Constellation Brands, the beer brewer behind Corona and Modelo, has finally admitted the obvious. Its four-billion-dollar bet on the Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth in 2018 was a long-term play for market share, not immediate profitability. Indeed, Canopy has yet to turn a profit and its shares are down 30% from this time last year. So far Constellation has lost $71.1 million of its investment in the cannabis industry company leader. That is 19.25% of its total investment in 18 months. In other words, hardly insignificant.
That said, Canopy is not, by any stretch of the imagination, “down for the count.” If their overexpansion plans and statements over the last three years have been, at best, optimistic, they have not done anything broadly different than any of their other major competitors (see Aurora for example). And have still emerged, financial bloodbath although it has been so far, four years after entering the European market at least, with global presence that is not going anywhere. Even if in some markets overall sales are lower than hoped or anticipated.
At least two quarters of real reorganization and reshuffling in every office on every continent the country does business in have at least resulted in a major victory in Luxembourg at least that will bear fruit for years to come. That is a strategic victory worth a few dings along the way.
Starting, almost certainly, in 2021, when changing laws in Europe will also allow the company to bring together its background and reach in the spirits industry to a world that is finally opening to the blending of the cannabis world into the same.
This year, in other words, will almost certainly see the company continue to service its existing steady business in multiple countries – however unfancy that may be. And it is decidedly not glam here. In places like Germany the company is essentially only holding onto market share in the medical market by its purchase of the largest dronabinol maker in the country.
That said, beggars cannot be choosers. Aurora in contrast, is looking at a serious review of its cultivation licenses and practices. In the meantime, Canopy snagged a lucrative contract for a strategic, central country in the European debate – Luxembourg – that no matter how small, that will create at least a trickle of medical sales until the country changes its laws.
One of the things that the Canadian cannabis industry has in spades, and this is absolutely true of Canopy, is accurate business acumen about market entry timing and overall strategy.
No matter how much cannabis industry execs, in other words, have only been positive and upbeat before, this statement by Constellation also signals a change in the way Canopy presents itself externally.
Mistakes have been made. It is time to clean house and move on.
What other new industry in the lifetimes of those alive today, continues to admit its mistakes and pivots less than a decade after its global birth in continual pivot and expansion mode? The only other one that comes close is of course the internet. And these days, more specifically, Internet 2.0.
So, as the world says hello to 2020, Canopy seems to be sending its new year message. Trimming the sails after a wild, wild year, and setting course again, for a greener horizon.
Canndoc, an Israeli medical cannabis producer, just received a shipment of 250kg of dried whole flower cannabis. The company, a subsidiary of InterCure, just signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Canada’s Tilray.
Interestingly the agreement is both for the import and export of flower. So don’t count out a stream coming the other way. Or, more likely, the export of seed and cannatech related to the same.
Everything goes both ways – yin and yang. Even in this industry.
However what this also does is set up Tilray to have an excellent shot at being partnered at least with the first Israeli exporters when local demand is satisfied. And that, given their strategic footprint globally, but particularly in Europe, is a very unique advantage in a cannabis map that is shifting, literally, as the year becomes the new decade.
What Gives With The Ex-Im Discussion Anyway?
Israeli producers have longed for the day when they can bring their considerable tech and research advantage if not plant genomes and medicines to a global market. The medical program in Israel was originally funded largely by American federal money while domestic reform was fought, tooth and nail until the middle of the last decade. And of course so far, at least, despite Illinois clocking over into the 11th recreational state as of January 1 of this year, has remained stalled on a federal level in the U.S.
However, no matter the shifting politics of Israel (where lets not forget, the government is also mired in scandals and it appears the Israeli president, Benjamin Netanyahu delayed the export of cannabis in a deal with the U.S. to move the capital to Jerusalem), one thing was made clear last year by government officials: Israelis come first.
It is likely to be an attitude that spreads – particularly in places like Europe and even more so Germany. So far, the entire market here has been met with imports. This is the first year that there is regular medical production hitting pharmacy shelves thanks to Demecan and the former Wayland (now ICC).
Indeed, Wayland basically did the same thing in Germany as Tilray is doing now in Israel, although the firm had to sink a huge capital expenditure into setting up its cultivation sites. And at far greater cost.
