Aurora Cannabis Inc. sent out a press release today announcing that they have completed their largest shipment of cannabis to Israel yet. The Canadian company says the shipment of medical cannabis is worth roughly C$10 million, making it their largest shipment and possibly the largest cannabis import in Israel’s history.
Aurora is working on building their market presence in Israel as they continue to focus on international expansion. They claim that they are the leading Canadian licensed producer in global medical cannabis by revenue.
Miguel Martin, CEO of Aurora Cannabis Inc., says they are watching the world slowly begin to embrace cannabis just a bit more. “It’s an exciting time for the global cannabis industry, as we’re seeing growing acceptance and thoughtful regulation of both medical and adult-use cannabis across Europe and in key markets like Israel,” says Martin. “With strong local relationships, as well as support from our patients and consumers, we look forward to continuing to expand our international business to complement our total cannabis portfolio.”
Aurora also announced a joint venture in The Netherlands back in November of 2021, joining their regulated adult-use pilot program. The shipment of medical cannabis to Israel was delivered in December and will be posted in their second quarter revenue of 2022.
On May 13, months after the Israeli government originally signed off on cannabis exports, a free export order was finally approved by outgoing Minister of the Economy Eli Cohen. This is also sixteen months after the government approved exports of locally grown cannabis (at least in theory) and after the country began importing earlier this year as domestic patients were given priority for existing medical supplies.
However, all the internal barriers have now been officially removed. Exporters who wish to sell medical cannabis abroad are now able to obtain a license, as the order enters into full force by mid-June. The new regulation specifically requires that such products have obtained GMP certification (the pharmaceutical-grade cert required for all medical cannabis in Europe’s medical markets).
Licensing Already Underway
At least two Israeli companies have already obtained such licensing approvals. Cannabics, a company located in both Israel and Bethesda, Maryland, has obtained final approval of its drugs for export to both Canada and Europe, as well as Australia. The company is licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Health to conduct research and development on cannabinoid-based medications and cancer and operates a facility in Rehovot.
Cannabics describes itself as an American pharmaceutical company with R&D operations in Israel.
However, there is another interesting twist to all of this. Cantourage, a German company founded by entrepreneurs behind Pedianos, one of the two earliest importers of medical cannabis into the country (created in 2015 and subsequently purchased by Aurora), announced its import of the synthetic dronabinol to Germany from BOL Pharma, based in Israel, in late April. In doing so, they also became the first company to challenge Canopy Growth in its domination of the synthetic cannabinoid market which remains about one third of reimbursed prescriptions by volume (at least ffor publically insured patients) of cannabinoid medications.
Why Is This Development So Significant? The European and Canadian markets are clearly leading the world in at least the consumption of cannabinoid-based medications – which by definition are based on extractions of the plant, beyond floß (or flower). Israeli producers have been banned from entering these markets for the last several years due to internal political struggles domestically, and an apparent deal between Israel and American presidents Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump to delay market entry.
This delay also impacted Israeli firms hoping to enter the first German cultivation bid, which was finally decided last spring. It is expected that the first domestically cultivated product will be distributed to local apothekes as of this fall, although this may be slightly delayed as a result of fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This delay is not expected to impact the import market in the country, which is the source of all flower-based medicine here, and will continue to be a strong market segment. The bid itself only called for a limited production of cannabis in Germany, and was already too little to meet the needs of domestic patients.
However, what the potential lag in German product also does is open a door for Israeli products to now enter the market before German-produced cannabis becomes available.
A Steep Uphill Climb What the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly affected, more than drug entry, however, is something almost as important – namely doctor education. For a producer or distributor to get sales via German pharmacies, they also have to ensure that doctors are prescribing the drug. This is a lot easier if the product is a generic, like dronabinol, because doctors can write prescriptions for a drug which can now be sourced from several sources. It becomes a little harder to do that with any formulated substance, and further one with a “brand” name. Especially because German doctors are right now are on the forefront of an uneasy “flattening the curve” scenario as the economy continues to cautiously resume somewhat normal operations.
The challenge that remains, indeed not just for Israeli entrants, but everyone with new product formulations, is educating doctors about prescribing such medications, and further, obtaining insurance approvals for those who have been prescribed such drugs.
