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Frontline Pharmacy: The Battle For The Footprint of Medical Cannabis Europe

By Marguerite Arnold
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This summer, as new distributors continue to get into the cannabis game (in Germany, the UK and beyond), and at least two countries (Greece and Macedonia get GMP-certified), the battle is now on not just for cultivation and distribution licenses, but the end point of sale, pharmacies.

Pharmacies were always going to play a large role in cannabis distribution in Europe, starting with the fact that there will not be a separate “dispensary” system (as there is in the United States and Canada). Further, in some jurisdictions, notably Germany, the idea of the “apotheker” is one that is not going to go away anytime soon. No matter how intriguing the concept of online pharmacies actually are to everyone else (see the British).

Further, the shift to what is widely being referred to as “tele” or “digital” health is only going to increase in prevalence as discussions continue. Cost and access (to all medications, not just cannabis) are an issue near and dear to the average European. So is the right and consumer safety issues of being able to consult with a local pharmacist, who might even know you personally, and can advise on the health effects of the medicines they pass over the counter.

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

Jens Spahn, the current Health Minister of Germany, is touting a move to personal management of health records and digital prescriptions by next year. However, nobody knows exactly what that means, much less the functionality of the same.

Further, the German pharmacy situation in particular is one that has implications across Europe no matter how aggressively “digital health” solutions are implemented here. By law, no more than three (in some rare cases four) brick and mortar pharmacies can be owned by the same owner. There is no such thing as “Boots” (a British chain) or “Walgreens” (an American one).

Doc Morris, the Dutch online pharmacy, has always been an option for Germans just across the border. The problem of course is that insurers so far have been refusing to pay for critical parts of this idea. The company is currently experimenting with working with insurers- but do not expect the average chronically ill person in any country to suddenly get expedited access. So far, the only innovations in this market have hit as the privileges of the privately insured.

Second class status (and significantly lagging behind those with private healthcare) is also very much in the room as a political issue- and cannabis access has only sped this up.

If the scenario in the EU two years ago could be described as the race for import licenses and cultivation rights, this year, the focus of the big guys is very much trying to mainstream their product and get it on as many “shelves” as possible.

In Europe, however, since nobody can ship straight to the patient (as in Canada), the next most obvious step is securing access to pharmacies.

The Cannabis Industry Cometh

Even before Aphria announced its purchase of CC Pharma (one of Germany’s largest distributors)  in a deal that finally closed in January of this year, the larger companies have been looking for a more efficient supply chain situation. Owning a distributor is certainly one way to go about this.

Israeli Together bought into a large German distributor last summer.

As of May 2019, Aleafia Health and its wholly owned subsidiary, Emblem, entered a JV with Acnos Pharma GmbH – with access and reach to 20,000 German pharmacies. And Wayland announced its merger with ICC, with pharmacies across the world.

As early as October 2017, Tilray and Cronos together tried to storm the German market (by inking a deal to reach the 20k plus pharmacies in the German system). Two years later, and this still has not made a huge difference in access.

Regardless of these larger industry players, however, or perhaps so far because of their statements and the resulting continued lack of access for most patients, it is also fact, particularly in both Germany and the UK, that merely having relationships with pharmacies is not enough. This year, there is also a fairly major price drop in the cards for the cannabis industry. And while the larger players may blanket the market with relationships, actually providing access to GMP-certified medical cannabis at a decent if not competitive price, is going to continue to have an impact on every market, particularly in those situations where compliant online access can be connected to indie distribution.

It is also an environment where the advantage still does not necessarily go to the “big guys” – a strategy that Wayland, for one, has been playing strategically for the better part of the last two years better than any other Canadian in the market. Especially when supply chain issues, beyond price, are still in the room.

Right now, pharmacies are well aware of their growing influence in this space in Europe. How much of an influence they will continue to have however, also rests on how effectively they preserve their right to have such an influence on the end consumer (as in Germany) or not (see the many discussions about this issue in the UK right now).

Further, as many of these entities are also realizing, and this is true far beyond the cannabis discussion, pharmacies are increasingly caught in the middle between consumer, doctor and insurer (this is certainly the case both for cannabis and also for all expensive orphan drugs).

How the pharmacies, in other words, begin to solve other issues, beyond just having a contractual relationship with a cannabis distributor/producer, is very much a part of the conversation right now. Access to cannabis via distribution deals with a Canadian or even Israeli partner certainly helps sales but it does not guarantee them.

One thing is for certain. The impact of new privacy legislation is having an effect, so even in an environment where a distributor/producer buys a pharmacy, what they can then do with customer information they also might have been interested in purchasing, is not only highly limiting, but in the future it may be the best approach to handling liability, and from multiple directions that includes everything to access to affordable, certified product to cyber security issues.