Tilray appears to be hitching a ride on an existing industry to expand its reach, markets and of course, IP. Israeli cannatech, for sure, is going global.
How Could This Impact Other Discussions?
There are two places this development is likely to impact policy discussions outside of Europe where home grow has, let’s not forget, also hit Italy in the last months. But similar ripples are afoot everywhere right now – from Portugal and Spain to Greece. While exporting can be a lucrative game, should it come at the expense of domestic citizens?
The first place this issue has already been a theme is obviously Canada, where this spectre was much in the room last year as the country transitioned to recreational while its top companies also established themselves abroad. In Europe this was mostly done without cultivation domestically except in a few rare instances. See Tilray in Portugal, Demecan in Germany, ICC in Italy and all of the partnerships between the top Canadian cultivators and Danish, Greek and Maltese producers.
The second place this will undoubtedly have an impact, however, is very much likely to be the United States. While most pundits agree that federal reform is at least a year or so off (roughly equivalent with European change of a recreational kind), this discussion is already in the room.
These days, six years after Colorado and Washington State upped the ante, companies may operate separate operations in multiple states, but of course, cannot ship across the border of any of them.
As soon as federal reform hits however, also expect to see these discussions going on at a state level across the United States. With healthcare devolving very much to the states, locally grown cannabis is going to play a major role in all of these discussions (starting with the opioid epidemic). If not, as many expect, an influx of cannabis from south of the border.
Those days, however at least in the U.S. are still several years away. In Israel, however, as Tilray lines up a unique profile across all of said jurisdictions, look for intriguing cannabis developments coming soon, in multiple jurisdictions.
Here is the headliner: As of the second week in January, there will be a cannabis related exchange-traded fund (ETF), trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (or Deutsche Börse), the third largest stock exchange in the world and the meeting point between equities and the vast majority of institutional investment globally.
The Medical Cannabis and Wellness UCITS ETF (CBSX G) will trade on Deutsche Börse’s Xetra.
London-based ETF provider HANetf is the creator of the fund.
The idea is to create a fund with targeted exposure to the European market. And as a result, it is bound to be interesting. Especially as the companies included must go through a due diligence process that will only include equities traded on stock exchanges like the NYSE, Nasdaq and TSX.
This of course is no guarantee, particularly given the scandals of the major Canadians last year (who are listed on all or an assortment of the above).
Indeed, in the eyes of German authorities, this is not necessarily all that significant. And that in and of itself is a watchword of caution here. Namely the Deutsche Börse put the entire North American cannabis equity market under special watch two years ago and that has not changed since then. That said, with legalization now clearly in Europe, things in general look a lot different on the ground.
What will be really intriguing is when the fund (or the ones inevitably to follow) that look at the discussion from a European market perspective.
Purpose Investments, the Canadian partner involved, has over CA $8 billion in assets under management as of last month and across a range of ETFs.
Solactive, the German company which independently calculates the index, may also be unknown to North Americans in particular. In Germany, particularly Frankfurt, they have developed, since their founding in 2007, a reputation for being not only quirky, but not risk averse. In other words, decidedly “non-German,” at least by stereotype. And cannabis right now, particularly with this approach, is an inevitable development. This could, in fact, do very well. The problem, however, that is still in the room is the vastly different levels of compliance – but that too is a risk calculation that is to the people at the table, no different than certain kinds of commodities.
That alone makes this ETF intriguing simply because it will indeed be evaluated by German eyes – if not processes.
Things are clearly normalizing on both the accounting and reform front. The growth of the regulated Canadian market and the increasing focus on regulation of all kinds is only going to make things less risky for investors.
Bottom line: Good development, but won’t be the last. By far.Further, there are not many public European companies, yet. That may also change. However, for the moment, they are still a trickle (and all over the map).
What is intriguing is the timing of the fund. If not what it potentially spells for the public markets. And further the obvious research the Auslander team have done in finding the right European-based partner. Look for interesting things indeed.
This is the first real foray into Europe by anything outside a single stock offering on a European equity market.
For Germans, in particular, who are extremely risk averse, and tend to invest in other kinds of securities if not insurance to build up their pensions, the equity markets sniff a bit too much for most of “North American scam.” Far from cannabis. Yet some Germans do invest in the markets. As do other Europeans.
