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Safeguarding Your International Supply Chain: The Brave New World Of Cannabis Compliance

By Marguerite Arnold
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european union states

The CannTrust story may have shocked the uninitiated, but it hit almost every bogeyman the legitimizing industry has both feared and suffered from, particularly of late.

Here, generally, is the issue. Especially in Europe (even more especially in places like Germany, the UK and other emerging markets), budding cannapreneurs need each other. A distributor in Germany, for example, cannot get their final (federal) licenses allowing them to do business without establishing a relationship with an existing producer. That producer also needs relationships with established distributors to get their licenses.

In a fraught world, where all parties are evolving rapidly (and this also includes the “Big Boys” from Canada and several U.S. states including California), supply chain logistics, and even contract agreements if not licensing beyond that requires a level of honesty, integrity and transparency the industry, largely has not achieved yet.

That said, there are also parties, if not individuals and companies determined to set themselves on the straight and narrow – and play by the emerging “rules” – and then there are also clearly companies which, well, do not.

Being out of compliance, at any step of the chain, including when your product is sold via government agencies, is already a recipe for disaster.What this brave new world of cannabis requires, however, and from everyone – from grower, to manufacturer, packager, distributor and service delivery – is that all ecosystem partners must be in compliance.

Ensuring that can be a full time job. But what it also means is that to have a fully compliant product, every party in the chain bears responsibility for upholding standards that so far have proved hard to reach for many.

The time has come, in other words, where that is no longer an option.

The First Step Is Certification…

GMPIn a world where every member of the diverse cannabis ecosystem requires certification, determining what, and from whom is the first hurdle – both for buyer and seller. If one has GMP-certified product, that is awesome. But there are also treaties in the room that only allow some GMP certifications to be considered equal to others. If you are in Lesotho right now, for example, far from Europe, your biggest concern is not just looking to the EU but figuring out a way to export your crop into your neighbouring (and surrounding) country – namely South Africa.

This example, while seemingly far away, in fact, is the biggest bugbear in determining who can sell to whom even within Europe (let alone countries just outside and far beyond the region).

Determining cert presence, if not validity, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. And depending on who you are, that path alone is not a one time dalliance with authorities, but multiple certifications that must all also be kept current.

But It is Not The Only One…

The second hurdle, of course, is also checking the verity of everyone you do business with. For a producer, this includes making sure that processing, packaging, and even transportation are in compliance. In Canada, of course, this has been short circuited by the ability of producers to ship directly to patients.

In Europe, however, this is far from the case. And that is also why the entire conversation is also getting not only much more granular, but expensive. Pharmaceutical regulations are actually what guide the rules of the road here.

european union statesWalking floors, and checking, in person, may or not be mandated by international treaties at this point. However, most of the young producers on the ground here are implementing policies of personal visits to their vendors. In Massachusetts of late, this is also on the drawing board. Albeit on a “state” level, the reality is that both federal, state and more local training is a watchword, if not a must, now on the roadmap.

Being out of compliance, at any step of the chain, including when your product is sold via government agencies, is already a recipe for disaster.

And while that obviously is a challenge, companies must step up to the plate internally to commit to the same. It is too dangerous to ignore such steps. Including the easy to reach ones, like staff background checks and decent cybersecurity safeguards. The former has blown several enterprising cannadudes out of the driver’s seat already in Europe over the last few years. The latter is an emerging threat in a region that is also home to GDPR regulation (and growing fines).

For that very reason, certainly on the ground in Germany if not across Europe and in those countries and companies that wish to supply the same, supply chain verification, that is constant, consistent and verifiable, is the path for the industry both as of now and in the immediate future.

Cannabis Featured At Germany’s ExpoPharm For The First Time

By Marguerite Arnold
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Expopharm is a big deal in Germany and Europe beyond that. It is the largest expo for pharmacists on the continent.

This year, there were two firsts in a convention already looking to the future with digitalization – itself a huge issue in not only the European medical space, but Germany in particular. There is a national obsession with privacy auf Deutschland that does not exist anywhere else.

Beyond digitalization, however, medical cannabis was also a major theme this year. Many of the largest producers and distributors showed up in force. So did the smaller, newer ones. There are now 19 licensed importers in the country – and quite a few of them showed up in Dusseldorf last week.

Beyond that, the expo also saw the birth of the VCA – the Verband der Cannabis versorgende Apotheken e.V (German Cannabis Pharmacists Association). This is a group of pharmacists who are on the front lines of the medical cannabis revolution on its most complicated, expensive and paper-laden end, determined to make their voices heard.

the VCA ,German Cannabis Pharmacists Association

According to Tobias Loder, the owner of Luxe 99 Apotheke in Cologne and one of the organizers of the VCA, “There is huge interest in our association.”

For those of American extraction, at least, there has yet to be such a conference anywhere in the U.S. simply because of the lack of acceptance at the federal level of cannabis as medicine. In Canada, and elsewhere, national pharmacy chains are already getting into the action.

