Last week, GW Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: GWPH) announced they have entered into an agreement with Jazz Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: JAZZ) for Jazz to acquire GW Pharma. Both boards of directors for the two companies have approved the deal and they expect the acquisition to close in the second quarter of 2021.
GW Pharma is well-known in the cannabis industry as producing the first and only FDA-approved drug containing CBD, Epidiolex. Epidiolex is approved for the treatment of seizures in rare diseases like severe forms of epilepsy. GW is also currently in phase 3 trials seeking FDA approval for a similar drug, Nabiximols, that treats spasms from conditions like multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.
Jazz Pharmaceuticals is a biopharmaceutical company based in Ireland that is known for its drug Xyrem, which is approved by the FDA to treat narcolepsy.
Bruce Cozadd, chairman and CEO of Jazz, says the acquisition will bring together two companies that have a track record of developing “differentiated therapies,” adding to their portfolio of sleep medicine and their growing oncology business. “We are excited to add GW’s industry-leading cannabinoid platform, innovative pipeline and products, which will strengthen and broaden our neuroscience portfolio, further diversify our revenue and drive sustainable, long-term value creation opportunities,” says Cozadd.
Justin Gover, CEO of GW Pharma, says the two companies share a vision for developing and commercializing innovative medicines, with a focus on neuroscience. “Over the last two decades, GW has built an unparalleled global leadership position in cannabinoid science, including the successful launch of Epidiolex, a breakthrough product within the field of epilepsy, and a diverse and robust neuroscience pipeline,” says Gover. “We believe that Jazz is an ideal growth partner that is committed to supporting our commercial efforts, as well as ongoing clinical and research programs.”
As of this writing, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved GW Pharma’s CBD drug Epidiolex for treating profound refractory pediatric epilepsy syndromes (Dravet syndrome and Lennox Gastaut syndrome) as well as for treating seizures associated with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) in patients one year of age or older. The product is a very simple, orally-administered formulation comprised of 100mg/ml cannabidiol (CBD), dehydrated alcohol, sesame seed oil, strawberry flavor and sucralose – basically, an alcohol-based solution with sesame seed oil to help solubilize the CBD oil, flavoring and sweetener.
On April 6th, 2020 GW Pharma performed a regulatory miracle when they succeeded in convincing the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to deschedule Epidiolex (i.e., remove it from the Schedule 1 and Schedule 5 lists of substances that the agency regulates due to concerns regarding safety, potential for abuse or both) for all indications – including indications for which it has not yet been approved by the FDA.1 The benefit to GW of having their product descheduled is incalculable. This status change removed potential barriers to insurance reimbursement and made the need to set up and administer an expensive REMS2 drug safety program less likely. In part because of this regulatory coup d’état, the drug recently posted yearly earnings of nearly $300 million.
It is important to note that the DEA descheduled the Epidiolex formulation and not cannabis-derived CBD itself. Thus, GW Pharma is now in the enviable position of being the only company that can legally sell cannabis-derived CBD. More importantly, because the DEA descheduled the formulation and not the active ingredient, other companies who wish to market cannabis-derived CBD pharmaceutical formulations will have to repeat whatever it is that GW did to get Epidiolex descheduled.3 The DEA effectively gave the company a huge head start with respect to competitors who are developing other cannabis-derived CBD formulations that would compete with Epidiolex. That advantage will remain in place unless and until cannabis-derived CBD itself is descheduled or cannabis is legalized at the federal level.
GW Pharma’s attorneys demonstrated considerable virtuosity in devising this approach. However, there is another aspect of the GW Pharma story – one that could have profound implications for the exploding CBD consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act4 (FFDCA) prohibits the introduction into interstate commerce of any food to which has been added an approved drug or a drug for which substantial clinical investigations have been instituted and made public.5 Because CBD was and is still the subject of clinical trials run by GW Pharma and others, even hemp-derived CBD is currently illegal to use as a food additive or dietary supplement under the FDCA
The FDA has recently re-started the public commentary stage of a long process that will hopefully result in the creation of a regulatory pathway for CBD to be used as a food additive – something that would seemingly be a straightforward matter given the copious amounts of safety data being generated from all of GW Pharma’s clinical trials. However, as long as the FDA continues to drag its feet in providing a regulatory pathway for CBD CPG products, CBD, regardless of its source, will remain illegal to use as a food additive or supplement under either the CSA or the FFDCA despite the existence of safety data obtained through the Epidiolex clinical trials. If, as many people in the industry anticipate, the agency decides to begin enforcement action, this could have a hugely negative impact on the industry.