Bottom line: Good development, but won’t be the last. By far.
Cannabis as a news story and an industry moved forward again this year, albeit in a rather more halting way than the last few. The volatility of the market in fact was one of the largest stories of the year, particularly after the events of this summer.
It’s Been A Wild Ride Kind Of Year
This time last year, the world was in a tizzy over the literally billions of bucks invested into a few top Canadian cannabis companies. This year, predictions are definitely a little more sober when it comes to the future of cannabis stocks. Most of the industry has taken a major beating this fall.
That said, the current correction was in the cards for just as long. What goes up, dramatically, must come down.
That said, this is not the whole picture of the industry – not by a long shot. Reform ain’t going back. Patient numbers are climbing, albeit slowly.
Here in Europe, the first and so far biggest public tender on cannabis was finally concluded in Germany with Aurora, Aphria and the cannabis company formerly known as Wayland (ICC) winning the bid lots for domestic cultivation this spring.
The British, who waffled around all year on what kind of “animal” cannabis actually is, celebrated that anniversary late in the year with a highly limited scope of coverage by the NHS.
The most interesting discussions right now are clearly emerging on the international front. Cannabis became an internationally mainstreaming commodity this year as patient numbers began to climb on the continent.
This in turn has led to the normalization of the idea at least of an export trade in cannabis not only across Europe but globally as companies target the region. Cross border cannabis companies, in other words, are a “thing” that blossomed this year – and frequently, while sometimes financed by Canadians, called another country home.
The announcement of at least the first German wholesale reference price this year will also do wonders to start to normalize prices across not only the EU but all those hoping to export here.
That in turn will have global impact.
Regulation Is Beginning to Materialize
For those who thought that higher standards were a passing fad, the events of this year, particularly of the latter half of it have confirmed one thing for sure: Regulatory muster is here to stay.
To add to the general confusion, however, international standards on medical products and even food are absolutely in the mix as countries find that standards, measurements and production processes might be similar, but on the ground, still differ. Harmonization is a word many in the cannabis industry are hearing now, and not just in the medical space, but also the food and supplements market.
The initials “GMP” are on the lips of many this year. Not to mention another exciting development the cannabis industry from abroad did not see coming and still broadly does not understand – namely Novel Food.
The War For Reform Is Being Fought On Several Fronts
Inevitably, just as in the United States, the fights in the room right now as well as legislative gridlock are focusing on some strange nitty gritty. For example, cannabidiol (CBD) is just one cannabinoid from the plant. It is a chemical substance. Yet, suddenly, in Europe, this discussion is being bogged down in pseudo-scientific discussions in the name of public policy about whether CBD is a “new kind” of food.
Ultimately this is a discussion about regulation – whether CBD and hemp production should be regulated differently than they are right now – and whether the plant should be put in a different bucket than, say, tomatoes. Or when extracted, tomato juice.
GMP is also a very strange discussion which has still not exited the stage – mostly because of the lack of uniformity internationally between Canada and European states although that is moving in the right direction.
The last issue of course, which has been looming from the Canadian side for several years, including of course all the pesticide scandals, new regulations on the cultivation of all plants for human consumption. Even German farmers are up in arms (with a recent tractor protest in Berlin that paralyzed the city).
Cannabis is in the bullseye on all fronts.
Auld Lang Syne
If there was a theme to the industry as of this summer, it was clearly that things cannot continue as they have. The CannTrust Scandal absolutely encapsulated all that is wrong with the industry.
That said, there is every reason to believe that the most egregious scandals (or at least quite so many of them) are a passing fad. Indeed, many in the industry are in fact committed to turning over a new leaf (for the new year or just because).
The good news? There is every sign of course that it will.
2019 opened with a strange vibe in the air on the cannabis front. Israel and Thailand set the stage with dramatic reform announcements last Christmas. And as the calendar counts down to 2020, the larger players all seem to be licking their wounds (if not stock prices).
But cannabis reform is not just about profits on the public markets. What has gone down and where and ultimately, has the year lived up to its promise?
Reform Marched On In Several Countries
At this point, reform is certainly “too big to fail.” There will be no going back anywhere no matter the laggards still in the room.