Cost, which is beginning to be addressed by the regulated pricing established here for domestically produced cannabis, is still in the room too.
The Market Continues To Open Regardless of the struggle, and the costs involved, it is clear that the German market is obviously now finally opening to Israeli firms and on the processed medical front (as opposed to “just” flower).
Further it is also a sign that the market here is maturing, and even specializing.
No matter the obstacles, in other words, and despite the pandemic, the global market for cannabinoid drugs continues to expand.
In the United States, the idea of transporting cannabidiol (CBD), let alone medical cannabis across state lines is still verboten. As a result, a patchwork of very different state industries has sprung up across the map, with different regulatory mandates everywhere. While it is very clear that California will set the tone for the rest of the United States in the future, that is not a simple conversation. Even in-state and in the present.
In the meantime, of course, federal reform has yet to come. And everywhere else, there is a very different environment developing.
In Canada, “territorial” reform does mean there will be different quality or other regulatory guidelines depending on where you are. The main difference between the territories appears to be at point of retail – at least for now. Notably, recreational dispensaries in the East will be controlled by the government in an ABC package store model. That will not be the case across all provinces however. Look for legal challenges as the rec market gets underway.
In Europe, the conversation is already different – and based on the realities of geopolitics. Europe is a conglomeration of federally governed nation-states rather than more locally administered territories, supposedly under federal leadership and control (as in the US). That said, there is common EU law that also governs forward reform everywhere now, just as it hindered national drug reform until a few years ago on the cannabis front.
However, now, because European countries are also moving towards reform but doing so in very different ways in an environment with open borders, the market here is developing into one of the most potentially fertile (and experienced) ex-im markets for the cannabis plant anywhere. On both the consumer and medical fronts, even though these labels mean different things here than they do elsewhere.
Medical reform in Europe basically opens the conversation to a regulated transfer of both non and fully loaded narcotic product across sovereign national borders. This is already happening even between nation-states where medical (read THC infused) cannabis is not federally legal yet, but it is has been accepted (even as a highly restricted drug). This means that Europe has already begun to see transfer of both consumer and medical product between states. In the former case, this is also regulated under food and cosmetic safety laws.
Cannabis in this environment is “just another drug.”While a lot of this so far has been via the strategic rollout of the big Canadian LPs as they attempt to carve up European cannabis territory dominance and distribution like a game of Risk, it is not limited to the same.
Pharmaceutical distributors across Europe are hip to the fact, now, that the continent’s largest drug market (Germany) has changed the law to cover cannabis under insurance and track its issuance by legal prescription. So is everyone in the non-medical CBD game.
As a result, even mainstream distributors are flocking to the game in a big way. Cannabis in this environment is “just another drug.” If not, even more significantly, a consumer product.
The race for Europe is on. And further, in a way that is not being seen anywhere else in the world right now. And not just in pharmacies. When Ritter Sport begins to add cannabis to its famous chocolate (even if for now “just” CBD) for this year’s 4/20 auf Deutschland, you know there is something fundamental and mainstream going on. Lidl – a German discount grocery chain that stretches across Europe, has just introduced CBD-based cannabis edibles – in Switzerland.
As a result of this swift maturation, it is also creating from the beginning a highly professional industry that is essentially just adding cannabis to a list of pharmaceutical products already on a list. Or even just other grocery (or cosmetic) items.
In general, and even including CBD, these are also products that are produced somewhere in Europe. As of this year, however, that will include more THC from Portugal, Spain and most certainly Eastern Europe. It will also mean hemp producers from across the continent suddenly have a new market. In many different countries.
This means that the industry itself is far more sophisticated and indeed used to the language and procedures of not only big Euro pharma, but also mainstreamed distribution (straight to pharmacy and even supermarket chains).
It also means, however, understanding the shifting regulations. In general, the focus on ex-im across Europe is also beginning to standardize an industry that has been left out of the global game, on purpose, for the last 100 years. Medical cannabis, grown in Spain under the aegis of Alcaliber (a major existing opioid producer) can enter Germany thanks to the existing partnership with Spektrum and Canopy, who have a medical import license and source cannabis from several parts of Europe at this point. It also means that regular hemp producers, if they can establish the right brand and entry points, have a new opportunity that exists far outside of Switzerland, to create cross-European presence.