In addition to the potentially disastrous effect that federal law could have on an important new industry, the federal regulatory scheme introduces unnecessary regulatory complexity and cost by imposing two different regulatory schemes depending on the source of the CBD. CBD derived from hemp is chemically identical to CBD derived from cannabis. Despite that identity, the 2018 Farm Bill nonsensically exempts only hemp-derived CBD from the Controlled Substances Act. If a regulatory pathway is created for hemp-derived CBD, but the DEA insists on maintaining cannabis-derived CBD as a schedule 1 substance, then the same molecule will be subject to two different regulatory schemes. This scenario would require tracking and certifying CBD sources and thereby impose regulatory and economic burdens that are entirely unnecessary from a public health point of view.
An alternative, economically disastrous scenario: given the pharmaceutical industry’s formidable lobbying power, it is entirely possible that the FDA could decide to limit the use of CBD exclusively in prescription drug formulations. This could kill the entire US hemp CBD CPG industry, currently estimated to reach $22 billion by 2022.6
Overall, the current state of affairs is unfair, expensive, uncertain and entirely unworkable over the long term. The CSA must be amended, ideally to deschedule both hemp and cannabis entirely, but at least in the short term, to deschedule CBD and preferably all non-THC cannabinoids regardless of their source. Further, the FDA must provide a regulatory pathway to allow the use of low doses of cannabinoids shown to be safe, either by existing clinical trial data or future testing pursuant to the NDIN submission process.
A 2019 Gallup poll found that 14% of Americans – 1 in 7 – use CBD products.7 The demand is there, the industry is thriving, and adequate safety data exists to justify a regulatory system that allows low-dose over the counter CBD products provided those products are produced using Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) for food and dietary supplement manufacturing prescribed by the FDA and that such products undergo regular testing that demonstrates they are safe, unadulterated and accurately labeled. It is time for the industry to collectively fund a New Dietary Ingredient Notification (NDIN) submission that would provide safety data sufficiently compelling to force the FDA to either recognize CBD and other non-THC cannabinoids as being GRAS substances regardless of their source, or in the alternative create a regulatory path for CPG products containing low-doses of CBD and other non-THC cannabinoids.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of its author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Cannabis Industry Journal, its editorial staff or its employees.
Clincialtrials.gov lists 256 different clinical trials in which Epidiolex has been, is being or will be tested for a wide variety of other indications, including but not limited to opioid use disorder, several types of prostate cancer, alcohol use disorder, musculoskeletal pain, and a host of others.
REMS – risk evaluation and mitigation strategy – are drug safety programs that the FDA requires in cases where mediations pose serious safety concerns with respect to potential abuse and other adverse effects.
Exactly what they did isn’t clear, and won’t be for a long while given the snail’s pace at which FOIA requests are filled.
Title 21 United States Code Chapter 9
Title 21 United States Cod Chapter 9, Sections 331(ll), 342(a)(1) and Section 342(d)(f)(1)
“Exclusive: New Report Predicts CBD Market Will Hit $22 Billion by 2022” Rolling Stone Magazine, September 11, 2018, citing cannabis industry analysis from the Brightfield Group.
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.
HMS Great Britain has now set forth from its European home port for another intriguing and very British escapade on the high seas.
So far the jury is out.
It could be the beginning of the next British Golden Age, Spanish Armada and all that. Or could it could end up (more likely) somewhere up the Khyber Pass (a sordid misadventure of British Imperialism that did not go well in the 19th century with global implications still reverberating to this day). For Netflix fans of The Crown, think “Suez Crisis” as a more recent and apt analogy. Starting with as much as a 6.7% reduction in domestic GDP already on the horizon.
Snarky historical analogies and nostalgia aside, how will Brexit influence and shape a global cannabis industry, starting at home?
The UK Is Not Actually in Regulatory Free Fall
The first thing to realize is that most of the puffery around Brexit was that with the exception of labor conditions, there is little free choice in the world of trade anymore. The players who get export and import licenses, for anything, have to conform to basic equivalency rules, no matter what they are called.
This applies to cannabis in a big way. No matter how the UK market develops domestically in other words, and that is a separate discussion.
Currently, shamefully, the domestic medical guidelines for prescription of cannabis exclude chronic pain patients and a few other obvious groups. The NHS medical market in other words, is a monopoly, set up by the current and previous governments, mainly serving GW Pharmaceutical patients who qualify for Sativex and Epidiolex. Not to mention company shareholders.
Everyone else, including those for whom these drugs do not work well, or work less well than other alternatives, are left in an international trade negotiation in their living rooms as they and or their children suffer.