From the perspective of opening patient access (and markets beyond that), There were several big stories on the medical front this year – and – in a real first for the EU – of not only the medical, but recreational kind as well.
Germany of course is going, relatively speaking, like “gangbusters” on the medical front although supply, quality and supply chain issues are still in the room. Even more so now because the German government has also announced, for the first time, a public reference wholesale price per gram of floss. That alone is big news, although expect that too to drop (see Aurora’s pricing for Italy, for starters).
In the UK, the NHS finally got down to brass tacks and negotiated a bulk discount for GW Pharmaceuticals cannabis drugs for a very narrow band of patients (mostly child epileptics and MS patients). A tiny minority of the estimated 1.4 million daily British “medical” users including those suffering from chronic pain can afford imports. The rest is all black, or in the case of CBD, gray market.
In France, the country finally got on the reform bandwagon with a “medical trial.” This means that all the major countries in the region are finally on board with some kind of reform. That too is a meaningful move.
Poland is also opening – a good sign for the remaining conservative countries in Europe still on the fence.
And in a real first (although do not get too excited just yet), on the “recreational” front, it is not just Holland that is in the room any more. Both Denmark and Luxembourg announced that they were opening this conversation. In Denmark and Holland’s case, this is in the form of “trials” in places where operational grey markets have already been established. In Holland, this is of course, regulating the “coffee shop” trade in large cities like Amsterdam. In Denmark, the new “trial” will be on the grounds of a revived hippy experiment called Christiana, that morphed predictably into the control of gangs over the last generation.
Luxembourg, however, seems intent on setting the benchmark if not timeline and is moving aggressively in one direction. As a result, as of this year, the strategic “heart” of Europe is now on the schedule to go full monty by 2022. That said, it is a country of about half a million people. Further, no matter the inevitably hype on the way, don’t expect the country to turn into a big cannabis hub- nor encourage pot tourism even from neighboring Europeans.
The end of 2021 is the time to watch for all things recreational. In the meantime, including next year, look for increasing “experiments” in other places. Particularly of the Swiss variety (where both recreational and medical products are sold via pharmacies.)
THC Is Being Accepted As Having Medical Efficacy
No matter the controversy in the room, and the strange inclinations of the British NICE to try to undo forty years of medical knowledge about the impact of THC on chronic pain, medical cannabis and specifically medical cannabis with THC has made its global medical debut as of this year.
That said, the push is on to “pharmacize” the product.
Flower (floss) is in the room, in other words, but the future is looking towards oils and distillates – at least for the medical market long term. And a lot of that will also come increasingly to this market from places like Portugal, Spain, Greece and other European markets now moving into the cultivation space seriously.
Then again, there is still a lot of road to travel. Wags who predicted that German health insurers would never pay for floss cannabis just five years ago were wrong.
CBD Is Not All Its Cracked Up To Be
For all those who sang “Free the CBD” this year, Europe has taken a rather conservative and concerted push back. From Austria to Italy and Sweden to Poland, the path to market for any product containing CBD has been a tough one this year.
That said, perhaps it is a call for more standardization- no matter how painful that might be economically. At a presentation given at this year’s IACM medical conference in Berlin, a medical researcher revealed the results of a study he had conducted on the accuracy of labelling of these products in several European countries. The industry has not standardized, labelling is all over the place in terms of accuracy – and the claims about “medical efficacy” are hard to swallow for substandard over-the-counter product.
If the CBD-based part of the industry is to thrive here, it will have to find a way to establish and certify itself. That appears to be going on in Italy right now. It also impacts every cultivator from Portugal and Spain to Eastern Europe looking at the possibilities right now.
However, with labelling and other EU cross currents in the room, this route to the industry has been fraught this year with all the cross winds and those are not likely to dissipate next year or indeed for the next several.
The Cannabis Winds Of Trade Are In The Air
While it may be a bit ironic, given that international trade has pretty much always been a hallmark of the development of the modern cannabis industry, next year will undoubtedly be the year of “International Cannabis Trade.”
No matter the problems “back home,” as of this year, a German-based manufacturer of GMP-certified product got fully underway (see ICC/Wayland’s success this year). That, along with the final decision on the first German cultivation bid, has clearly shaped a market that is still changing. And that change is driven by the admission, even by authorities, that there is not enough legal cannabis grown in the country.
