The news is intriguing in a world overwhelmed with pandemic news. THC Global, a Canadian-Aussie company now raising money and signing global deals, has just bought a “clinic network” of 30 prescribing physicians that will be able to supply up to 6,000 Australian patients this year.
In doing so, this entity is clearly beginning to establish a pattern of expansion in a new medical market not seen so far outside of Canada. Namely being able to obtain the all-important prescription for one’s brand at the doctor or prescriber’s office which is affiliated with a certain producer. Pharmacies and dispensaries downstream have no discretion for any other product to sell if the brand is written right on the prescription itself.
And this marks a new step in an industry frustrated with the high prices and high levels of red tape in other international environments where more widespread medical cannabis reform has come.
The Situation in Germany Germany represents, so far at least, the destination market of choice for Canadian cannabis firms (for the last several years at least). This is for several very sound business reasons (at least in theory).
The German medical market is the largest in Europe. Health reforms which swept the country at the time of reunification also created a system that is in its own way a hybrid of the more European (and British) NHS and American healthcare. Namely, 90% of the German population is on the system, but it is tied to employment and income. Freelancers, even of the German kind, must use private healthcare as must all non-passport foreigners. If you make over a certain amount of money (about $65,000), you must also pay for private healthcare. As the cannabis revolution rolls forward, many cannabis patients are caught in changing rules and a great reluctance by public health insurers to allow fast entry of any new drug, including this one. This is based on “science” but also cost.
Bottom line? Yes, the market is lucrative and growing, and yes, cannabis is covered under public health insurance, but the ability of any producers to be able to maintain a reliable, steady market of “prescribers” is highly limited. Furthermore, unlike anywhere else in the world, pharmacists play an outsized role in the process – namely because there are no chains (more than four brick and mortar outlets are verboten). Prices and availability vary widely across the country.
There are also no “online” drug stores where patients can send prescriptions in the sense that this vertical has developed in other countries.
Hospital dispensation is, for all the obvious reasons, highly expensive and generally prohibitive for the long term, if not serving much larger numbers of patients.
The Problem in the UK Like Germany, the UK decided to launch medical “cannabis” – or at least cannabinoid-related drugs under the purview of the NHS, but there are several issues with this.
The problems start with the fact that the system remains a monopoly for one British company, GW Pharmaceuticals. The medication produced by them, including Sativex and Epidiolex is expensive and does not work for many patients that it is produced “on label” for (such as MS or childhood epilepsy).
And then of course, the largest group of cannabis patients anywhere (chronic pain) have been explicitly excluded from the list of conditions cannabis can be prescribed for under public health guidelines in the UK. This, like Germany, has created a highly expensive system where those patients who obtain the drug on a regular (and legal basis) have to have both private healthcare and obtain help through private clinics. While there are several chain clinics now forming in the UK, this is not the same thing as “buying” patients in the thousands – the model seen in Canada from the beginning of 2014.
The market has a lot of potential, in other words, but like Germany, via very different paths to market than seen in Canada, in particular.
Why Is Canada Different? The development of the medical market came through federal change in the law around the turn of the century. Namely, after patients won the right to grow for themselves, via Supreme Court legal challenge, patient collectives gradually formed to grow and sell cannabis that was more “professionally” cultivated. This, in turn, became the right of private companies and indeed household names in the Canadian market saw buying patient pools as their path to financing on the equity markets as of 2014.
This is not widely popular within the industry. Indeed, the last legal challenge mounted by the industry to ban non-profit patient collectives fell apart in 2016 – the year that the larger Canadian companies began to look abroad to Europe.
It is also undoubtedly why, beyond the red tape they face in Germany and the UK if not across Europe, Canadian firms are looking to hybridize a model which worked well for them at least in the early days of capitalization of the private industry. And maybe Australia will be “it.” Stay tuned.
The Canadian-German market connection has been a “thing” ever since the middle of the last decade. But this is not the only international cannabis connection. Indeed, firms in multiple countries have been developing international partnerships for quite some time – and not just deals involving the plant or its extracts, but on the cannabis technology front.
This year and going forward expect these to bear fruit, and in interesting ways.
What are the trends? And who is doing what?
Europe The entire European cannabis market has slowly been developing momentum since 2017 when Germany kicked off its first attempt at a domestic cultivation bid. The first German-grown cannabis is expected to hit pharmacies this fall, and further at a price that will keep everyone else hopping (€3.20 a gram from BfArM to distributors). However, because domestic cultivation was never expected to keep up with patient demand, Germany has become one of the hottest destination markets on the planet.