The import barriers for cannabis – both from Europe and from Canada are absolutely in the room and in a very personal way for the British right now.
How they actually define cannabis, will also clarify. This will be driven now by the UK’s biggest import partners – namely Europe, the United States and Canada (although South Africa and Australia of course, will always be in the picture).
Which regulatory scheme the UK adapts, including for cannabis and of both the THC and CBD variety (not to mention other cannabinoids), in other words, will at minimum have to be broadly equivalent with all of the above. Not the other way around. No matter how much the Food Standards Agency (FSA) wants to fuss and fiddle with “Novel Food.” That alone is a canard.
Cannabis is a plant. It is time to start acting like that. And it is no more “novel” than tomatoes in many, easy-to-understand environments, including commercial ones. Not to mention will increasingly be regulated like commercial food crops – even if those crops are then also bound for dual purpose medical use.
The regulators will eventually get there – but not without a lot of tortuous twists and turns.
A “New” Market? Not So Much…
There is a lot of consultant palaver and baloney in the room right now. There is no more a new market in the UK as there was in Germany (or Canada or Colorado). Local producers are already organizing, and on the hemp front. The big ones are hip to regulations and are getting certified to enter it. Everyone else is being left on the dangerous sharp end of police raids, even with prior local approvals.
That said, foreign producers are of course looking at the UK right now, and in a big way. The lock GW Pharmaceuticals has on the domestic market will not hold long. European producers are absolutely in the room (starting with Tilray in Portugal and Alcaliber in Spain). Not to mention what is going on in other places right now, even if of less well-known corporate branding.
Every big Canadian company is already in the room in the UK, and many Americans are now beginning to show up in the market.
However, for the most part, such ventures are doomed outside of conference sponsorships until the regulatory questions are answered if not met.
And that includes federal certifications that are easy to find – there is no one single authority that handles cannabis internationally. And there never will be. Supply chains are already global.
A Perfect Export Market
One of the biggest, so far widely discussed questions is who in Europe will start exporting to the UK (forget Holland for the moment). Not to mention producers in Spain, Greece, Poland if not Macedonia. That conversation is also on the table now. For the first time, so is Germany, and on the medical side.
Pharmaceutical producers in particular who meet international pharma standards may be the best hope yet – although right now policy makers are still looking at cars rather than cannabis to help keep Germany’s trade export quota where it feels “comfortable” domestically.
That too will change. And fairly quickly. See Greece, if not South Africa.
The political roil of branding and politics afoot in Germany right now makes this new kind of export market idea as a part of economic development, an inevitability.
Not to mention, at least for the present, a reverse trade in regulated British CBD products – if producers are smart about regulations – throughout the continent right now.
Of all countries, outside Switzerland, the UK has the ability to develop a broad and intriguing market in the EU – but only if they are compliant with regulations in Europe.
And this is where the policy makers in Parliament and 10 Downing Street have already misjudged if not broadly misled, not in a regulatory environment of their own, but in fact in a diplomatic “room” where the rules are already set via international standards and certifications, not to mention treaties.
Despite the fact that the Danes are going to do something that is still verboten in Germany and many other European locales (namely allow a recreational trial), the overall bloom is off the first heady days of the cannabis rose here in Denmark.
Medical sales have stalled of late because of both supply (and in part CannTrust problems) and of course price in a market with a lot of cultivation enthusiasm, but also one which still imports its medical cannabis (although domestic production is coming online soon).
This is even more interesting of course given some ideas floating in the current Euro cannosphere – namely that Canadian funded, Danish based cultivators are or were planning on importing to both Germany and Poland this fall. In other words, low sales at home for expensive product that can be bought for less at the revived Christiana marketplace are not a market entry strategy that brings ballast to balance sheets. And while the rec market is coming (obviously), the trial is in early days yet.
Further, while the German market certainly presents an opportunity for higher priced cannabis coming out of Denmark (for now), that also will not last. And is certainly not the case in Poland.
For that reason, it is clear there is at least temporary trouble brewing in what some initially thought was going to be a European-based cannabis paradise. But that too, is so 2018.
A Few Numbers
The medical trial in Denmark is now entering the beginning of its third year as of 2020. There are, according to official estimates just over 4,000 legal patients. 34 companies have permits to cultivate cannabis, including all the usual suspects – starting with Canopy Growth, Aurora, Aphria, ICC (Wayland) and The Green Organic Dutchman, plus of course all the indie locals.
Put this in perspective and is it really any wonder why Aurora also just recently announced the halting of partly built construction in both Denmark and Canada this month?