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Germany Enters The Fray On Novel Food

By Marguerite Arnold
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The novel foods discussion in Europe is a thorny one- and further one very misunderstood by natives, let alone those who would take Europe by canna storm. Within Europe, this discussion has festered and percolated for the better part of two years. Last year, despite a huge bump in sales in certain regions (see Switzerland), police were directly involved on the ground in Spain and rumblings of the same possibility took place in Austria at the end of the year. Early this year, further indecision at the EU level has continued to confuse the entire discussion.

This year, while there have been recent blow-ups in the UK, and fights at the EU level, the main action has been in the DACH region of the EU. The DACH trading alliance includes Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

In fact, the debate in this region of the world may drive not only European but UN policy. For that reason, the road currently is a thorny one, with lots of drama shaking out along the way in policy fights that still, at least in many European countries, involve the fuzz and what has been ostensibly packaged and labelled as “health food.”

It is for that reason that the most recent move by the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (or BVL), which said that CBD should not be sold in food at all, has gotten all the attention lately. Especially and more worrying for the nascent CBD industry across the continent, the agency also opined that it does not see a case where CBD-containing cannabis would be marketable in foods or health supplements.

european union statesLast month, on April 11, the European Industrial Hemp Association (IEHA) issued a sharp rebuttal to the same. As they have just been asked to serve in an advisory role in setting EU regulations on novel foods and hemp extracts, this is likely to move the conversation forward regionally. Including in the DACH region where this issue is all over the place.

What Exactly Does Novel Foods Regulation Cover?

Novel Foods regulation in Europe covers two things, and this is true far from cannabis. It is consumer rights legislation and guidelines that cover all plant-based food and supplements across the continent. It also covers beauty products (since the skin is the body’s largest external organ) although so far, this tiny part of a niche industry has largely escaped attention. Do not expect that to last.

Where this crosses with cannabis is an interesting discussion. Hemp and cannabis of course have been consumed in Europe for thousands of years. As such, food and extracts of the plant, from species that occur naturally here, normally would not raise a fuss. However, this discussion has also become complicated for a few reasons. Starting with the fact that the seeds and strains now being developed in the U.S. and Canada are not “native” to the European region.

In fact, the early exports across the Atlantic (and there have now been a few) are all on the hemp side of the equation. Currently hemp is the only plant containing CBD that is recognized as viable under novel foods. Cannabis sativa strains that are low in THC are where this whole discussion gets dodgy. The strain, Girl Scout Cookies, and its contents including CBD for example, would under this regime, never be allowed. Nor would cannabis strains bred for their low THC in the United States.

The second issue is how such plants are processed and the cannabinoids extracted. That is another issue that directly relates to how concentrates, tinctures and extracts are made in the first place. This is also in the room.

But that is also where the entire debate also spins off into other semantic hair-splitting that the industry so far has found not only tedious but largely impenetrable.

Why Is The German Announcement So Cynical?

Germany is following its DACH neighbour Austria to directly put the brakes on the CBD and THC discussion across the border with Switzerland. In contrast to its Teutonic trading partners, the Swiss have been experimenting with all kinds of CBD products, from all sorts of sources, and are now talking THC recreational trials (even if sold out of pharmacies).

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

In contrast, over the last six months, both Germany and Austria have come out with statements and official pronouncements not about hemp, per se, but rather CBD- a cannabinoid found in all instances of both hemp and cannabis sativa. While politically this might send a statement that both countries are not ready to engage the cannabis debate on the next level (beyond medical in other words), scientifically of course, this is a silly argument to make. A cannabinoid is a chemical compound that acts the same whether it comes from cannabis, hemp or synthetic sources (see the synthetic dronabinol).

In the meantime, CBD itself has not been declared a “novel food.” In other words, for all the legal regulatory “brakes” and excuses, the dust is starting to clear on the debate as both regional and international bodies finally take on the entire cannabis discussion, albeit in a plodding, multi-year way. That, however, is undeniably under way at this juncture.

In the meantime, look for political grandstanding about every cannabinoid under the sun and further such drama will not abate even with “recreational” reform. Even when Europe accepts full boat regulated, recreational, novel food regulation will still be in the room. Even if politicians no longer play games with individual cannabinoids.

That said, at this point, that is also unlikely. In other words, expect the battle on the novel food front to continue for the entire industry, and shift, when recreational comes, to merely another cannabinoid, unless policy makers address the bottom-line issues now.

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Why International Trade Agreements Are Shaping The Cannabis Industry

By Marguerite Arnold
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If you have wondered over the past several years, why the big Canadian companies (in particular) are following the global strategy they are, there is actually a fairly simple answer: Newly implementing trade agreements, particularly between Europe and North America.

More specifically, they are highly technical trade agreements that are also called Mutual Recognition Agreements, (or MRAs).

In fact, look at the schedule of the MRA agreements signed between the U.S. and individual EU countries over the last several years, and it also looks like a map of the countries that have not only legalized at least medical cannabis, but where the big Canadian companies (in particular) have begun to establish operations outside of their home country.