While there is clearly product still coming in from Canada, the big importer into Germany is actually from Holland (Bedrocan), right across a common border.
But Holland is not the only game in town anymore. Europe has long had promise as one of the most international cannabis markets in the world, simply because of relatively open, cross-border trade. Cannabis from Denmark, Portugal and Spain as well as Australia and South Africa have already made it into the German market. Greece, Italy and Poland are all moving into position as major sources of at minimum, floss if not extracts, along with growing interest in Eastern European entries (and not only the Czech Republic).
The intra-European market for cannabis is well underway, in other words, and this is likely to be an increasing trend, particularly as cannabis continues to make waves on the medical front as well as continually mounting evidence that the drug treats difficult to treat conditions including neurological disorders, cancer and the ever-present chronic pain.
Then of course, there is Israel, which is expected to be a big contender now that the country is finally in the export game.
Beyond the direct imports, however, there are also multiple country hops in play (such as Uruguay to Portugal to Germany). Malta is also increasingly shaping up to be an intriguing pass through port, if nothing else.
But of course, Europe is not the only international game in town.
The UK Despite all of the problems that British patients face in obtaining high quality medical cannabis at a price that is affordable, the UK has actually led the world in cannabis exports (benefitting so far only GW Pharmaceuticals). However many firms have also been cooperating to bring cannabis into the country (from Canada and Holland in particular so far). The biotech partnerships set up by firms like Canopy Growth are also expected to bear fruit as cannabinoid research begins to truly come into its own in the coming decade.
The Americas Despite the fact that exporting from the U.S. is still difficult (although some firms have managed to export hemp to Europe), there is a lot of cross border cooperation going on throughout the hemisphere (including investment and all kinds of creative partnerships). Canada of course, got its export game going early. Yet one of the more intriguing cross border stories of the last 18-24 months is the amount of South American cultivated cannabis ending up “north of the border.” Changing laws in the region make Latin America a major export location as well as a source for product bound elsewhere including Europe (see Columbia, Uruguay and Jamaica in particular). Mexico is expected to be a power player globally going forward too.
There are also many American firms who have developed strategic partnerships globally beyond the actual plant (including in Israel).
Israel The country is absolutely in the export market, but that is not the whole story. Earlier in the year, the country received its first import from Uganda. There are also multiple U.S. companies in partnership with Israeli firms, and this will increasingly play out in terms of both product and cannabis technology as the market continues to open internationally. American firms, in other words, are still largely prohibited from shipping from the U.S., but they can now do so from Israel, and further, anywhere in the world.
South Africa Another newcomer, South African firms are partnering internationally (including with American firms) to develop not only product but extraction technology. Cannabis firms here have also already shipped product to Canada and Europe.
Australia Agricultural exports generally are a major part of the Aussie economy, and cannabis is shaping up to be no exception. Domestic firms are increasingly exporting to Europe (in particular), but partnerships here will be intriguing to watch, particularly as the Chinese market comes into its own. And there are already plenty of firms with partnerships now established or in the last phases of inking out deals with Israeli firms. Canada has been the largest source of imports into the country since 2017.
Given all the fuss about newly opened markets in Europe of late (see all the hullabaloo recently in the UK), it would be remiss for anyone in the industry to forget about Poland.
The Eastern European country that shares a large part of its border (if not recent history and long cultural influence) with Deutschland has been proceeding slowly into the cannabis space for the last couple of years.
There are a couple of similarities (and differences too) about the market development in the country to its Teutonic sister to the West as well as the emerging fight over access that is sparking patient revolutions all over the continent now.
A Brief History Of Polish Cannabis Reform
Like other culturally conservative places (see state reform in the United States in places like Georgia), Poland has moved towards reform in a way that may make political sense, but has left patients in much the same boat as British ones. Reform began happening without access as of late 2017.
Poland, or so the joke goes in Germany, is Deutschland’s “trailing sister,” on most things, and cannabis reform in some ways, is absolutely following that pattern. But it is not exactly analogous, starting with patient access. In fact, the first opening of the market did not touch import much less cultivation. It only authorized patients to cross borders in search of their medication. No matter the high cost involved. And of course, the still dodgy proposition of returning across a border with a highly stigmatized narcotic product.
Fast forward a year? Many of the major Canadian cannabis companies had achieved some sort of import (mostly of small amounts of the drug and mostly to single hospitals). See the announcement of Aurora last October on the same day that the Polish government announced a change in the law that they had imported in bulk to a hospital.