Germany, however, remains the strange, and as a result, most interesting exception.

In Düsseldorf this year, despite added traffic and a great deal of excitement, cannabis as medicine was, as the press attendant said as he handed out the Cannabis Industry Journal press pass, “par for the course” and “no big deal.” Even though of course, the generation of all the interest and intrigue.

The drug is, while still highly stigmatized, on its way to legitimacy here. And in a decidedly normal, Deutsch weg (way).

The Inside Skinny On What Is Changing For German Pharmacists

As revealed during the Denton’s medical cannabis conference in Berlin in late September (about a day before the news hit the expo floor in fact), things are indeed changing at the last mile of the regulated cannabis path. Why?

Several reasons.

Within the next thirty days, doctors will be able to prescribe up to 100 grams of floss (dried cannabis flower) or cannabis oil by the gram per patient prescription. That means that patients can indeed go to the doctor every three months – and that there are in fact more regular users in the system. This is also an indication that the supply chain is also beginning to normalize – although there is a huge demand so far unmet by supply. And as a result, while two of the three bid winners are now getting down to cultivation, imports are still the name of the game.

On this front, things are also changing. Cannabis just came into the country from Portugal. Other countries lining up to import include not only Canadian producers, but those from Spain, Malta, Greece, Australia, South Africa, Columbia and of course, Israel.

This is also a step towards international normalization on the pharma side. Schedule II narcotics in the American system are dispensed every 90 days.

The rules about pharmacy mark-ups are also in flux. One of the reasons, for example, that medical cannabis has been so expensive is that, up until now, at least, pharmacists were required to mark up such product 100%. That is also changing. In fact, the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA) and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (GKV Spitzenenverand) have had to agree on a new surcharge that is expected to see significant and immediate savings of a projected 25 million euros.

It is not a casual argument or discussion. One of the reasons that the German pharmacy vertical has remained so strong and resistant to buyouts and consolidations is that by law, owners are limited to no more than three (and in so far one case discovered by CIJ in Bavaria) four brick and mortar pharmacies. The reduction in this preparation surcharge means that pharmacies will have to find ways to become more efficient. That is also a concern for the VCA, who, among other things, are looking to reduce their own overhead costs while gearing up to serve more patients.

Digitalization, innovation and more, in other words, is on the table. And German pharmacists, for one, are not only on the front line – but stepping up to the challenge.

german flag

Does Germany Have a Gray Market Problem?

By Marguerite Arnold
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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).

german flag
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.


Editors Note: This is a developing story. CIJ has been contacted by the Dutch Cannabis Agency as it investigates what appears to be an intra-government debate over qualification of EU-GMP cert, acceptance of audit documents and other matters within European countries that appear to have caused much of this confusion with regards to Bedrocan and its packager Fagron. Many reputable, licensed sources within the industry spoke to us on deep background, out of concern that they too would be held liable. That said, so far, nobody can explain why the only licensed Dutch packager, was issued a new EU GMP cert document on July 9, 2019, the same day that Danish authorities halted CannTrust product entering Denmark. That is a government decision. Further it is also still unclear why rival cannabis companies would attempt to contact the cannabis media with a certain (and misguided) spin on this situation.

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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.

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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Corporate CBD Production Gets Underway in UK

By Marguerite Arnold
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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.

GW logoThis 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.

european union statesExports, 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.

No matter where their customers are located.

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Has Cannabis Reform Landed In The UK?

By Marguerite Arnold
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The British have finally decided that cannabis reform is overdue. In London at least, 63% of the population believe that recreational reform is a good idea.  According to a poll by The Evening Standard, the rest of England too, is getting close to a majority when the idea of recreational reform is in the room.

It is, as usual, recreational reform that is the icing on a medical cake that has yet to be baked. But that spice brownie is well on its way to the oven too. According to the British Medical Journal as of the beginning of July, the idea of broader access to regulated medical supplies for patients is mandatory.

And in the ranks of the conservative party, Crispin Blunt founded the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group last September to lead Parliament in a long overdue discussion about the use of both medicinal and recreational cannabis use in the UK that formally “launched” during the last week of June.

But how the industry will develop here is also a big question in the room right now, especially with a country poised on the edge of one of the biggest constitutional questions in the country’s history – to Brexit or not, and how.

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt (right)
Photo courtesy of The UK Ministry of Justice, Flickr

The North American Influence Is Controversial

While Blunt, for example, sees no issue with injecting North American capital into the debate, there are others who are not so sanguine. And while the idea of Canadian reform is popular here, including the freedom of patients (and others) to grow small amounts themselves, the idea of Canadian companies influencing national policy is not. From The Daily Mail to The Guardian, there have been front page headlines about the coming financial influence of “The North Americans.”

That this discussion is also going on at a time when the UK is considering a completely new trade agreement with the world, including on pharmaceuticals, is not insignificant. Where the country’s drugs come from, far from cannabis, is absolutely on the table. Not to mention how much they cost.