But what is going on is actually more than just CETA-related and also will affect cannabis firms south of the Canadian-U.S. border.

All of these swirling currents are also why the most recent MRA to come into full force in July this year, between the U.S. and Europe, is so interesting from the cannabis perspective. Even before federal reform in the U.S. If this sounds like a confusing disconnect, read on.

What Are MRAs?

MRAs are actually a form of highly specialized trade agreement that allow trading countries to be certain that the pharmaceuticals they purchase from abroad are equivalent to what is produced at home. This includes not only ingredients but processing procedures, production plant hygiene, testing, labeling and more.

When it comes to the  EU-US MRA agreement, this means that individual states of the EU can now recognize the American Food and Drug Administration (or FDA) as an effective federal regulator of American pharmaceutical production that is equal to the procedures in Europe. US GMP standards, in other words, will be recognized as equal to those of EU states.

This will now also, by definition, include GMP-certified medical cannabis formulations.

What is so intriguing, however, is how this development will actually place certain American (and Canadian) manufacturers in a first place position to import cannabis into Europe ahead of the rest of the American cannabis industry.

What Are Mutual Recognition Agreements All About?

One of the most important quality and consumer safety aspects of establishing a clean supply chain is tied up in the concept of GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices). These are procedures, established by compliant producers of pharmaceuticals, to ensure seed (or source) to sale reliability of the medication they make. In the cannabis industry, particularly in the advent of Canadian-European transatlantic trade in cannabis, this has been the first high hurdle to accept and integrate on the Canadian side.

GMPIf European countries recognize a country’s GMP certifications are equivalent to its own, in other words, and cannabis is legal for export, a country can enter the international cannabis market without facing bans, in-country inspections and the like. In the interim, imported products still have to be batch tested until the agreements are fully accepted and operational.

Israel, for example, already had an MRA with the EU, and medical cannabis is legal in the country. However, Israel was prevented from selling cannabis abroad until a legislative change domestically, passed on Christmas Day.

That is why the MRA agreement between the US and EU with Canadian companies in the middle also put both Israeli and U.S. firms at an extreme disadvantage in comparison. Both in entering the market in the first place, and of course associated discussions, like the German tender bid. That is now changing- and as of this year.

A Specialized Map Of Global Medical Cannabis Exporters

Ironically, what the new US-EU MRA could also well do is create a channel for pharmaceutical cannabis from the United States to Europe (certainly on the hemp and CBD front) just as Israel is expected to enter the international cannabis export industry (later this summer or fall). It could well be also, particularly given the Trump Administration’s tendency to want to not only “put America first” if not pull off “a better deal” in general and about everything, that this is why President Trump offered the delay to Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu in the first place.

Regardless of the international individual developments and subtleties however, what is very clear that from the time the first bid stalled in Germany in the summer of 2017 until now, the U.S.-EU MRA has been in the room even if not named specifically as a driver.

For example, the FDA confirmed the capability of Poland and Slovenia to carry out GMP inspections in February of 2019.  It was only last fall that Aurora pulled off its licensing news in the former (on the same day licensing reform was announced by the government). Denmark was recognized in November of last year during the first year of its “medical cannabis pilot progam.” Greece was recognized in March 2018. Italy, Malta, Spain and the UK came online in November of 2017.

Overlay this timetable with a map of cannabis reform (and beyond that, cannabis production) and the logic starts to look very clear.

The upshot, in other words, is that while cannabis still may be “stigmatized” if not still “illegal” in many parts of the world, more generalized, newly negotiated and implementing, specialized global trade agreements between the US, Europe and Canada in particular have been driving the development of certain segments of the cannabis industry globally and since about 2013.

The Biggest News?

As of this year, as a result, expect at least from the GMP-certified front at least, that such international trade will also include medical cannabis from the U.S.

Want an example of the same? First on that list if not early in the game will now undoubtedly be Canadian-based Canopy Growth, with Acreage on board, headquartered in New York.

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Canopy Growth Makes Multi-Billion Dollar Conditional Acquisition Deal

By Marguerite Arnold
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The first German cannabis bid may have come to an end more or less, and with a whimper rather than a bang (not to mention the inevitable still-to-be-settled legal challenges). However even as the dust settles, one of the biggest “names” in cannabis and the company formerly expected to win at least a few of the tender lots is looking elsewhere.

Namely Canopy Growth, which was a finalist in the first round of the tender, has not shown up as a finalist firm in Germany this time (at least not so far).

However, it is clear the firm has other intentions afoot, namely U.S. expansion.