That means that the strength of the German market will continue to drive policy (see the recent announcements on wholesale pricing) as well as demand that will be met across the continent.
Along the way, cannabis reform is also being driven locally. And that means, no matter the trials and tribulations of the Canadian part of the sector, which perhaps can be considered aptly warned for getting a bit too big for its britches, and no matter how faulting, the winds of reform are still afloat. Just perhaps, on the cards for next year and those to come, blowing from many more points on the globe.
For now, at least, Aurora is AWOL in German pharmacies.
Sources who did not wish to be identified from apothekes here confirmed to Cannabis Industry Journal that Aurora product was currently unavailable throughout the country. The same sources also confirmed that Aurora contacted them about the suspension.
The fallout over less than quality cannabis entering at least the Danish and German markets, as reported by CIJ repeatedly this year, continues to make waves, globally. This newest development seems to be a step up in seed to sale inspections of late as a response from governments who have to deal with normalizing cannabis laws and different standards no matter what else is going on.
That this development also comes on the heels of not only the scandals at CannTrust and Hexo (both Canadians with aspirations in the EU), but many reports on the ground from distributors and pharmacies in Germany of mouldy if not pesticide tainted cannabis ever since 2017, is also significant.
Substandard product is clearly coming from somewhere.
This newest development with Aurora is the first sign that German authorities at least, appear to be taking notice.
As Marijuana Business Daily is reporting, the review is of a “proprietary step” in the production process related to a method used to ensure the shelf life of flower cannabis. Aurora has stated in return, that their “products are sourced from an EU GMP certified facility and are safe to consume.”
Sourced or not from a certified facility, the devil, when it comes to EU GMP, is in the details at the source. Not to mention the product on the ground as it ages. And those particularities, on a global level, are still being worked out in a process known broadly as “harmonization.”
When it comes to the cannabis industry in particular, this is also very much in the room thanks to two large treaties with North America of late. Namely CETA, the broad trade agreement between Canada and the EU, which, among other things replaces the old MRA pharmaceutical agreement that existed previously. And of course, the EU-US MRA agreement, which came into full force this July.
As the discussion between Poland and Holland this year demonstrates clearly, one country’s definition of GMP even within the EU can differ.
Product grown and processed in a foreign third-party country, no matter the designation of the actual facility itself in this environment, is bound to get a review. Especially cannabis from Canada.
Put in context of the market itself, this is even more significant, especially given Aurora’s presence in the German market not only as provider as the holder of most of the licenses (5) awarded to three cultivators – a title won with lots of blood on the ground. Not to mention many casualties – including of course the first tender bid itself.
Will This Impact The German Cultivation Bid?
In the current environment, with Aurora announcing retreats on construction in progress just about everywhere, both in Europe and at home, this could easily also be a warning shot across the bow by German authorities.
While the hijinks of the cannabis industry seem to get a wink and a nod just about everywhere else cannabis reform has come, that is not true on the ground here. Further, Germany very much is a land of laws and regulations. And the average German, no matter how much they kvetch about the same, has by now more or less accepted that medical cannabis that can help very sick people get better is ok. The issue of who should pay for it is another question. Regardless, none of the cannabis in the market here is what could be termed as “cheap.” The idea that such medicine might be of less than required medical quality is one that is, as a result, indefensible.
While nobody (so far) has come forward to the press from the patient side with proof that can be validated, there have been distributors and pharmacies discussing issues surrounding the quality of product for some time now too. None want to be quoted for this story, but the noted focus on seed to sale quality issues by all of the big producers (see Aphria of late as just one example), are clearly a response to the same.
It is also unlikely that Aurora will lose its cultivation licenses in Germany – although again, this review by the German government also may be a second look into the company’s finances and ability to build a high-class facility in the country capable of producing the five lots now required.
Their inability to service this contract seems unlikely on financial grounds, no matter how retrenched Aurora has been of late.
Given the current environment, however, the events of the last six months, and the reality on the ground, this latest inspection seems to be an almost inevitable warning shot across the bow to not only Aurora but all cannabis producers at a time when the first German cultivated medical cannabis (see ICC) is now in pharmacies.