Especially with problems in Poland, slower than expected legal sales in Germany and of course the disaster that is still the UK, this newest setback for the company is also not exactly unexpected. The only cannabis company, European or not, who benefitted from the recent NHS pivot on medical cannabinoids was the home-based GW Pharmaceuticals, albeit at lower negotiated prices as the total pool of patients is now increased with the new NICE guidelines.
Given all of these headwinds, even with a few export possibilities, the Danish market that supposedly offered a promised respite from the problems of the German one (certainly on the cultivation front), has run into a similar problem at point of prescription and sales.
Even Danish patient number growth is anaemic compared to Deutschland – which is, by all reports, not even close to considering a recreational trial in Berlin, Bremen or any other jurisdiction which has suggested the same.
With bulk, high-grade production coming online, there is clearly going to be a regulated cannabis market in Denmark. How the decisions about who will qualify for medical will be made in the future is another question. And one that certainly the larger producers at least, are responding to in kind.
The Winds of Change
Given the amount of compliant cannabis now in the pipeline for the continent (and not just domestically) it will be interesting to see how 2020 shapes up. However, no matter how still sluggish the numbers, another domestic cannabis market has begun to come into its own as the continent moves forward on the issue generally.
On November 25th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent out warning letters to 15 different companies for “illegally selling products containing cannabidiol (CBD) in ways that violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).” They also published a “Consumer Update” where they express concern regarding the general safety of CBD products. The press release also states that at this time the FDA cannot say that the CBD is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). To see the list of companies that received warning letters, check out the press release here.
While the FDA is still trying to figure out how to regulate hemp and hemp-derived CBD products, they published these releases to let the public know they are working on it, according to FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D.:
“As we work quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds like CBD, we’ll continue to monitor the marketplace and take action as needed against companies that violate the law in ways that raise a variety of public health concerns. In line with our mission to protect the public, foster innovation, and promote consumer confidence, this overarching approach regarding CBD is the same as the FDA would take for any other substance that we regulate. We remain concerned that some people wrongly think that the myriad of CBD products on the market, many of which are illegal, have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe, or that trying CBD ‘can’t hurt.’ Aside from one prescription drug approved to treat two pediatric epilepsy disorders, these products have not been approved by the FDA and we want to be clear that a number of questions remain regarding CBD’s safety – including reports of products containing contaminants, such as pesticides and heavy metals – and there are real risks that need to be considered. We recognize the significant public interest in CBD and we must work together with stakeholders and industry to fill in the knowledge gaps about the science, safety and quality of many of these products.”
The Warning Letters
The warning letters sent to those 15 companies all mention a few types of violations to the FD&C Act. Those include marketing unapproved human and animal drugs, selling CBD products as dietary supplements and adding CBD as an ingredient to human and animal foods. All 15 companies are using websites, online retailers and social media in interstate commerce to market CBD products unlawfully, according to the press release.
This is not the first time the FDA has sent out warning letters to CBD companies. Previously, most of the warning letters were sent out regarding companies making unsubstantiated drug and health claims. This new round of 15 warning letters reaches beyond just unsubstantiated claims and identifies a few new areas of regulatory oversight that CBD companies should be wary of.
Of the 15 warning letters sent out, some were sent to companies that are marketing CBD products to children and infants, some were sent to companies using CBD as an ingredient in food products, some were marketed as dietary supplements and one company marketed their products for use in food-producing animals, such as chickens and cows. With this press release, the FDA is saying loud and clear that the above list of marketing strategies are currently unlawful, that is, until they finish their work in devising a regulatory framework for hemp-derived CBD products.
Updated Safety Concerns
Regarding the FDA saying they cannot deem CBD as generally recognized as safe (GRAS), they published a fact sheet titled “What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD.” The key words there should be noted in the parentheses: And What We’re Working to Find Out. The FDA’s research is by no means over with and, if anything, has only just begun. Refer to the fact sheet to see why the FDA couldn’t say that CBD is GRAS.
In the FDA’s research, they have found a few potential health problems associated with taking CBD. During the marketing application for Epidiolex as a new drug, the only approved CBD drug on the market, the FDA identified a couple of safety risks. The first one is liver injury, which they identified in blood tests, but mentioned that it could be managed easily with medical supervision. Without medical supervision, potential liver injury due to CBD consumption could go undetected, according to the FDA.
The second health concern is drug interaction. During the new drug approval process for Epidiolex, they found that other medicines could impact the dose of CBD and vice versa. The other major health concern they have is male reproductive toxicity. The FDA says that studies in lab animals showed male reproductive toxicity, including things like decrease in testicular size, inhibition of sperm growth and development and decreased circulating testosterone. They do mention, however, that “it is not yet clear what these findings mean for human patients and the impact it could have on men (or the male children of pregnant women) who take CBD.” The fact sheet also some side effects that CBD use could produce including sleepiness, gastrointestinal distress and changes in mood.