In an unprecedented move, Canopy announced its intent to buy the largest U.S. based producer of cannabis, a firm called Acreage Holdings, just before Easter. The conditional deal is being consummated in both cash ($300 million) plus stock swaps, and will not finally close until federal reform has come in the U.S. In fact, the deal makes the bet that the entire issue of U.S. federal reform will be solved within the next decade.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoIn the meantime, however, what this also does is place one of the world’s largest cannabis companies in the middle of what is largely seen as the world’s most valuable overall cannabis market. Further it does so in an environment where the company benefits from Acreage’s considerable market and political clout. Former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner (a fierce opponent of legalization until it was personally convenient and profitable) is on the board of Acreage.

But there are those who might still be confused about why this deal happened. Canopy after all is fond of saying that its first focus is the “more valuable” medical rather than recreational market. And the U.S. market has many challenges still, that stem from a lack of federal reform. In fact, Canopy has frequently said in the past that they would not enter the U.S. until federal reform occurs. What gives?

What The Deal Also Does…

It is not “just” entry into the U.S. recreational market, albeit still on a state level that is significant about the deal. That starts with its timing.

When trying to understand the motivations of Canadian cannabis companies, especially ones who have eschewed the U.S. market in the past (at least until federal reform passes), it is also necessary to understand that they operate in a shifting world of global strategy that is never as straightforward as one might think. And often has nothing to do with cannabis per se.

Namely, while this deal places Canopy in the middle of the U.S. state industry it also does something else. It positions Canopy as a U.S. producer just two months after a new international pharmaceutical trade deal went into force (on February 8) called an MRA.

MRA agreements, also known as Mutual Recognition Agreements, are essentially trade deals between countries to accept the equivalency of their pharmaceutical production and supply chain.

On the cannabis front, the existence of MRAs between existing countries as cannabis has become legal, has also largely dictated the new international cannabis trade (see Canada and Germany as a perfect example) although this has been held as a closely held secret by the largest cannabis company executives (some of whom have previously denied that this was driving their expansion across Europe).

However, thanks to the agreement on this MRA in February, as of July of this year, Europe and the U.S. will formally kick off a situation where the European and therefore German health authorities will formally recognize American GMP processes.

That means that on the pharma front, Canopy has also essentially re-entered the European market, albeit by a bit of a backdoor. It also means that Canopy can immediately start to import cannabis drugs at least, made in the U.S. into the European and by extension, German market.

Cannabis drugs have been going in the opposite direction across the Atlantic to the U.S. for at least a year now (see the GW Pharma’s Epidiolex adventure last year). And further over the U.S.-Canadian border if now only bound for academic research (see Tilray).

It also may mean that they can import medical cannabis itself to be used as “medicine” or processed into one in Europe.

Does This Mean That U.S. Federal Reform Is Imminent?

Not necessarily. In fact, keeping the U.S. market in general out of the global cannabis trade, while allowing the top companies to participate both in the cross-state market and the global pharmaceutical one benefits the biggest companies. Conveniently, this also allows U.S. cannabis “pharmaceutical” producers to enter the EU in force just as Israel is expected to (third quarter this year). This also puts the “deal” U.S. President Trump and Israeli President Netanyahu cut on the subject to delay Israeli sales in an entirely new light (and one that should outrage both Americans and Israelis in the industry on this front even more). Not to mention every European hopeful producer unaware of the larger game afoot.

That said, what federal U.S. legalization will do is drop the operating costs of the larger U.S. entities now engaged in multi-state operations.

Cannabis in other words is not likely to be legalized in the U.S. before the next presidential elections for reasons that have everything to do with the profits of a few – and for that reason will certainly be a major theme in the next national political race.

And in the meantime, the biggest companies, Canopy included, are not only laughing all the way to the bank (although their shareholders are another story), but setting themselves up to be at the ground floor DNA of the global cannabis business as it establishes itself in every country of the world.

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How Germany Gets Its Cannabis

By Marguerite Arnold
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The German cannabis cultivation bid may be mostly done and dusted (although the last four lots are now up for legal challenge) but the drama is only intensifying on the ground in Germany. Namely, where is the cannabis being consumed on the ground now actually coming from?

For the past several years (in fact since 2016 when a Frankfurt-based start-up called Medcann imported the first Canadian medical cannabis into the German market in partnership with Canopy Growth), the conventional wisdom has been that Holland and Canada were the only two countries allowed to import medical cannabis into the country.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoAs is usually the case in the cannabis industry, when it comes to such things, there were also multiple and highly creative explanations about this strange state of affairs that sounded oddly exotic enough to be plausible. This is after all, the international cannabis business.

These explanations also usually referenced conventional industry “lore” including such tall tales as these two countries were not signatories to an international drug treaty (not true), to being European (nope) or even a member of the EU (also completely false).