Not to mention high quality product from other parts of the world. If the Canadians can’t cut it, the message seems to be, there are others who are now stepping into the ring who can.
Khiron Life Sciences Corp. has played an interesting game globally for some time now. Far from a “high flier” in the first tiers of Canadian cannabis companies to watch, that may be changing. Not to mention, this fall, what exactly do these labels mean right now as almost all the first movers retrench and reconsider?
How and where Khiron’s influence will be felt however, is still very much a question in the air.
The big news? The company has obtained authorization from the Colombian government to commercialize high-THC cannabis, and further, for both domestic and international consumption.
There are several interesting things about this announcement.
The first is that Khiron inevitably got its domestic license to supply a 15,000-patient trial “at home” in Columbia (and for the prestigious Latin American Institute of Neurology and the Nervous System).
The second is that the company will also be exporting – and to where.
Uruguay is at the top of that list – starting with the fact that the country has had a “recreational market” that actually predates Canada’s. To import medical cannabis here in other words, is also an interesting statement in and of itself. Namely, what is wrong with domestically produced Uruguayan product? Even and especially in this case, for the medical market? (The answer of course has more to do with U.S. banking law than product quality).
The second is the UK where the company will also supply the patient trial there – Project Twenty21. This is even more intriguing considering that the NHS has just denied the efficacy of cannabis for treating neurological conditions and pain and only recently agreed that Sativex was “cost effective” after negotiating a lower bulk price with GW Pharmaceuticals made possible by the new NICE guidelines.
The third is Brazil – a growingly valuable market now firmly on the radar of those watching all things cannabis-related in the hemisphere.
Regardless, it shows that the lights are on in the executive suite at Khiron. The question is, will this early mover advantage pay off – and more interestingly, where?
A Hemispheric Play – But In Which Long Term Direction?
While the UK at least seems to be Brexiting itself off a cliff of free trade agreements with the world (and expect cannabis to be in the early room of conversation about commodities in this regard), is Latin American cannabis really price impactful in low price per gram Europe long term? Especially given the inclinations of a company whose CEO admits in press statements that he wants to be a “Starbucks of Cannabis” – selling not coffee beans at “80 cents a pound…” but rather a cup of coffee “for four dollars.”
That is a still-to-be answered question. Especially in an environment where the German government has announced its essential reference wholesale price for floss at €2.30 per gram (around four dollars American). Not to mention what is going on domestically in countries across the continent from Denmark and Portugal to Poland.
However, what all this positioning also does of course, is pose questions for Khiron’s intentions throughout the American hemispheres, both more locally and of course north of the Rio Grande (in the U.S. market) not to mention Canada.
This is the kind of reverse hemisphere play of course that everyone in North America has been expecting since Uruguay’s early market movement earlier in the decade. The great South American fruit and veg market is finally allowed to turn to legal production in the form of cannabis.
Is the “Drug War” finally in its last, dying days? The answer appears to be yes. Trade wars, inevitably, however, are looming. Protectionism in the cannabis industry may be a new flavour of the day but not in any other agricultural or indeed any other kind of commodity. And on this front, things are also likely to be fierce.
With all the fits and starts involved with getting the Startup Nation out of the box on cannabis exports, every new twist and turn of the story is intriguing. There are indeed reports that officials have suggested that the Israeli export market might finally, formally open for business as of early next year. However, and this is a big caveat, such exports can only occur if the domestic supply has been met.
And herein lies the rub. According to the Times of Israel, Israeli patients face a huge shortage of access to product, and in a story that is still universal at this juncture, turning again to the “black market.” Even though in the case of Israel, what constitutes really “black” if not “grey” is still as much in flux here as anywhere else.
Tikkun Olam, the first company to obtain a license from the Health Ministry, also reportedly lost the permit based on a police recommendation.
Who is black, grey and allowed to become legitimate appears to be on the same slippery, often fraught path here as it has been this summer in places like Canada. Or even the United States at a state level. See California.
In truth, this may signal a readiness to license more firms in Israel for both domestic consumption and export. The timing suggests that both are in the offing as the world enters not only the third decade of this century, at what is not quite yet, unbelievably the second of the legal cannabis industry everywhere outside Israel.