The FDA says they are actively researching and working on learning more about the safety of CBD products. They listed a couple risks that they are looking into right now: Those include, cumulative exposure (What if you use CBD products daily for a week or a month?), special populations (effects of CBD on the elderly, pregnant or nursing women, children, etc.) and CBD in animals (safety of CBD use in pets or food-producing animals and the resulting safety of human food products like milk or eggs).
While the CBD products market could still be classified as a bit of a gray market currently, the FDA says they are working on researching it more to develop an appropriate regulatory framework. What that might look like is anyone’s guess. One thing that remains clear, however, is that the FDA will not tolerate CBD companies marketing products in ways described above. Those include making unsubstantiated health claims, marketing to children, using CBD as an ingredient in foods and marketing it as a dietary supplement.
Any thought that established British and Canadian growers were not already cooperating and in the throes of establishing a UK cannabis production base was put to bed in early July.
Namely, the news that Sundial, an Alberta based Canadian company, is buying Bridge Farms, the winner of the Overall UK Grower of the Year Award in 2017, is a sign that the age of British cannabinoid production (and in bulk) is here. The agriculture group has a 75-acre production facility in Lincolnshire (strategically on the border with Norfolk) and a recent ₤18 million equity injection.
This also means that large-scale CBD production in the UK is now underway with authority.
What it also means, however, is that the winds of trade, even if historically, are already cultivating some interesting partners as the entire British cannabis discussion gets underway.
Sundial Growers also almost simultaneously filed documents to list on the Nasdaq in the U.S. In this, they look remarkably similar to Tilray.
British Sugar Is Now Not The Only Game In Town
The links to the cannabis industry in this part of the UK are not new. Namely, the county of Norfolk (the east-coast “bump” of the British coastline just south of Lincolnshire) is home to British Sugar, the cultivator for GW Pharmaceuticals cannabis crop.
This part of the world is also historically associated not only with major international British trade, but in the past at least, of the German kind in particular. See the port of Kings Lynn and the Hanseatic trading route that put the eastern town on the global shipping map until the advent of the railroads in the UK leached its importance south, to London in the 19th century.
Foreign investment in agriculture, in other words, in this part of the world is not new. Nor is shipping the final product elsewhere.
What Does This Mean For The British Market?
That is an interesting question on the advent of a potential Brexit. Is this newly constructed agricultural centre designed, like Canopy’s newest hempire in New York State, for domestic consumption, and-or overseas trade?
For that reason, a fully automated CBD production facility in such a strategic and historic part of the country seems to indicate the commercial production of CBD has begun at a level virtually unseen in any other European country so far. And further, that its backers have an international, not just domestic market, in mind.
What Does This Mean For the European Market?
Unless the UK is planning on eviscerating all worker safety and pay regulations, it is unlikely that British-grown cannabis will be price competitive with what is going on in Europe right now. The German market, in fact, is a very good precursor to the kinds of growing pains the UK is likely to see in this regard.
Exports, in other words, are highly unlikely, at least to Europe.
What this does mean however, is that licensed producers, with international roots and global financing, are clearly moving into the more or less corporate production market that is slowly getting going in Britain.
And just like elsewhere, post Canada, there is no chance, at this point at least, for any “mom and pop” industry to develop.
Given a lack of patient access at this point that is also not likely to fly politically for long.
Regardless, as of the summer of 2019, there are beginning to be the signs that large scale production of both THC and CBD, is getting going in Britain.
The hemp industry is the marijuana industry’s half-sister. Both are variations of the plant Cannabis sativa and both were made illegal in 1937 with the passing of The Marijuana Tax Act. Despite this federal status, in recent years 33 individual states have legalized some type of medicinal marijuana use and 11 states now allow legal recreational marijuana within their borders. This prompted congress to modify the legality of hemp which was addressed in The Agricultural Act of 2014, but it only allowed hemp to be used for research purposes. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (known as the 2018 Farm Bill) that was signed into law on December 20, 2018 was a huge step forward for public access to hemp and hemp products. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the growing of hemp in states with a state-mandated hemp program and removed hemp and its derivatives from Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Schedule I status. Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote. Consumers and the cannabis industry alike were very excited about this legalization of hemp…. but that was when the confusion began.