Yet there was always something strange with such urban legends – perpetuated by insiders across the German industry. Starting with a deliberate vagueness about details. Especially as in the summer of 2017 when Tilray announced grow facilities in Portugal, and by the end of it, Canopy was moving into Spain, and later by early 2018 Denmark and more. Italybegan to appear on the radar of multiple big Canadian companies. Clearly all these big companies seemed to know something that those outside did not. See Greece. Not to mention the teeth-gnashing of the Israelis– repeatedly shut out of the German market by not being allowed to export by their own government until Christmas Day, 2018.

The mystery deepened in March in fact, as a furore rocked the German-based cannabis industry over the last weeks. Farmako, a new, Frankfurt-based distributor, not only announced that it was importing 50 tonnes of cannabis into the country– and from Poland (where production of such bulk has not even been seeded) – but then gave additional details on a Bloomberg appearance that appeared to indicate that in fact the medical cannabis they were already selling (sourced from other places) had come from Macedonia. 

Certification, and most certainly paperwork are the name of the gameIn fact, no such transfer of cannabis had occurred from the Macedonian side (yet), although the firm in question at the other end of the deal was subjected to considerable harassment in the German canna-specialty press in the meantime.

The news, that occurred right at a time when Tilray is clearly training pharmacists for the German market, the first bid is concluding, Greece issues even more cultivation licenses, Canadian companies are clearing still stepping up their production game, and South Africa is also getting into the formal licensing act, with all sorts of interesting things afoot in Uruguay, also set off what appears to be an official investigation of the firms involved at the governmental level.

Insiders are tight lipped and nobody is willing to talk on record. However, the distribution firm, Farmako, has subsequently reported that in the month of March, they became the top selling cannabis specialty distributor in Germany. And since they are not out of business, it is also clear that while their PR may have been a little premature if not easily misunderstood, the broader message is very obvious.

What is also very clear at this point, in other words, is that the German door for cannabis and the international industry appears to be opening to product sourced from many places. Further by extension, the German government is in the process of recognizing foreign GMP certification processes from multiple countries all over the world as being equal to its own – at least on the cannabis front.

In fact, this has been going on relatively quietly for the past six months or so.

What Are The Standards, Certifications, and Qualifications?

A press release from January of this year, issued from an Australian firm called MCA, announced they had accepted the first letter of intent to ship to a German firm (in 2020). The company is currently accepting pre-orders as it finishes construction and achieves EU GMP certification. The same (female founded) firm was also present at the ICBC in Berlin this year in March, reporting that German demand from a universe of local distributors was already greater than they could fill. The news that their first sale went to German firm Lexamed, the controversial German wheelchair distributor who helped bring down the first German bid, was also largely unremarked upon at the time by most of the industry press and in fact, ever since.

GMPIn truth, it appears that the countries and companies that have the right to import to Germany must first have their own national GMP certification recognized as being equal to German standards – or a so-called Mutual Recognition Agreement (or MRA) must exist between the importer and exporter nations. It still means that to be really EU-GMP compliant, inspectors have to walk your cultivation floors. But first your country has to have the MRA. And that is a matter for lawyers and regulators to decide.

In the Australian case, the GMP equivalence for cannabis production apparently became reality within the last six months although no one is giving exact dates. In the case of Macedonia, this is pending, with German inspectors now apparently scheduled to begin inspecting domestic cultivation facilities within the next month to six weeks.

The biggest news, of course, which makes even more sense on the heels of Canopy’s latest “record breaking” U.S. acquisition, is that the EU and the U.S. will enter into an MRA in July that was finally agreed to in February of this year. This will also mean that cannabis “medicines” potentially even beyond CBD, produced via U.S. GMP processes, will be allowed to enter Europe if not Germany in the near future – and from the U.S. for the first time. Ahead of federal legalization in the U.S.

It also means that Israeli and American firms will be allowed to enter the European and thus German market for the first time (on the ground with product) by at latest, the third quarter of this year.

Caused By The Bid….and Likely Shorter Term Outcomes

What the events of the last several weeks make clear is that the bid is not only insufficient for demand, but the authorities are officially, if quietly recognizing the same. There are already rumours about the next cultivation tenders in Germany, and there is a high likelihood that other countries (see Poland in particular) may also follow suit shortly.

Further, the difficulties in making sure that not only countries but the companies based in the same remain compliant with EU and further German sanctified EU- GMP processes (for one) is likely to be an issue that continues to bubble. Why? It is a problem already in the broader pharmaceutical market here.

The Plusses and Minuses of The News

The first thing that is also obvious is that even Wayland cannot source the entire German market with the product it has begun to grow here no matter who ends up with the last four cultivation licenses this time around. Further, that the other winning bid firms (Aphria and Aurora as known at this point) without cultivation on the ground, are sourcing from somewhere that is also probably at this point, not even Canada. No matter how much expansion is going on in Canada, in other words, what is now entering the German market may bear a Canadian brand but could just have easily been sourced from almost anywhere in the world.