Not A New Problem
In truth, the dilemma facing Israel is one that has plagued governments since the beginning of not only cannabis reform on a widespread level at the earlier this decade, but market economics beyond that.
In the world of cannabis, this discussion is actually turning up in several places. It was present in Canada – indeed the biggest Canadian companies began to look to Europe as Canadian patients continued to successfully defend their right to grow in court circa the summer of 2017. It is also in the room across Europe as price economics clash with early reformers. Denmark, for example, might have welcomed outside money to kick-start their medical trial, but nobody seriously thought (at least on the Danish side) that their home-grown product would be able compete on price with say Portugal, Spain or Greece.
In a world where cannabis pricing in even Europe is starting to normalize, and higher prices and profits can be found abroad, what indeed, should cash-strapped governments do?
The answer is actually very easy as much as most governments still do not want to admit the same in most of Europe at least. Do what the Israelis appear in fact to be finally doing, which is democratizing the cultivation market. Once that occurs, the incentives for “black” market will disappear here as in other places.
The Bottom Line- Good News?
Israel has never intended to sit this issue out. The spoils on both the tech and IP fronts are just too great beyond the plant itself. The Israeli government, even with American and other foreign money, has also supported the industry for the last twenty years certainly in a way unseen anywhere else. And the modern “industry” itself, even at the small R&D end, is over fifty years old here.
The backlog of research and knowledge, beyond any individual strain or plant, in other words, is about to be let loose on the world as of next spring. And there will be no turning back.
While Luxembourg is a tiny country in the middle of Europe, it is beginning to play an outsized role in pushing all aspects of the cannabis discussion forward in the EU.
The country has steadily moved forward on integrating cannabis into the medical system. In 2018, medical cannabis was tested in a pilot project and is now available, on prescription, from a limited number of hospital pharmacies since February of this year. The program, at least from the Department of Health’s perspective, has been “very successful” so far in the words of Health Minister Etienne Schneier.
So, as a result, the next phase of the transition is going into effect. The budget for doctor training and medical cannabis purchases will be increased from €350,000 to €1.37 million next year. The drug will also be available from all pharmacies. Overall, the government has allocated a budget of €228 million for its cannabis “pilot” next year – an increase of €22m in 2019.
Canopy Growth Moves Into A Prime Position
Canopy Growth also announced last month that it has now become the exclusive supplier of medical cannabis to the country in a deal that extends through the end of 2021 (in other words presumably until recreational reform becomes legal). This is an interesting twist of events, given that Aurora announced it was the first company to import the drug into the country last year.
This is certainly a new chapter in the ongoing competition between the two Canadian companies who have, since 2017, essentially split Europe’s “first entries” between them (with the exception of Tilray in Portugal).
Why Is Luxembourg’s Cannabis Experiment So Interesting?
The increasingly strategic position of this tiny country on the cannabis discussion cannot be discounted.
In the summer of 2018, it was the government’s decision to change the law on medical cannabis use that preserved the ability of Germans to continue to buy cannabis stocks. Confused? The Deutsche Börse, in Frankfurt, the third largest stock exchange in the world, claimed that it could not “clear” stock purchases last summer because their clearing company, based in Luxembourg, could not close the transactions in a country where even medical cannabis was still off the table. When Luxembourg changed their law, in other words, the Deutsche Börse had to reverse course.
Since then, this tiny country has continued to challenge the cannabis discussion in the EU – also announcing that a full-boat recreational program will be enacted within the next two years (almost certainly by 2021). This aggressive timetable will also move the discussion in almost every EU regulation still on the table, and probably position the country as the only one in Europe where a fully integrated medical and recreational policy is in place. Even Holland does not cover medical cannabis these days. Dutch insurers stopped covering the drug in early 2017 – just as the German government changed its own laws.
Luxembourg, in other words, has now effectively pulled at least on par with Denmark and Germany in the cannabis discussion, with recreational now the agenda. And appears to be willing to preserve its medical program after recreational comes.
Who says size matters?
The “Colorado” Of Europe?
One of the reasons Colorado was such a strategic state in the cannabis discussion in the U.S. was undoubtedly its “purple” status – i.e. a state which politically swung both ways on a range of policy issues.