FDA & Hemp
Within two hours of the 2018 Farm Bill being signed, the Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, issued a statement reiterating the FDA stance on cannabis products and cannabidiol (CBD) in products for human and animal consumption: “Congress explicitly preserved the agency’s current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and section 351 of the Public Health Service Act.” Currently the FDA only permits CBD products submitted as an Investigational New Drug (IND) Application as a pharmaceutical. There is only one such accepted CBD product, Epidiolex, manufactured by G.W. Pharma. All other CBD products are illegal for interstate shipment.
Every product for sale in the US which is either ingested or applied to a human or animal body has a regulatory category in the FDA. Hemp-derived CBD products will have to fit into one of those categories or it will not be legal. Many hemp manufacturing companies will argue with the illegality of CBD products, but it will get them nowhere. If you manufacture and sell hemp products inside of a state with a state mandated hemp program, you are legal and protected under state laws, but the minute you sell across state lines, it becomes the jurisdiction of the federal government and, more specifically, the FDA. Section 10113 of the 2018 Farm Bill states that (c) Nothing in this subtitle shall affect or modify:
(1) the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.);
(2) section 351 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 262); or
(3) the authority of the Commissioner of Food and Drugs and the Secretary of Health and Human Services- ‘‘(A) under- ‘‘(i) the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.); or ‘‘(ii) section 351 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 262); or ‘‘(B) to promulgate Federal regulations and guidelines that relate to the production of hemp under the Act described in subparagraph (A)(i) or the section described in subparagraph (A)(ii).”
There is nothing unclear about this issue. The same 2018 Farm Bill that hemp manufacturing companies use to justify the legality of hemp and CBD products is the same bill that spells out the authority of the FDA in this matter.
The mission of the FDA is “to ensure the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices.” The agency also is responsible for “the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.” Health or medical claims not supported by clinical proof will not be tolerated. An unsafe, unclean or untested product will also not be tolerated in the marketplace.
CBD Oil vs. Isolate
Then there is the matter of CBD as either a full spectrum oil vs. an isolate…Unlike marijuana flower which is a very popular product, hemp flower is very rarely sold at the retail level. Full spectrum oil is extracted from the plant, and depending on the solvent used, produces an oil with the same, or close to the same, naturally occurring chemicals from the plant. The oil therefore, includes all the cannabinoids present along with any terpenes, lipids or other compounds present in the plant. Full spectrum oil is a botanical extract and is a dark thick oil. Isolate is produced by separating the constituents of the full spectrum oil by molecular weights or boiling points to have very pure chemicals in the 95%+ purity range. CBD isolate is a white crystalline substance and bears the greatest resemblance to a synthetic raw material and at its purest form cannot be distinguished as coming from a plant in the dirt or a synthesized chemical. Epidiolex is produced from hemp isolate and was approved by the FDA as a pharmaceutical. Full spectrum hemp oil is a botanical extract, often as an ethanol extraction. Full spectrum oil bears the greatest resemblance to a botanical dietary supplement. It remains to be seen what the FDA will allow in the future.
The FDA has made it abundantly clear in numerous warning letters issued to the cannabis industry that drug claims (articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease) regarding CBD, oil or isolate, cannot be made without pharmaceutical approval of the Drug Facts (Epidiolex) lest there be enforcement consequence.
The labeling of other types of products are less clear. Dietary supplements are a category of foods with the FDA and as such both the labeling of dietary supplements and foods are dictated in 21 CFR 111, Food Labeling. Botanical dietary supplements frequently call out a chemical constituent within a particular botanical material or extract on the Supplement Facts Panel: Milk thistle seed extract containing standardized and labeled silymarin is such an example. Is this strategy acceptable for CBD with the FDA? What about “naturally occurring” CBD? Food claims are indicated in the Nutrition Facts, what can these be for CBD? Cosmetic product claims can only address articles intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions. What is the purpose of CBD in a cosmetic?
FDA guidance would be very beneficial in all of these labeling areas, and there is hope. The FDA is promising public hearings this spring to discuss a path forward for having hemp food and dietary supplements. The FDA will ask for public comment and hopefully, there will be a lot of public comments provided to them. The public’s huge demand for CBD products will bear pressure on the FDA to at least listen and consider.
cGMPsRegulatory compliance will be difficult, and it will be expensive.