That also means that enterprising firms (see Australian MCA) can skip the Canadian introduction to the German market and sell directly to local producers before they even have crops on the ground, as well as the burgeoning German cannabis distributors across the country.

For such firms now wanting to enter the market, however, it is not all clear sailing. The events of the last few weeks clearly show that the government is watching, including reading English language industry press, and willing to pursue any firms it deems are breaking the rules on both sides of national borders.

Certification, and most certainly paperwork are the name of the game, as well as greater accuracy in company intentions (even if in the near term).


Disclaimer: Nysk, the Macedonian firm referred to in this story, is a sponsor of the MedPayRx pilot to market program

Federal Funding Is Flowing To Canada’s Cannabis Production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannabis Socialism?

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

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

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

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German Cultivation Bid Appears To Have Three Finalists

By Marguerite Arnold
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The Frankfurt-based newspaper Handelsblatt Zeitung is reporting that three Canadian firms (actually two Canadians and a German start-up cofounded by another Canadian company) have now been selected as the first cannabis cultivation bid finalists, however insiders on the ground say that this is not necessarily a final decision.

A Berlin-based subsidiary of Wayland in Germany called Demecan, along with Aphria and Aurora have all been named as bid finalists pending a normal review period.

However, there are other complications still looming. This is far from over.

The first issuance of the bid in 2017 went down in court over a technical fault on the part of the issuing agency. The current iteration was posted last summer and saw its application moved several times because of further legal challenges.

As Peter Homburg, partner and head of the European Cannabis Group at Dentons said when contacted by Cannabis Industry Journal, “This is of course not an official announcement. I have a tendency to believe that others involved in the tender process historically may well challenge this decision.”

BfArM, the federal German agency in charge of the cannabis cultivation tender process, did not respond to a request for a comment as of press time.

The Decision Is Far From Over

Here are the basic challenges still ahead:

There is a lawsuit pending against the bid itself from applicants that has yet to be decided. The Klage (formal hearing in court) is due next week. If that does not derail the process, here are the next considerations.

While all three firms named in the bid have international reputations, there are some pending questions.

Wayland is far ahead of the other two firms in terms of production capability in the country. Their facility in eastern Germany has just been certified GMP standard – which means they are qualified to produce the quality of flower required for medical consumption. This news is also far from a surprise.

As Ben Ward, CEO of Wayland Group, commented when contacted by CIJ for a response via email: “At Wayland, we believe in meaningful partnerships, investing in Germany from day one, demonstrating a long-term commitment to the market,” says Ward. “Wayland GmbH is a German company, operated by Germans, existing in Dresden and Munich and is committed to this market. The companies awarded lots received the allocation based on a rigorous application process, not media sensation.”

Of all the Canadian firms, in fact, despite its lack of high-flying stock price, Wayland has made the most concerted effort to show its commitment to producing in Germany by a large investment of capital and expertise. Further, the firm has shown itself to be the most culturally sensitive to German culture, including hiring a female member to the board (a hot topic far from the cannabis industry). However, there are other issues looming. On the same day that Wayland issued a press release announcing its position in the bid, it also issued one announcing the merger talks with ICC had failed.

The second is that Aphria’s main cultivation center in Canada is not EU-GMP certified although they have applied for the same and now also own one of Germany’s largest distributors (with approximately a 6% market share).

Other firms not only kicked off the entire cannabis discussion in Germany, but have established GMP-compliant facilities both in Canada and across Europe, namely Canopy Growth, which was widely believed to have also applied to the second tender. However prevailing rumours about a Canadian “crop failure” in British Columbia (described by the company as a deliberate destruction of plants created by delays in the licensing process) last fall may have also played a role in the German decision.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoAurora is also in interesting waters. Having distinguished itself as Canopy’s closest rival across Europe, winning significant kudos in Denmark, Italy, Poland and Luxembourg last year, the company is also clearly not “just” a medical cannabis company and apparently was refused an opportunity to go public on the Deutsche Börse last fall. The selection of the firm by BfArm for the bid in a situation where the company is on a watch list created by the stock market regulatory agency in Frankfurt is also an intriguing one. Especially given the company’s announcement of its Polish success on the same day as the decision to import was announced, and the fact that so far it is the only Canadian cannabis company to successfully import to Luxembourg.

And The Import Game Is Just Getting Hot…

The unsurprising news that the bid appears to be moving forward is actually not the hottest news in Europe right now. The reality on the ground is already shifting. Several weeks ago, a Frankfurt-based distribution start-up announced that they had successfully imported cannabis into the country from Macedonian-based Nysk Holdings via Poland.

At the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin last weekend, Australian producers (for one) were also reporting a German demand for their product that was greater than they could fill. And there were many Israelis present for what is expected to be an official opening of their import ability by the third quarter of this year.