Luxembourg in fact, as the seat of the European Courts of Justice, may end up playing the same role in Europe – but on a national level.
In fact, the battle here increasingly resembles not Canada, but the U.S., as individual countries begin to tackle the cannabis question in their own way – both within and beyond the EU rubrics on the drug.
Will the United States legalize federally before the EU changes its tune? That is unknowable.
However, for the moment, the market leader in the EU to watch is undoubtedly Luxembourg, no matter its geographical size and population count.
As usual, cannabis reform enters through a crack, and widens from there. Luxembourg appears to be, if not the only crack, then certainly one of them that is turning into a decently sized crevice in the unyielding wall of blanket prohibition.
If the “recreational” discussion is off the table for now except in a few local sovereign experiments (Luxembourg, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland), and the medical discussion is mired in “efficacy” and payments (Germany, UK), where does that leave this third area of cannabis products?
The answer? Because this conversation involves cannabis, as usual, the discussion is getting bogged down in confusion even as industry groups press for clarification and guidelines.
Cosmetics, including externally applied creams, lotions and potions, are of course subject to regulation and testing beyond cannabinoids. Think of your favourite cosmetic product and the notices about no animal testing (et al). Yet when the conversation comes to cannabis, of course, even of the hemp kind, the current discussion in the EU is mired in confusion, and of course ongoing stigma. Not science. Or even logic.
According to the EU Working Group on Cosmetic Products earlier this year, ingredients containing CBD (even derived from hemp) should be banned from cosmetics production because of the ban on cannabis as an illicit substance under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Guidance under the Cosing Catalogue (a database of allowed and banned ingredients) gives individual EU member states a framework to set national rules for cosmetics.
To add to the confusion, the EU also added new entries to the EU inventory of cosmetic ingredients which outlaw CBD derived from extracts, tincture or resin. But – in a bizarre bureaucratic swerve, they did approve “synthetically produced CBD.”
Opponents of the ruling – including the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) have of course opposed the newest guidelines on regs. CBD, as the EIHA has mentioned repeatedly, is not referenced specifically in the 1961 Convention.
The EIHA wants the EU to treat cosmetics like other CBD products – namely requiring that they have less than 0.2% THC.
The EIHA Proposal
The EIHA has its own proposal for setting guidelines under Cosing. Namely that extracts from industrial hemp and pure CBD should only be prohibited from use in cosmetic products if they are not manufactured in compliance with laws in the country of origin.
Further, the EIHA has also pointed out that the seeds and leaves of industrial hemp and any products derived from the same are also clearly excluded from the 1961 Convention.
However, and herein lies the rub – even within the EU, there is not yet harmonization on these standards between countries. So, what may pass for “legal” in the country of production may also not pass for products that are then exported – even within the EU and or in Europe.
EIHA also has proposed new wording for the definition of Cannabidiol based on the International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients (INCI), the most comprehensive and widely recognized international list of ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products.
Where Does This Cross With Novel Food?
Of course there is also the confusion in the room about cannabis extracts as “novel food.” Cosmetics of course are designed for external application, but cannabis tinctures and extracts containing “CBD” are being put in that category right now by regulators in the EU. The fact that novel food is also in the room may in fact be the reason that regulators are apparently sanguine about synthetic CBD in cosmetics, but not that derived from the actual plant.
The cannabis discussion is going to be in the room for many years to come and on all fronts – from medication to food to cosmetics.Bottom line? There are, at present, no easy answers. This leaves the CBD industry in the EU, at all levels, as the planet barrels into the third decade of this century, in basically a state of limbo. If not absolute confusion.
What Is The Outlook?
While it may not be “pretty” right now, the industry is clearly moving through channels to pressure and challenge regulators at key international points and places.
What is increasingly obvious however, is that the problem with cannabis – at all levels – will not be solved soon, or easily. Even calls for “recreational reform” or even “descheduling” will not cure them.
Cannabis as a plant, if not a substance used in everyday living has been so stigmatized over the last 100 years that a few years of reform – less than a decade if one counts the organization of the industry since 2013 globally – will not come close to fixing if not ironing out the bugs.
The cannabis discussion, in other words, is going to be in the room for many years to come and on all fronts – from medication to food to cosmetics.
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