But what is going on now, particularly with a growth in acceptance of the medicinal impact of the drug across Europe? And will the Poles, like the Germans, launch a domestic cultivation bid anytime in the near future? Not to mention learn the lessons that so far have continued to stymie German domestic cultivation as well as frustrate a smooth supply chain if not operations on the ground?
The Market Is Coalescing
According to Andrew Makatrewicz de Roy, managing director of Bearstone Global, a market research and investigative firm moving into the cannabis space, Poland has one of the more progressive laws in Europe, but still is lagging behind other countries in terms of organisation and a political lobbying movement.
“There is a lot of vibrancy in the market, but we want to make sure that there is an initial forum where the market can meet and discuss the industry here”.There are also a few (low volume) transactions taking place.
However, as in other places (see the UK in particular), there is a lot of heat if no fire yet behind the scenes. Both individuals and companies are starting to appear who will help build a wider ecosystem in the cannabis space.
As in other countries in Europe, despite the market potential, there is still a general political lag in further development of the industry. Perhaps because of complications in the German market. And almost certainly because of complications with German reform and its own cultivation bid. There have been rumours of a Polish bid circulating for at least a year. Licensed cultivation is beginning to take place.
In response, Makatrewicz de Roy is moving to establish one of the first industry conferences in the country in October. In late July, he also held the first precursor to the same – an online streamed event that attracted 70 major thought leaders from the industry including many members of the political class, producers and distributors (including some of the biggest Canadian ones), doctors and patients.
“We want to build an ecosystem,” de Roy said. “There is a lot of vibrancy in the market, but we want to make sure that there is an initial forum where the market can meet and discuss the industry here”.
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.
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.
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.
Aurora 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.
At 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.
For those who have been watching (if not in the thick of) the drama over Israeli medical cannabis export rights, this latest development was not only inevitable but overdue. Israel’s parliament unanimously approved the legislation on Christmas Day (along with Thailand). Less than a month later, the cabinet concurred.
That means that export rights are now actionable law.
Beyond this final passage into reality, export rights have been at the forefront of a global drama on cannabis- most recently in this part of the world, as a specific chip in political dealmaking between U.S. President and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu since the former entered office. This go around at least.
The political bargaining that even allowed Israel’s medical program to flourish and get funding from its earliest days (including of the U.S. federal government kind) of course, is nothing new.
Pioneers Of The Cannabis Industry
Hard as it is to believe, most of what is widely known and easily digitally shared (including on social media) about cannabis (as a plant, let alone distinctions between cannabinoids) is information created during this last four to eight-year period (certainly since 2010). This has been driven by reform, and a birth of wider education about medical and recreational cannabis plus the cannabis industry and broader lifestyle press. And most of what is credible out there, no matter who claims credit today, has an Israeli origin, and of the medical kind.
Add this history of scientific research and insight to the philosophy of a nation driven by entrepreneurial zest, and say no more.
Now that Israel can begin to export its cannabis, the interesting thing to see is whether cannatech will in the end, be more valuable than individual strains themselves. The pick axe in this particular “green gold rush?”
For now, of course, all bets are off, even on the cultivation front. Because, no matter what else it is, it is well timed, globally, to give even the Israeli medical production market a big green shot in the arm.
Germany and Europe Beckons
The change in the law in Israel also comes as those who made first qualifying round in the German cultivation bid are getting prequalification letters, although this time, no firms, anywhere, have issued press releases about their finalist round status.
And here is the other issue to consider: While the bid itself does not have anything to do with import capability, new Israeli game in town is, in itself, a big game changer for anyone whose hat was thrown into the coalitions who applied for the pending cultivation license. Why? Until they deliver their first crops grown auf Deutschland, firms have to deliver from somewhere. And this being Germany, the import destination has to be from a place where the plant is federally legal. Israel becomes another option in a market so far dominated by Dutch and Canadian firms.
Can you smell new bid lawsuits also, if this scenario has not already been addressed by BfArM? The history of cannabinoids in Germany in general (historically as well as recently) is fraught already. This pending challenge, should it come, will be laden with symbology modern Germany will do everything to avoid provoking.
Beyond the soap opera that the bid has turned into in Germany (the ultimate test case for cultivation and insurance-backed medical and industry acceptance across the rest of the EU essentially), there are of course, other markets beckoning. This includes all of Eastern Europe and much of the EU. This includes France and the UK immediately.
In other words, no matter what the longer-term impacts will be, this well timed, politically astute Israeli decision is coming at the beginning of what is going to be, as everyone is clearly seeing at the end of January, a momentous and earth-shaking year not only for Europe, but globally.
And that is big business for a little country with an eye on the export game.