And all of this industry regulation is also setting a timeline, if not deadline, on other kinds of reform not seen elsewhere, anywhere, yet.
Trump Administration-Israeli relations had the distinct whiff of cannabis to them in the first week of February. In a development potentially just as impactful as transplanting Israel’s capital to Jerusalem, it has now emerged that Israel’s president, Benjamin Netanyahu, has effectively scotched, at least temporarily, the country’s budding medical cannabis international export plans on the eve of finally launching them.
What this latest act of international “diplomacy” will eventually impact in the long run is anyone’s guess. There will, however, be winners and losers out of this situation, both now and in the long term.
On the surface (and to gentiles) it might be hard to understand why Israel effectively shot itself in the foot from a global perspective. But cannabis falls into complicated geopolitical and religious crevices at home too. Bibi, as Netanyahu is referred to by an international Jewish audience, has just scored political points over the Jerusalem showdown. Why rock the boat over a plant that has so recently gained legitimacy just in Israel? Remember the country only partially decriminalized recreational use in 2017. However, Israel has explored legal medical cannabis for quite some time, and Tikun Olam, the country’s flagship producer, has been growing cannabis since 2007.
The quote from Netanyahu that has been widely circulated in the press says a great deal. “I spoke with Trump and he told me about his general opposition to the legalization of cannabis, and I’m not sure Israel should be the export pioneer.”
The fact that apparent encouragement of this policy came from the Israeli Finance Ministry only underscores the gravity of the impact for the losing side – and what was also probably threatened. Uruguayan pharmacies, who began distributing medical cannabis legally, walked away from customers last year after their banks were first informed by U.S. partners that they would either have to cut off the pharmacies or sever ties and access to the entire U.S. banking system. The cannabis trade was estimated to be worth between $1-4 billion per year to Israeli firms.
That said, this will also be a short-lived hiccup. Netanyahu apparently wants to see more medical evidence before moving forward with the plan. That means Israel will be in the race, but not for the next 12 to 18 months (minimum).
This will also not affect the cannabinoid-related export of intellectual property, where Israel has also led the cannabinoid discussion and for several generations now. Recipes, breeding instructions and even seeds cross borders more easily than plants. If anything, it will merely sharpen and shape the start up nation’s many budding cannapreneurs in a slightly different focus.
Canadian, Australian and a few other exporters also win. As of 2018, there will also be multiple European countries and EU-based firms importing and exporting (even if it is to each other).
The U.S. legal state cannabis movement has just been served a two fisted punch in the face by the White House. The Trump administration, in fact, has doubled down, in the space of less than five weeks, on its views towards cannabis legalization.
This also means that there will be no U.S. firms in any position to join a now global and exploding legitimate cannabis industry that stretches from the American hemisphere north and south of the U.S. itself. Not only will American producers not be able to get export approvals themselves from the U.S. government, but they may well be facing federal prosecution back home.
It will also be interesting to see whether this heralds any post-Cole memo prosecutions of the many Israeli entrepreneurs already operating in the U.S. state cannabis space. American and Israeli entrepreneurs with IP to protect are also the losers here, no matter how much this is being fought on the California front right now. That is just a state battle. IP must be protected federally.
Investors in the U.S. who had already been tempted to invest in the Canadian cannabis industry, now have little incentive to invest domestically or in Israel, no matter how big and bad California is. There is clearly budding (and less politically risky) competition elsewhere.
It goes without saying, of course, that this decision also hurts consumers – both recreational consumers and medical patients.
This is clearly sabre rattling of the kind intended to make news both internationally and abroad. However, in direct terms, it will have little impact to the overall growth of the industry, no matter who is doing the growing, distributing and ex-im. The cannabis industry will also clearly not stop being a political business for the near term.
Look for prosecutions this if not next year in the U.S. – potentially in California or another high profile “impact” state. We might see pressure on Netanyahu at home, and probably from abroad as well, to get Israel into the cannabis game globally.
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