Questions of basic access are likely, in other words, to be in the room for a long time here. The barriers to obtaining and filling a prescription start at its expense – which is ₤1,100 (about $1,400) per prescription. There are few people, let alone those who are chronically ill, who can afford the same. This is far from a “normalized” drug- even of last resort- at the NHS.So far, the number of actual cannabis patients in the UK (ones who go to a doctor for a prescription and fill it) is still under 100 people.

That said, it is a start. And for the first time, as of this summer, those with the money can in fact, obtain cannabis by prescription.

But what happens to those (the vast majority) who cannot? 

Patients Are Feeling Side-lined

Just as in national legalizing conversations in the United States and Canada so far, patients are being pushed aside for “the business” to take the conversation forward. But where does this business fall on matters of price and access?

So far, the number of actual cannabis patients in the UK (ones who go to a doctor for a prescription and fill it) is still under 100 people.

While patient groups are organizing, and the earliest ones to gain national attention, usually families whose children have been directly in the line of fire, are getting commercial ambitions themselves, the fact remains that patient voices are not the loudest ones in the room. Although as Blunt announced last week, he does not see recreational reform happening in the UK for the next five years.

That also means that every Canadian company entering the market (in particular) will have to continue to sing the same medical song they have been humming across Europe- at least in public.

The UK is NOT Germany – But It’s Not Canada Or The US Either…

No matter how much more “liberal” supposedly, the English people are on the whole CBD question (there is already far more CBD for sale in the UK than just about anywhere else), the UK market is still far behind Germany. Why? Since March 2017, insurance companies auf Deutschland have been required to cover the drug – from sprays and pills to floss when prescribed by a doctor.

There are, by latest calculations about 50,000 German patients.

That said, it is clear that the British do not seem to give a fig about the entire “novel food” discussion and are literally, in some cases, daring the police to raid stores and shut down establishments. The idea of rebellion against EU rules seems very obvious on the CBD front.

Beyond this, however, it is also clear that “Canadian” much less “American” cannabis reform is not necessarily the only model in town.

As the British, in other words, do finally embrace the cannabis question, it is very likely that the face of the same will be of a unique Limey strain all of its own.

Marguerite Arnold

The Sale Of Cannabis Sativa Derived CBD Becomes A Crime In Italy

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

For all the excitement about the “CBD” or “Cannabis-Lite” possibilities in Europe thanks to Switzerland over the last few years, the reality as of 2019 is proving to be a little different.

As of the end of May, Italy’s top court, the Court of Cessation, ruled that selling derivatives of cannabis sativa (from the buds and leaves to oils and resins) is illegal. Hemp of course, is excluded from this decree. And in fact, this decision was intended to close a loophole that was created in 2016 for so-called “Cannabis-Lite.” In other words low THC, CBD products and extracts that are showing up in the market as is or as an ingredient in something else (from food to makeup).

While this development is certainly a blow to those who were not in the know already, it is hardly surprising– especially given current events next door. German authorities just declared that they could find no use for “CBD”. This of course confuses the issue even further (since CBD is obviously found in both hemp and cannabis sativa.) Austria did the same thing late last year- and further did so on a level unseen anywhere else in Europe (namely putting cosmetics on the list too).Novel food regulation, at its heart, is all about the source of the plant and how it is processed. 

In fact, and certainly in comparison, far from being nebulous, Italy appears to have taken, surprisingly, a rather scientific, if not clear-headed, approach to the issue in general. Not to mention a step that is absolutely in line with current EU policy on the same.

Novel food regulation, at its heart, is all about the source of the plant and how it is processed. This entire discussion about CBD falls squarely within that- although of course, hardly limited to just this one cannabinoid or in fact, plant genus.

What Should Investors Be Aware Of?

There is, as always, a hype around CBD. That is true in almost every legalizing market, but Europe, with a much stricter regional regulatory regime and at least a four-year path to recreational, has seen an odd twist in all of this for the last two years.

There is the potential for a CBD play in Europe, but it is niche, and country-by-countryIn the EU, the distinction between hemp and cannabis-derived cannabinoids (including but not limited to THC), is a well-known fact for those with any stripes in either the cannabis, or beyond that, mainstream food and drug industry. The largest confusion, in other words, is strictly at the lower rungs of the biz. Not to mention all foreigners.

Proof of the same? Purvey the contents of even the most wide-ranging Dutch Seed shop catalogue, and you will be hard-pressed to find non-hemp products. And even though such entities know how to get around loopholes themselves (starting with the online sale across Europe of cannabis seeds from all over the world), novel food is not a regulation even these cannabis entrepreneurs want to cross.

In other words, there is the potential for a CBD play in Europe, but it is niche, and country-by-country in an environment where both local and regional rules are shifting. And further are likely to do so for some time to come.

And in the meantime, those who make the grade, are certainly freed from one pressing if not looming question. The market in Italy is, in fact, not only far from “illegal,” but opening up both in terms of import and export to cannabis products from all over the world. Including of course, Canada and the United States.