Two reports published by short selling stock firm Quintessential Capital Management and forensic investor research firm Hindenburg Research on December 3, charges that Canadian LP Aphria, has bought overinflated assets in Latin America and in Florida from shell companies owned by company insiders. Added to the lingering controversy is the purchase of the German Nuuvera this spring (a company also partly owned by Aphria brass), and the reports went over like a bombshell. Globally.
However, the story has already spread far beyond one company. And the response in the market has rocked the industry for most of December.
The response by the firm? A promise of an immediate line-by-line rebuttal, due out in the second week of December. So far, however, despite news of an additional Aphria purchase in Paraguay, the rebuttal report has not been issued.
Why Is This So Damaging? Or Is It?
Aphria’s stocks promptly took a dive that halved their value although they began to recover after Aphria management appointed an independent third party firm to review the claims.
Worse, however, the entire industry saw a hit too. This report affected investor confidence across the industry. And although the hit appears to be temporary, the unfolding scenario is a perfect example of why volatility in the market is scaring away not only more conservative female retail investors but larger institutional ones that the industry is now courting assiduously as medical cannabis begins to be integrated into health systems particularly in Europe.
Bottom line? As the big cannabis companies are listing on the larger, foreign exchanges, including the NYSE and Deutsche Börse, the scrutiny is getting more direct and granular.Despite the stratospheric market caps of all the major Canadian LPs in particular, not to mention enormous expenditures for the last several years (on property and other acquisitions), the revenue picture, as other stock analysts and publications such as the normally neutral Motley Fool recently pointed out, at least so far does not justify the same. Bulk sales to a hospital, establishing a cultivation or processing facility or even getting import licenses may set one up to do business however, but it is not an automatic route to ongoing and expanding sales. And that is the key to high valuations that are rock solid and beyond the scope of such allegations.
For the moment, that pressure, particularly in global medical markets, is falling first on patients if not doctors. Not the industry.
That said, this has been a major building year. Recreational cannabis has just become legal in Canada. And in Europe, reform is still in the process of happening.
It is also a charge if not frustration that has been growing, however, against all the public cannabis companies as valuations shoot into the stratosphere. Forensic and investigative firms, particularly in Europe and the United States have been focusing on the industry for close to a year now. As a result even when firms successfully rebut charges of fraud, they are looking at different valuations from analysts at least in the short term.
Bottom line? As the big cannabis companies are listing on the larger, foreign exchanges, including the NYSE and Deutsche Börse, the scrutiny is getting more direct and granular.
Are “Short Seller” Reports Unbiased?
For all of the focus on short seller reports in this industry, however, no matter the accuracy of some of their claims, here is the next issue:
Short sellers make money by betting against not only individual firms but the industry itself. They benefit financially in other words, from volatility in the market and arbitraging even small changes in price. Even if their reports cause the same.
Such reports as a result are also not “unbiased” as industry coverage in the press is supposed to be, no matter how much more time sometimes goes into the reporting and preparation of the same.
And no matter that this industry is now going into its fifth year, there is still lingering scepticism that, in the case of Aphria, has so far not only fallen on the individual firm in question, but then rebounds across the industry, unfairly hurting all firms in this space.
Stand aside Canada! Events are moving in a strategically interesting way in Europe. And for once it is not news of the German bid.
In this case, implementation of the decision in Luxembourg would actually have two immediate effects.What, where, when? Luxembourg’s new center-left coalition of the Greens, Socialists and more traditional Democrats have put recreational cannabis on their ruling mandate and five-year agenda as of November 29, 2018.
In the comments of the same at the press conference held last week, the sentiments were pretty much of one tenor: “It’s way overdue.”
What does that mean, however, for the rest of the conversation across the continent?
Luxembourg: The First Recreational “State” Market In Europe?
While local advocates are quick to say that their ambition will make them the first EU country to completely legalize recreational cannabis, this is mostly true, but not entirely.
As much as it is fashionable these days to diss Holland, the fact of the matter is that the Dutch pioneered just about everything about the modern movement except clear cut regulation. Coffeeshop envy being what it is, however, it is true that the historical marker of the Dutch market was grey areas. That, however, has been in shifting territory for the last four to five years however. Hard as it is to believe that in just 2014 the Cannabis Cup held its last expo in Amsterdam. How the world has changed since then!
There is also this fact: Switzerland (true not an EU country but just next door geographically), is also poised to use this excuse to make its next move to fully leaded THC. The country has seen a sharp uptick in the consumer, OTC CBD market over the last two years. So much so that foreign (read American and Canadian in particular) enterprises are now looking to Switzerland as one of the more interesting “semi-EU” entry strategies at present. Taxes on a highly profitable industry are also in the public discussion. Adding a bit of THC to the mix, in other words, is likely to come fast in other places too.