Price Wars Are Looming

The bid itself is going to have a powerful impact on pricing in both the German and European market beyond that. It represents the first time in any country that a government has attempted to pre-negotiate prices for the drug as a narcotic beyond Israel and in this case, it will have at least regional implications.

aurora logoAt the same time, it is also clear that producers like Nysk and beyond them, Israeli and Australian firms (in particular) are actively finding ways to have their product enter the country- and further at prices that are catching the Canadians on the hop. Indeed Aurora is reporting that it actually lowered its “usual” prices to win European contracts which have been reported as being 3.2 euros a gram in Italy and 2.5 euros a gram in Luxembourg.

To put this in perspective, this is a range of about CA$3-5 a gram of flower which is also well below what Canopy (for one) has reported selling its product even to recreational users in Canada and significantly below medical export prices as reported by recent company corporate reports.

Wayland in contrast, is reporting that its production price in Germany will be at least a euro-per-gram cheaper than this. Or in other words, more in line with prices expected to be generated from both the bid itself and the cannabis now entering the country from other sources.

And of course, this is only the first of what is expected to be a series of new tenders. The original amount, itself increased in the two years the issue has been pending, is clearly not enough to even begin to meet demand as proved by the levels of competitively priced imports now entering the country.

Beyond questions about whether this time the tender will actually stand, are those now pending about new ones potentially in the offing – and not just in Germany but across Europe as cannabis continues to see a very green spring.

Marguerite Arnold

Farmako Inks Deal To Import 50 Tonnes of Polish Cannabis Into Germany

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

The ex-im cannabis map of Europe has been promising to get interesting for some time. And in March, it’s long promised potential just bloomed a little more as Frankfurt-based Farmako announced a first-of-its kind import deal of 50 tonnes of medical cannabis (and from Poland no less) over the next four years.

Farmako was just founded in September 2018. They began distribution to German pharmacies this month. They also have an office in London and cross-European aspirations.

While Farmako is the first to announce such a unique cross-border production and distribution agreement, however, they are far from the only ones planning the same. In fact at least Tilray is expected to announce that their newly-minted Portuguese crop is being processed into oil bound for German pharmacies any day now. It is also not unrealistic to expect that (at least) Canopy Growth, of the big Canadian producers at least, will soon announce the same situation for their crops in countries across the continent, starting with Spain.

Outside Germany of course, this kind of entrepreneurial endeavour is already underway. In the UK, a new import group just announced the first bulk shipment of Dutch medical cannabis into the country, distributed directly to over 1,000 pharmacies nationwide.

There still are a couple of jaw-dropping things to consider about this new German development. Namely, that the amount of just this deal over the next four years between two (relatively new, non-Canadian) companies is approximately five times the amount currently called for in the still pending domestic cultivation bid in Germany.

The second, of course, is that the Polish company on the other side of the border and this ex-im deal, PharmaCann Polska, is a uniquely positioned conglomeration of individuals with apparently Canadian and Israeli market experience. This means that they are already positioned to access the biggest two production markets in the world and are certain to be looking to exploit other Eastern European connections (at minimum). If not ones further afield than that.

One thing is absolutely certain far beyond the particulars of this one deal. The current import limitations from Canada and the Netherlands into the German market appear to be a thing of the past. And the cross-border trade for medical cannabis is now clearly entering a new phase.

Implications

Farmako clearly intends to go after the existing Canadians in the market on price, which means both Canopy Growth and Tilray. But it also means Wayland, at this point is the largest domestic certified producer (albeit with Canadian roots and partners) and an entire licensed facility in eastern Germany ready to go. That is not an insignificant threat and sets up another looming question: Which will actually be cheaper in the long run? Domestically grown German cannabis, or that imported from adjacent countries with lower paying labor markets?

This announcement also means that the “cannabis shortage” in the country is officially over as of this spring. And that won’t just come from Farmako but others already in the market and those angling now to get in via other creative means.

Regardless, what that will do to overall sales, patient numbers and overall speed is another matter.

Other Looming Problems

There are two big issues that this development does not solve of course. The first is the ability of patients to find doctors willing to prescribe the drug, and further to make sure they spend the time filling out the paperwork and negotiating with the patient’s insurer, to make sure that patients can actually get it. Starting with affording medical cannabis in the first place. Most patients on what is known as “statutory” health insurance (90% of the country) cannot afford the out of pocket cost at pharmacies without insurance approvals. Once they get them, they pay up to $12 for a month’s supply (in the case of flower, about an ounce).

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

The second issue is that it is currently unclear, mostly due to the lack of granularity provided by the country’s statutory health insurers, what is actually being prescribed for which kind of condition and to whom. Earlier this month, new information was made available about the overall growth of coverage of medical cannabis in Germany. While the total spending, and rough breakdown of flowers vs. product was provided, it is unclear beyond that, where this is going. There were also apparently just over 46,000 patients in Germany as of December 2018. And this is a growth trend that while clearly on an upward trajectory for the last three quarters is slow and steady as she goes. The sudden uptick in the market seen in the second quarter of last year appears to be an anomaly.

