The reality is that this plant provides relief to pain of several kinds – from patients to locally starved municipal and state budgets.
Recreational Is On The Longer Term Horizon – But Major Hurdles Remain
While the largest companies have clearly been in the room shaping reform policy and in ways that are not necessarily in the best interests of the overall industry itself, let alone patients, there is the real potential for backlash right now. Particularly in Europe which has heard all the wonder stories about the economics if not other impacts of cannabis reform.
Europeans – even in the industry here – who venture to American state markets in particular, but also Canadian outlets – are very much in envy. However, most also realize that the market here will evolve differently.
That is why there are now starting to be all kinds of trials on the map – and of the recreational and medical kind.
The culture is in the middle of a massive, cannabis shift. The early market entry created by the political and economic clout of the early movers was important.
But as the world turns ever more green, local politics, and even more importantly, sovereign cannabis production and even export is increasingly a political issue in the room.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
The 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Hughes 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.
Any thought that established British and Canadian growers were not already cooperating and in the throes of establishing a UK cannabis production base was put to bed in early July.
Namely, the news that Sundial, an Alberta based Canadian company, is buying Bridge Farms, the winner of the Overall UK Grower of the Year Award in 2017, is a sign that the age of British cannabinoid production (and in bulk) is here. The agriculture group has a 75-acre production facility in Lincolnshire (strategically on the border with Norfolk) and a recent ₤18 million equity injection.
This also means that large-scale CBD production in the UK is now underway with authority.
What it also means, however, is that the winds of trade, even if historically, are already cultivating some interesting partners as the entire British cannabis discussion gets underway.
Sundial Growers also almost simultaneously filed documents to list on the Nasdaq in the U.S. In this, they look remarkably similar to Tilray.
British Sugar Is Now Not The Only Game In Town
The links to the cannabis industry in this part of the UK are not new. Namely, the county of Norfolk (the east-coast “bump” of the British coastline just south of Lincolnshire) is home to British Sugar, the cultivator for GW Pharmaceuticals cannabis crop.
This part of the world is also historically associated not only with major international British trade, but in the past at least, of the German kind in particular. See the port of Kings Lynn and the Hanseatic trading route that put the eastern town on the global shipping map until the advent of the railroads in the UK leached its importance south, to London in the 19th century.
Foreign investment in agriculture, in other words, in this part of the world is not new. Nor is shipping the final product elsewhere.
What Does This Mean For The British Market?
That is an interesting question on the advent of a potential Brexit. Is this newly constructed agricultural centre designed, like Canopy’s newest hempire in New York State, for domestic consumption, and-or overseas trade?
For that reason, a fully automated CBD production facility in such a strategic and historic part of the country seems to indicate the commercial production of CBD has begun at a level virtually unseen in any other European country so far. And further, that its backers have an international, not just domestic market, in mind.
What Does This Mean For the European Market?
Unless the UK is planning on eviscerating all worker safety and pay regulations, it is unlikely that British-grown cannabis will be price competitive with what is going on in Europe right now. The German market, in fact, is a very good precursor to the kinds of growing pains the UK is likely to see in this regard.
Exports, in other words, are highly unlikely, at least to Europe.
What this does mean however, is that licensed producers, with international roots and global financing, are clearly moving into the more or less corporate production market that is slowly getting going in Britain.
And just like elsewhere, post Canada, there is no chance, at this point at least, for any “mom and pop” industry to develop.
Given a lack of patient access at this point that is also not likely to fly politically for long.
Regardless, as of the summer of 2019, there are beginning to be the signs that large scale production of both THC and CBD, is getting going in Britain.
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.
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.
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.
The majority of this cost will not be picked up by private health insurers but rather the federal governmentActually, according to industry analysis, this is about 70% more than the price of one comparable drug (Onfi), and slightly more expensive than Banzel, the two competing (non-cannabinoid based) medications now available in the U.S. for this market.
Here is the other (widely unreported) kicker. The majority of this cost will not be picked up by private health insurers but rather the federal government, which is also not negotiating with GW Pharma about that high price (unlike for example what is going on in Europe and the German bid).
Why the difference?
Two reasons. The first is that Epidiolex has obtained “orphan drug” status (a medication for a disease that affects fewer than 200,000 patients in the U.S.) The second is that the majority of the insurance that will be picking up this tab is Medicaid. The patient pool will be unable to afford this. As a result, the bulk of the money will remit not from private insurance companies but rather federal taxpayers. And, unlike in say, Germany, none of this is pre-negotiated in bulk.
Co-payments are expected to range from $5 to $200 per month per patient after insurance (read: the government) picks up the tab. This essentially means that the company plans to base participation at first at least on a sliding scale, highly subsidized by a government that has yet to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I in the U.S.
Creating, in other words, a new monopoly position for GW Pharmaceuticals in North America.
A Hypocrisy Both Patients And The Industry Should Fight
The sordid, underhanded politicking that has created this canna monster is hardly surprising given the current political environment in both the U.S. and the U.K. right now. The people who benefit the most from this development are not patients, or even everyday shareholders, not to mention the burgeoning legitimate North American cannabis industry, but in fact highly placed politicians (like British Prime Minister Theresa May). Philip May, the PM’s husband’s firm is the majority shareholder in GW Pharma. Her former drugs minister (with a strong stand against medical cannabis) is married to the managing director of British Sugar, the company that grows GW Pharma’s cannabis stock domestically.