Will This Move The Needle In Other Places?
The answer to that question is also, undeniably, yes. How fast that will happen in individual countries across Europe is another discussion. See France, which is now the largest member of the EU to have so far successfully ducked the cannabis question except for some basic decrim ideas that the now embattled French President Emmanuel Macron might, finally, put some enthusiasm into backing.
This could also certainly galvanize the UK. One way or the other, to stay or leave the EU itself. Full recreational won’t be in the cards, however, for quite some time.
Sound incredible? See Brexit so far.it will create the first deliberately regulated recreational market in Europe.
Many other EU countries have also been chafing at the slow pace of reform. Even after basic medical use has occurred. See German advocates who long to follow both the U.S. and Canada, and at present are for the most part shut out of the medical cultivation process. They are simply being outbid by the large Canadians.
But how fast such reforms will come even in Luxembourg, not to mention have a knock on effect elsewhere, no matter how momentous, is still an undecided question.
What Is The Biggest Immediate Impact Going To Be?
As is usually the case in Europe, things are rarely as straightforward as one country deciding to do (or not do) something. In this case, implementation of the decision in Luxembourg would actually have two immediate effects.
One, it will create the first deliberately regulated recreational market in Europe. How fast that could actually roll out is up for debate, considering that the country only legalized medical use as of this summer. As Colorado, California and certainly Canada have proven in spades so far, recreational reform always need some kind of medical base to start with. And implementation of both kinds of markets always seems, at least so far, to carry litigation. Especially in young, untested markets. See the German bid, most recently, just across the border.
However here is the second, and far more intriguing reality that really may be key to the entire enchilada. The legality of cannabis in Luxembourg also has everything to do with the German public cannabis market. Namely, the German stock exchange will only allow Germans to clear stock purchases of publicly listed cannabis companies on the Deutsche Börse if they are in line with not only German cannabis law but also that in Luxembourg, where they actually clear. That was a big issue this summer, only rectified when Luxembourg first changed its medical law.
It also meant, as of this fall, that Aurora went public in New York, not Frankfurt.
In the future, however, after Luxembourg goes full recreational Monty, this will no longer be the case. This will already be tested next spring as another company hopes to go public here. And when that happens, although certainly not for the next several years, the entire discussion of recreational reform will fully and finally be in the European room.
Right now the map of Europe, from a cannabis cultivation perspective at least, is shaping up to be very much like a game of Risk. Throw the dice, move your armies (or more accurately line up your financing), and apply for federal import and cultivation licenses.
In the process, all sorts of interesting strategic plays are popping up. And as a result, here is a new and actually pretty cool “alternative” reality that is easy to verify in several different ways. Medical cannabis is being cultivated in multiple countries across Europe as of 2018, however unbelievable this was even four years ago. Even though it is still cleary just early days. And those cultivators are already international, operating across federal jurisdictions in Europe and across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
With all the excitement and attention paid to the American hemisphere and the European moves of big Canadian LPs (and they are pretty amazing), there are still other moves afoot that are absolutely of note. Specifically, Australian firms and MGC Pharma in particular, have been moving steadily to establish both distribution and cultivation presence on the ground in Europe.
The latest news? MGC’s production facility in Slovenia was officially inspected by authorities and issued an interim license for its production plant in January, before presumably being given a green light of approval permanently. The company is also moving forward with the production of CannEpil, the company’s first pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis product for the treatment of refractory epilepsy.
Refractory epilepsy affects about 30% of all those who suffer from the condition. Refractory is one of those words however, that hides its real meaning. Translation for those without an MD? This is “drug resistant” epilepsy. Resistant to all drugs before, of course, except cannabinoids.
And that is a welcome relief for patients domestically and throughout Europe. It is also a note to investors looking for savvy Euro plays right now.For all manufacturers now considering entering this market, this is a complicated environment to begin negotiating
This is a major win for MGC. Not to mention a vibrant medical market. No matter where specialty drugs are now going to be sourced from.
A Treatment-Driven “Branded” Pharma Market
What more traditional American pharmaceutical companies have known for a long time (certainly since the 1950’s) is now a fact also facing all cannabis brands coming to the European market and Germany in particular. The regulatory environment is hostile to the extreme for Auslanders in particular. Specifically, the development of “branded” or “name brand” drugs runs economically and philosophically counter to the concept of public health insurance itself even as their market accessibility is required by the same. This is even more the case for foreign firms with such ideas.