Further, understanding market price points is also hard. Flos and prepared pharmaceuticals such as Sativex are highly expensive right now. In the case of the Canadian firms, their medical exports are being sold at about twice the price of their domestic recreational sales points. Look for this to change dramatically as real competition heats up across Europe (and from more distributors than just this Frankfurt upstart).

What the news in other words about Farmako really signifies is that the price barriers in the medical market are about to come down at the point of sale- and hopefully in the short term, patients will not have to rely on the approval of their insurance companies to be able to access the drug because they will be able to afford it themselves. No matter what happens with the bid. Although this too will also serve to lower prices.

The great medical normalization race for medical cannabis in Europe is now officially “on.” And that is good news not only for patients, but of course, the industry.

Marguerite Arnold

Countries Take Lessons From Others On Legalizing Cannabis

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

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

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

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

New Zealand Takes A Look At Portugal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxembourg Takes A Look At Canada

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

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

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

A Big Difference In Approaches

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

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

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

european union states

European Moves Signal Green Spring For Cannabis

By Marguerite Arnold
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european union states

It is hard to believe that two years have passed since the German government changed the law to mandate insurance coverage of cannabis by public health insurers. It is not so much the passing of time, but what has and what has not happened here on the ground during this stretch.

This is borne out by a quick overview of regional developments just in the last few weeks on the ground across the European Union.

Germany

The country that is still given credit for kicking off the whole medical cannabis enchilada discussion on a formal, federal level in Europe, still has not issued its first domestic cannabis cultivation tender. It will be two years this April since the initiative was first announced. Since then, several lawsuits have derailed the process, BfArM, the federal agency in charge of the tender, has admitted to a “technical fault,” and, presumably after the next round in court, the agency might be able to get on with business. The next date of note is April 10 (when the lawsuit will be heard in Dusseldorf).

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

Hopefully, this also means that the domestic cultivation of cannabis will finally begin (according to the agency) by, at latest, the fourth quarter of 2020. In the meantime, look for the awarding of bid finalists (or in the worst case, one more bid issuance after April) this year.

In the meantime, and even according to BfArM’s press statements, the import industry will fill in the gaps- meaning that by the time cultivation actually gets under way for real here, it will already be swamped, in terms of volume, by imports.

Where those imports will come from is another discussion. Right now, the only two countries with import rights for cannabis into Deutschland are Holland and Canada. Expect that to change this year, with Israel, Portugal, Spain and potentially even Greece all being very likely contenders.

Switzerland

Significantly, this tiny, non-EU but Schengen state is considering a pilot to study recreational cannabis. Namely, 5,000 recreational users could soon be recruited to help the government set the rules for a fully recreational market, presumably sometime in the near future.

Switzerland has led the discussion in the region on several fronts- notably setting the pace on CBD sales and continuing to air debates about how profitable the fully recreational industry will be for the public purse.

Bern, the capital of Switzerland
Photo: martin_vmorris

It is all very intriguing, particularly to neighbouring DACH state, Germany, but don’t expect the Swiss to do anything too outrageous on the legalization front- namely step too far out in front of either the UN or the European Parliament. Or anger their other DACH trade partner, Austria, who has taken the extreme polar opposite approach to all things CBD.

So to the extent that the Swiss have very much led the charge on the CBD front, such policies have not and will certainly not be copied across Europe (and has not been so far) any time soon. See the controversies over “novel foods” popping up not only in Austria, but Spain too.

Regardless, like Luxembourg, the Swiss are eyeing this new industry and proceeding cautiously in line with larger, international regulations that so far have led the pack on tweaking, testing and presumably changing in the next couple of years.

There are at least 200,000 people who currently use the fully leaded THC version of the drug illegally. Those who would qualify for the pilot study (only one of several proposed as the country considers the impact of cannabinoids from all angles) would have to be adults who already use the drug.

Stay tuned. This will certainly be one interesting trial.

Belgium

Belgium has also just announced the formation of its own “Cannabis Agency.” The new agency will, just as in Germany, oversee the development of the industry domestically- namely issuing licenses for production and import and overseeing quality.

Does this mean a Belgian cultivation bid is on the horizon? Could be. Although so far, no country except Greece has engaged in any large-scale cultivation effort commissioned by the government. And no country except Germany has so far issued a public tender. Even Italy proceeded with a unique hybrid last year when the military essentially turned over the domestic production it controlled over to Aurora.

This too is also likely to be an interesting space over the next few years.

A Belgian tender, right along with a Polish one (also expected after BfArM successfully executes at least one) may well be in the offing this year. This may also put additional heat on the German agency to bite the bullet and issue cultivation licenses by the end of 2019 no matter what happens in Dusseldorf in April.