Those currently in the hemp manufacturing industry should pay attention and take the FDA seriously. If the FDA allows hemp products with CBD to be sold in the future, it will be the FDA who makes those regulations and those products will have to fit into an already existing FDA category: human food, animal food, dietary supplement, pharmaceutical or cosmetic. If you are a hemp product manufacturer, you must learn the applicable requirements for Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) by hiring experienced FDA compliance personnel, and/or seeking out FDA regulatory consultants, to develop and implement a quality system accordingly:
21 CFR 117, Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Rick-Based Preventative Controls for Human Food
21 CFR 507, Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Rick-Based Preventative Controls for Food for Animals
21 CFR 111, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packaging, Labeling, or Holding Operations for Dietary Supplements
21 CFR 210, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Processing, Packing, or Holding of Drugs; General
21 CFR 211, Current Good Manufacturing Practice for Finished Pharmaceuticals
FDA Draft Guidance for Industry, Cosmetic Good Manufacturing Practice, June 2013
I believe in this industry and I am rooting for the pioneers who have taken all the risk thus far, but the level of denial of the FDA’s authority that I am hearing in the hemp industry community is disturbing to me because those companies will not manage the transition to a regulated future. Most don’t understand it and they don’t think it applies to them or their products. Regulatory compliance will be difficult, and it will be expensive. The hemp pioneers deserve to benefit from their labor and the risk they have taken. For those hemp product companies that do not think compliance is worth the effort or cost, there are many FDA-compliant human food, animal food, dietary supplement, pharmaceutical, or cosmetic companies that are waiting to take your business…
Editor’s Note: While Cannabis Industry Journal typically does not use the term ‘marijuana,’ the author here is speaking from a regulatory point of view and creates an important distinction. Peyton chose the word “marijuana” instead of “cannabis” because the FDA has chosen “cannabis” to refer to both marijuana and hemp.
For those in the cannabis industry who have missed the latest “Trump Trade Deal“- this time with the UK, don’t slumber too long before at least getting a summary update soon.
The implications of the agreement, which U.S. President Donald Trump sees as great for business (namely increasing access to the UK market for pricey U.S. pharmaceuticals) are not uniformly welcomed everywhere, and for various reasons.
The impact, however, on the U.S. cannabis industry, and beyond that, both the Canadian and burgeoning European one, will be significant, no matter what happens with the details of Brexit. There are a number of scenarios that might play out at this point. And how they do will certainly direct the future of the cannabis industry as it develops in the UK.
The one piece of good news out of all of this is that the industry will also certainly continue to flourish no matter what- and no matter where the product comes from. Even a hard Brexit will not roll the prohibition clock back.
Brexit Might Not Happen
There is this recurrent fantasy still in the room that the status quo will be retained just because (fill in the blank), but generally motivated by facing realities caused by basic survival. Let’s indulge it for a moment, presuming that British Prime Minister Theresa May does not survive her leadership post and Parliament comes to its collective senses. All of the splits right now in both the Labour and Conservative parties over the looming disaster continue to complicate things. Failing a hard Brexit disaster, however, look for things like “customs unions” and all sorts of “exemptions” to make the entrance into the UK for European food and medicine a permanent backstop. See the just announced Belgian-based emergency supply drop and alt import routes into the UK as just one example of what is likely to develop no matter what. This will also conveniently prevent the UK from starving and running out of medicine.
In other words, the trade deal will not do much to those cannabis firms who get into the market and reach end users with highly competitive pricing and smart entry strategies. U.S. producers and Canadians importing product across the Atlantic will lose on price to both homegrown British, Irish and EU produced crop. European producers will be far more competitive than U.S. firms just because pre-negotiated drug prices are not going anywhere anytime soon in the rest of Europe.
March Madness On the EU side of things, countries are prepping for worst case Brexit. It is, after all, just next month. Which is now less than a week away from starting. This means that anything related to ex-im, no matter the “trade deals” in place, is going to face delays, problems and paperwork of the additional kind. Inevitably. Even if it is just confused customs personnel uncertain of the new rules. Whatever those are. Or even if there are new rules and routes. Borders, even without walls, are respected at least in Europe.
Short of dedicating the new runway at Heathrow exclusively to food and drug imports of the emergency kind, however there is no way to avoid a few predictable and looming shortage crises. There is friction in other words, in every direction. Cannabis producers will not get a pass.
The Deal Is Aimed At Destroying The NHS On the British side of the discussion, the new UK-US trade deal has not been popular since it surfaced last summer. Why? The government would either significantly water down or lose entirely the ability to pre-negotiate drug prices in bulk (and thus hold drug company profits down). That means no more “public” health care. That alone may cause social unrest. Particularly given the shrewd marketing of the Leave Campaign that promised to “save” the NHS. Perhaps the criminal inquiries into the politically dodgy social media campaigning and fundraising techniques used to trigger the entire mess will manage to do in the courts what Parliament so far refuses to face. Then again, maybe not. American cannabis producers in particular face no particular “wins” here in the current regulatory environment. Cost is still going to be an issue.