Here is the problem. Name brands are expensive. They are also usually outlier drugs for specific, relatively rare conditions. This is also the place where new drugs enter the market, no matter what they are.
In an environment where the government negotiates bulk contracts for common drugs and these can be bought at every apotheke (pharmacy) for 10 euros and a doctors rezept (prescription), the chronically ill and those with drug resistant conditions are left out of the discussion. They face steep and usually inaccessible bills up front for all meds not in bulk purchase categories. And that as of last year in Germany specifically, includes cannabis. That is the case even though technically the government is now buying cannabis in bulk and making purchase commitments to foreign companies for the same. Insurance companies, however, are still forcing patients to pay the entire out of pocket cost up front and wait to reimbursed.
“Generic” Brands For Off label Chronic Conditions
However medical cannabis is clearly not just another drug. Cannabis falls on both sides of every fence in this discussion.
The first problem is that the providers (importers and soon to be domestic cultivators) are private companies. All of them are foreign helmed at this point, with a well-developed bench of branded products. That makes all cannabis drugs, oil and flower, by definition, fall into the “expensive” branded category immediately. The German, Italian, and Danish governments appear to be now negotiating bulk buys during a licensing season that is well on the way to domestic cultivation too. That alone will affect domestic prices and new products. But again, this is now several years behind other countries – notably MGC in Slovenia, Tilray in Portugal, all things now afoot in Denmark and clearly, Greece.
Next, cannabis’s status as a still imported, speciality, semi-trial status in the EU means it is in the most restricted categories of drugs to begin with (no matter the name or strength of the cannabinoid in particular). And because it can be bought as bud, in an “unprocessed” form as well as processed oils or other medicine, this is throwing yet another spanner into the mix.
Look for distribution deals all over Europe as a result, starting with PolandThen there is this wrinkle. Cannabis (even CBD) is currently considered a narcotic within the EU and even more specifically the largest continental drug market – Germany. The German regulatory system in particular, also imposes its own peculiarities. But basically what this means in sum is that the legal cannabis community including distributors and pharmas at this point, have to educate doctors in an environment where cannabis itself is a new “brand.” Who manufactures what, for the purposes of German law, at least, is irrelevant. It is what that drug is specifically for that matters.
For all manufacturers now considering entering this market, this is a complicated environment to begin negotiating. This is sure not how things are back home.
What this also means is that low cost, speciality cannabis products will continue to be imported across Europe for the German and other developing, regulated sovereign markets here as doctors learn about cannabis from condition treatments. And that is what makes the news about MGC even more interesting.
Look for distribution deals all over Europe as a result, starting with Poland. And, despite the many well-connected and qualified hopefuls from Canada, a little competition in the German market too.
MS is the only “on-label” drug at present for cannabis treatment in Germany. As a result, particularly when it comes to paediatric treatment for drug resistant epilepsy, this is the kind of strategic presence that will create a competitive source for highly condition-branded medication for a very specific audience of patients. It is also what the German market, for one, if not the EU is shaping up to be at least in the near term.
As this interesting abstract from 2006 clearly shows, this kind of epilepsy is also high on the German radar from a public policy and healthcare-cost containment perspective. The costs of treatment per patient were between 2,600 and 4,200 euros for three months a decade ago, and not only have those risen, but so have the absolute number of people in similar kinds of situations.
Further, with indirect costs far higher than direct costs including early retirement and permanent semi disability, MGC’s market move into an adjacent (and cheaper) production market might be just what the German doctors if not policymakers now looking at such issues, will order.
The end of the year is often a time for reflection when people look back at their accomplishments over the last year; and those in the cannabis industry are no different.
2017 was a year of monumental change for the cannabis industry. Riding high on a wave of electoral victories and changing public sentiment, more states than ever have legalized cannabis in some form or fashion and nations like Canada are headed down the path of full legalization.
Part of the thanks for this seismic shift in public policy and consciousness has to go to the countless women and men who have tirelessly campaigned for cannabis reform for years; but a sizable portion of that thanks must also go towards the unsung heroes of the cannabis industry: the cannabis PR firms.
Fighting on the front-lines of the war for public perception, cannabis PR firms have been essential in the reversing decades of Reefer Madness and, through constant branding and re-branding, have helped make the cannabis industry the billion dollar industry that it is today. While helping their clients achieve the branding and marketing they need, PR firms have also helped considerably in normalizing cannabis and bringing it into the mainstream lens.
So in reflection of this past year, and in thanks of those that made it happen, here’s a look at some of the top PR firms in the cannabis industry for 2017 in no particular order.
Evan Nison, Nison Co.