So far, despite a domestic outcry over this in the UK (including rescheduling), there has been no political backlash in the United States over this announcement. Why not?
Look To Europe For A More Competitive Medical Market
This kind of pricing strategy is also a complete no go in just about every other market – including medical-only markets where GW Pharma already has a footprint.
For example, German health insurers are already complaining about this kind of pricing strategy for cannabis (see the Cannabis Report from one of the country’s largest insurers TK – out earlier this year). And this in an environment where the government, in fact, does negotiate a bulk rate for most of the drugs in the market. Currently most German cannabis patients are being given dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC which costs far less.
On top of this, there are also moves afoot by the German government to begin to bring the costs of medical cannabis and medicines down, dramatically. And this too will impact the market – not only in Europe, but hopefully spark a debate in every country where prices are also too high.
The currently pending German cultivation bid for medical cannabis has already set an informal “reference” price of at most 7 euros a gram (and probably will see bid competitors come in at under half that). In other words, the government wholesale price of raw, unprocessed cannabis flower if not lightly processed cannabis oil is expected to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3-4 euros per gram come early next year. If not, as some expect, potentially even lower than that.
Processed Cannabis Medicine vs. Whole Plant Treatment
The debate that is really raging, beyond pricing, is whether unprocessed cannabis and cannabis oil is actually “medicine.” At the moment, the status quo in the U.S. is that it is not.
GW Pharmaceuticals, in other words, a British company importing a CBD-based derivative, is the only real “medical cannabis” company in the country, per the FDA. Everyone else, at least according to this logic, is placed in the “recreational camp.” And further, hampered still, with a lack of rescheduling, that affects everyone.
If that is not an organizing issue for the American cannabis industry, still struggling with the many issues inherent in the status quo (from insurance coverage and banking to national distribution across state lines) leading up to the midterms, nothing will be.
It is old news that Canadian companies are entering the European market. And it is also no stop-the-presses flash that Germany is a big prize in all of this. But there are other Euro markets to watch right now. Switzerland is one of them.
Look for the Canadian influx here too.
One of the more interesting entrants this month? Green Relief – a Canadian LP with a really unique twist. They are the only company in the world to produce cannabis oil from flower grown with aquaponics. This unique method creates unbelievably “clean” cannabis with no pesticides – and no residue of them.
It also sets the company up for a really unique market opportunity on the ground outside Canada. Especially as they have now just announced a partnership with two Swiss companies– Ai Fame GmbH and Ai Lab Swiss AG. Both companies have been leading European pharmaceutical companies since the turn of the century. The idea is to leverage all three company’s intellectual capital with Green Relief’s additional and first international investment with an eye to the entire European cannabis market. Ai Fame specializes in cultivation, manufacturing, sales and distribution to both the food and medical sectors. Ai Lab Swiss AG operates as a laboratory and testing facility.Less than three weeks before Green Relief publicized their European announcement, there were also strategic developments afoot at home.
From this unique perch in the Swiss canton of St Gallen, the three companies are setting up to conquer Europe.
Why Is Switzerland So Strategic?
Switzerland has been on the legalization track since 2011. As of this date, the Swiss government began allowing adults to buy and use CBD-only cannabis. Shops were allowed to obtain licenses. A trickle of sales began. However, rather suddenly, as reform hit Europe, the craze took off. Last year, for the first time, the industry generated a significant amount of revenue (close to $100 million). That is $25 million for the government via taxes- just on CBD sales. Even more intriguing for those looking for market opportunity across borders? Less than a week ago, the German-based budget discount store Lidl just announced they were carrying smokeable CBD – in Swiss grocery stores. The leap across the border is imminent.
That has opened up other conversations, including the “legalize everything” push that makes an awful lot of sense to the ever tax-aware Swiss. This is a push afoot just about everywhere across the continent, including, of course, just across the border in Germany.
The cities of Zurich and the cantons of both Winterthur and St Gallen (home of the Swiss companies behind the new venture with Green Relief) have already indicated that they will not pursue possession fines for those busted with 10 grams or less– no matter what kind and even of the THC variety.
Read between the lines, and it is clear that the cannabinoid conversation locally has begun to attract the Canadians. And not just because of the many opportunities of the Swiss CBD market – but the huge medical and THC German and European opportunities now opening beyond that.
No matter which way Green Relief and their new partners slice it, they are now in the game – and across Europe – with a unique new play and product, and further one set to enter both the medical THC and “consumer,” albeit still CBD, market now burgeoning.
A Cross Market Play
Here is the truly interesting part about this new announcement. Less than three weeks before Green Relief publicized their European announcement, there were also strategic developments afoot at home. Cannabis Growth Opportunity Corporation also just announced an investment in Green Relief. The share purchase agreement netted Green Relief $750,000 in both cash and common shares.
With this, Green Relief seems to have set sail on its European expansion. Look for more interesting turns to this developing saga soon!
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