The Business Bottom Line Beyond the morality of this (let alone Trump or Brexit beyond that) there is the business analysis of the deal. It could well be good for some American pharmaceutical companies, although that is still a big if along the other ones. People have to be able to afford their meds, particularly if the NHS (or private insurers) do not pay.
That does not count out the cannabis industry at this point. See Tilray, for starters. Also remember that the first details of this deal began to be discussed last summer – right before GW Pharmaceuticals began exporting Epidiolex into the U.S.
Cannabinoids, in other words are already in the room, and might in fact have been a figleaf gesture, President to Prime Minister, where at least in the latter case, May has now personally benefitted financially, all along. No matter what happens with Brexit. Or even if there is one. This is not the first time Trump has used the cannabis card to further political means. See the delay of Israeli cannabis to the global market for two years in exchange for moving the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem just one year ago.
Bottom line, no matter how proud President Trump and the PM are over their “deal” and indeed, whether the larger disaster will actually occur to trigger it, end users also known as patients are going to look for options based on price and accessibility. And the companies who succeed here are going to have to look for ways to address that.
Tilray has long been seen as one of the market leaders in the global cannabis space. They are strategically placed in several critical areas to continue to do well, and put up major competition for just about everyone else (including German market entry first Canopy, plus the other big players in both Canada and Europe) ever since. See Aurora, Maricann and Aphria, to name a few. On the EU front, they are also certainly giving Dutch Bedrocan (with not only existing government contracts, but a newly increased ex-im medical allowance across the open Schengen border) a run for its money. And appear to have broached a monopoly long held by GW Pharma in the UK.
But first things first. Here is a brief list of accomplishments on the corporate CV so far.In the U.S., Tilray just scored a medical trial at the University of San Diego with a pill used to treat a nerve disorder.
Long (relatively speaking) before Europe was on the map for anyone but a couple of Canadian LPs, the company was exporting to Croatia (in 2016). Even the initial hiccups in delivery (a batch arrived in broken bottles), did not stop their foreign expansion plans.
When the first German cultivation bid was due, the company also, at least according to their spokesperson in Berlin at the time, considered applying. However, by late summer last year, Tilray was actually the first to publicly tip their hands that not only were they bowing out of the German tender, but had rather decided to import to Germany from cheaper EU climes. See their production facilities in Portugal. Plus of course a mass distribution deal to German pharmacies via local distribution.
Then there is their social media presence on Leafly, which also competes with Weedmaps as both an information portal and dispensary finder in key markets (California and Canada). TheGerman version of the website (Leafly.de), has created a reality, no matter where the server is located, of also connecting directly to patients in a market still finding its way.
Add all these elements together, and that puts the company behind it all in an unbelievably strong position to continue to gain both market access and market growth in multiple jurisdictions while carefully moving at literally the change if not bleeding edge of the law.
How much long term impact this will have, however remains to be seen. Why? The times are changing fast. And not everyone is following a policy of promotion timed around other large events (see Canadian recreational legalization and the timing of the company’s IPO).
Here is another example: the company’s most touted recent double victory, on each side of the Atlantic. Why? This is a place where cannabis companies are starting to compete. And while notable, particularly in it’s timing, is clearly indicative of the next stage in the development of the legitimate medical cannabis industry– not just Tilray.
Trials As Market Entry Tools
Medical trials in both the United States and Europe right now (including the UK for now at least), are the best way for cannabis companies to enter and gain market share. In the U.S., Tilray just scored a medical trial at the University of San Diego with a pill used to treat a nerve disorder.
Last week, Tilray also announced that they had essentially become the first Canadian LP to successfully challenge GW Pharmaceuticals on its home turf in the UK, even if for now limited to one patient application at a time. That won’t last, nor will such a tight monopoly.From a medical point of view, it is a very positive sign, at least for now.
That cross-Atlantic connection is even more interesting, however, given U.S. market entry recently for GW Pharmaceutical’s product, Epidiolex.
From a medical point of view, it is a very positive sign, at least for now. How it will end up in the future is anyone’s guess, including stock valuation.
Most advocates, of course, still hope for a medical market where patients are not restricted from deciding between the whole plant, oils or even the pharmaceutical products they choose to take.
Tilray of course is also not the only large LP engaged in medical trials. They are going on all over Europe right now (even if not as well strategically publicized). Health Canada is also committing to trials in Canada over the next five years.
However, what this very clearly demonstrates is that the global medical market is now ripe pickings for companies who approach the entire discussion from a “pharmacized” product point of view.Even if that means in Europe, and including for Tilray, entering the German and other medical markets with flower, oils and medical products.
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