Evan Nison is the founder & chief executive officer of Nison Co. and Co-Founder of Whoopi & Maya. Nison Co. has over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis. In 2017, the company grew to over 30 industry leading cannabis clients and 7 full time staff and 8 part time staff focusing exclusively on the cannabis industry.
Nison is the youngest member of the board of NORML, and sits on the Board of Directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. In 2016 he helped launch Whoopi & Maya, a women-centric medical cannabis company with actress Whoopi Goldberg and edible maker Maya Elisabeth and currently acts as its chief financial officer.
During the 2016 US Presidential Election, Evan pressed Hillary Clinton for her stance on marijuana legalization on Good Morning America during a live town hall event.
Evan has been mentioned in news sources such as the NY Times, Politico, USA Today, NBC New York, Bloomberg TV, Forbes, and has been profiled in the Ithaca Times, Home News Tribune, the Cannabist/Denver Post, and the Sun Times. He also received the 2011 NORML Student Activism Award and High Times Freedom Fighter Award for his advocacy.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Co-founder of Whoopi & Maya
Executive Director of NORML NJ, in a state where cannabis could be on the path to legalization shortly.
Drug law reform efforts in Students for Sensible Drug Policy, NORML and others.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Success with public companies across the cannabis space.
Over 1,200 published stories for cannabis clients in 2017
Grew to over 30 clients in cannabis, over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis
Cynthia Salarizadeh, Salar Media Group
With more than 15 years in public and media relations, Salarizadeh has made waves in her short time in the cannabis industry and has helped start multiple successful companies and organizations, such as Green Market Report and Industry Power Women.
As the founder and chief executive officer ofSalar Media Group, Salarizadeh has worked with some of the top cannabis firms in the industry, including the likes of BiotrackTHC, CannaRegs, Inc., Cannabis Benchmarks, Humboldt’s Finest, MassRoots, Inc., Tikun Olam USA, ebbu, Julian Marley’s JuJu Royal, Frontera, Marijuana Investor Summit, Cannafundr, The Marijuana Show, Weed for Warriors Project, CannaMoms, Robert Hoban and 99 High Tide.
In 2017, Salarizadeh shook both the world of cannabis and fast food when Green Market Report published a study she wrote analyzing the fast food habits of cannabis users. The report became a viral sensation overnight, sent up shares in McDonald’s up by .58% (approximately $3.55) and became the topic of discussion in universities around the country and as well as McDonald’s headquarters. Stories for her clients have been mentioned on CNBC, Fox Business, Yahoo Finance, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, Playboy and Fortune.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Launched and assisted in managing full scale event execution for the Marijuana Investor Summit 2014 – the first investor summits of its kind for the industry.
Launched Cannafundr 2014 (editor and chief of the news section and pr director – acquired by MJIC in 2015).
Co-founded Industry Power Women 2017.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Managed the launch of Israel’s, and the world’s, original cannabis company Tikun Olam in the USA as the lifestyle brand Tikun.
Launched the first brand to be recognized in the media as “America’s Craft Cannabis” out of Humboldt – Humboldt’s Finest.
Responsible for one of the largest cannabis news stories of 2017, the McDonald’s-food habits of cannabis consumers campaign, raising their stock price and becoming a viral sensation.
Gaynell Rogers, Bond & Moroch
Twice a cancer survivor, Gaynell Rogers was first recruited into the cannabis industry by Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo in 2009. Since then, she has grown to become recognized as one of the leading voices in the cannabis industry.
As the director and developing partner ofBond & Moroch, Rogers works with veritable list of who’s who in the cannabis industry; including Hoban Law Group, one of the first national law firms to specialize in the cannabis industry.
Although Rogers is perhaps best known for securing the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel, she has also been responsible for countless cover stories de-stigmatizing cannabis that have appeared on the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and more.
In 2017, Rogers helped make history when she worked with Hoban Law Group to create the first-ever national cannabis television commercial. Her clients also include the 420 Games, New West Summit, Power Plant Fitness and Harborside.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
First national publicist for Arcview Group, Harborside and Steve DeAngelo.
Responsible for a number of major cannabis news stories in The NEw York Times and Washington Post.
Secured the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Made history with getting the first-ever national cannabis TV commercial on air with the Hoban Law Group.
Success of 2017 New West Summit and 420 Games
KCSA Strategic Communications
KCSA Strategic Communications, a fully-integrated communications agency specializing in public relations, investor relations, social media and marketing, has been working with clients in the cannabis space for more than five years, and has deep institutional knowledge as well as access to decision makers, investors, entrepreneurs and analysts who are writing the rules for this new marketplace.
As a result, in 2017 KCSA launched a dedicated KCSA-Cannabis website as well as launched “The Green Rush,”a weekly, 30-minute show dedicated to the business of cannabis. Hosts KCSA Managing Partner Lewis Goldberg and Managing Director Anne Donohoe speak with reporters, entrepreneurs, lawmakers, investment bankers, CEOs, and investors.
KCSA represents a dozen public and private cannabis companies, accounting for nearly $1B in market cap and $100M in annual sales across the entire supply chain in WA, NV, NJ, CA and CO. The company will also be moderating the “Cannabis and the Capital Markets” speakers series at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo events in 2018. Their mix of traditional PR and IR services has helped professionalize communications efforts of many cannabis business players and has helped move the industry forward in the financial sector considerably.
Cannabis Industry PR Achievements worthy of note:
IR Work with Terra Tech
Key clients also include: Kush Bottles, 4Front Ventures, Medicine Man Technologies and Golden Leaf Holdings
Their client base grew to span the entire supply chain, from growers, refiners and dispensaries, to ancillary product companies and consulting firms.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Launched “The Green Rush” Podcast
Terra Tech’s marked success in expanding the cannabis segment of their business, accounting for 86% of total revenues in the third quarter of 2017.
They have helped their clients secure speaking slots at the major conferences and trade shows.
The Rosen Group
Established in 1984 and headquartered in New York City, The Rosen Group has been working in cannabis since the inception of adult-use in Colorado to bring cannabis messaging to the national stage, collaborating with mainstream and industry media outlets and working with brands to cement positioning as thought leaders.
TRG partners with brands to expand into emerging markets while educating target audiences and conveying critical narratives. Cannabis clients include infused products producers such as Wana Brands and Next Frontier Biosciences, cultivators and dispensaries such as L’Eagle Services, industry associations such as Cannabis Business Alliance and professional services such as Urban-Gro.
With strong roots in the cannabis, business, technology, agriculture, food & beverage and entrepreneurial sectors, TRG has a tremendous breadth of experience developing and implementing impactful communications plans, strategies and tactics. TRG clients receive customized, personal service and strategic initiatives specific to their goals and objectives via aggressive, 360-degree communications campaigns to maximize coverage.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Senior Vice President Shawna Seldon McGregor, who founded the Denver office in 2012, was honored with The Cannabist Award for Best Firm in 2016.
TRG has helped to position Wana Brands co‐owner Nancy Whiteman as one of the foremost thought leaders in cannabis. Inc.’s May 2017 issue declared Nancy “The Queen of Legal Weed.”
TRG successfully positioned Urban-Gro in front of cannabis producers, potential investors, and industry and mainstream publications through strategic thought leadership, brand messaging and media outreach.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
TRG helped to position L’Eagle as a leading voice on sustainability for the cannabis industry through speaking engagements and in over 200 features and articles reaching an audience of over 200 million.
Since signing on with Next Frontier Biosciences in June 2017, TRG helped get coverage in more than 60 news outlets reaching an audience of over 193 million.
For the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), TRG leveraged the 2nd annual Cannabis Sustainability Symposium to secure more than 40 media placements for the Symposium’s speakers, sponsors and attendees.
Jennifer Price, Potnt Agency
Potnt Agency is a public relations and integrated marketing communications agency headquartered in San Francisco, California, with offices in Reno, Nevada and Charlotte, North Carolina. The firm has deep expertise in cannabis and hemp markets with extensive knowledge of cannabis history, products, science, innovations, politics, legal compliance and best business practices.
Potnt is led by Founder and Lead Communications Strategist, Jennifer Price, who has over 24 years of experience in public relations, product promotion and event marketing experience in consumer, tech, B2B and investor relations practices.
Facilitated one of the first multi-page features on cannabis in Playboy Magazine, “The White-Collar Future of Weed” -this article included four of Potnt’s clients and was focused on a new generation of entrepreneurs aiming to revolutionize America’s cannabis industry.
Worked in partnership with HelloMD and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW, former lecturer in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, to promote a groundbreaking study on cannabis use as a substitute for opioid and non-opioid based pain medication
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Assisted in managing full scale event execution for the New West Summit 2017, the first conference to focus exclusively on the disruptive developments in technology, investment and media within the cannabis space.
These are a handful of some of the most valuable public relations experts the cannabis industry has to offer. There are many more unsung heroes in the cannabis legalization movement that work tirelessly to improve the image of our industry and support businesses in need of exposure. Next time you see a cannabis public relations expert, give them a big thank you.
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