It is hard to believe that two years have passed since the German government changed the law to mandate insurance coverage of cannabis by public health insurers. It is not so much the passing of time, but what has and what has not happened here on the ground during this stretch.
This is borne out by a quick overview of regional developments just in the last few weeks on the ground across the European Union.
The country that is still given credit for kicking off the whole medical cannabis enchilada discussion on a formal, federal level in Europe, still has not issued its first domestic cannabis cultivation tender. It will be two years this April since the initiative was first announced. Since then, several lawsuits have derailed the process, BfArM, the federal agency in charge of the tender, has admitted to a “technical fault,” and, presumably after the next round in court, the agency might be able to get on with business. The next date of note is April 10 (when the lawsuit will be heard in Dusseldorf).
Hopefully, this also means that the domestic cultivation of cannabis will finally begin (according to the agency) by, at latest, the fourth quarter of 2020. In the meantime, look for the awarding of bid finalists (or in the worst case, one more bid issuance after April) this year.
In the meantime, and even according to BfArM’s press statements, the import industry will fill in the gaps- meaning that by the time cultivation actually gets under way for real here, it will already be swamped, in terms of volume, by imports.
Where those imports will come from is another discussion. Right now, the only two countries with import rights for cannabis into Deutschland are Holland and Canada. Expect that to change this year, with Israel, Portugal, Spain and potentially even Greece all being very likely contenders.
Significantly, this tiny, non-EU but Schengen state is considering a pilot to study recreational cannabis. Namely, 5,000 recreational users could soon be recruited to help the government set the rules for a fully recreational market, presumably sometime in the near future.
Switzerland has led the discussion in the region on several fronts- notably setting the pace on CBD sales and continuing to air debates about how profitable the fully recreational industry will be for the public purse.
It is all very intriguing, particularly to neighbouring DACH state, Germany, but don’t expect the Swiss to do anything too outrageous on the legalization front- namely step too far out in front of either the UN or the European Parliament. Or anger their other DACH trade partner, Austria, who has taken the extreme polar opposite approach to all things CBD.
So to the extent that the Swiss have very much led the charge on the CBD front, such policies have not and will certainly not be copied across Europe (and has not been so far) any time soon. See the controversies over “novel foods” popping up not only in Austria, but Spain too.
Regardless, like Luxembourg, the Swiss are eyeing this new industry and proceeding cautiously in line with larger, international regulations that so far have led the pack on tweaking, testing and presumably changing in the next couple of years.
There are at least 200,000 people who currently use the fully leaded THC version of the drug illegally. Those who would qualify for the pilot study (only one of several proposed as the country considers the impact of cannabinoids from all angles) would have to be adults who already use the drug.
Stay tuned. This will certainly be one interesting trial.
Belgium has also just announced the formation of its own “Cannabis Agency.” The new agency will, just as in Germany, oversee the development of the industry domestically- namely issuing licenses for production and import and overseeing quality.
Does this mean a Belgian cultivation bid is on the horizon? Could be. Although so far, no country except Greece has engaged in any large-scale cultivation effort commissioned by the government. And no country except Germany has so far issued a public tender. Even Italy proceeded with a unique hybrid last year when the military essentially turned over the domestic production it controlled over to Aurora.
This too is also likely to be an interesting space over the next few years.
A Belgian tender, right along with a Polish one (also expected after BfArM successfully executes at least one) may well be in the offing this year. This may also put additional heat on the German agency to bite the bullet and issue cultivation licenses by the end of 2019 no matter what happens in Dusseldorf in April.
At this point in the end of prohibition, not even the United Nations (UN) or the World Health Organization (WHO) are immune to the great green wave sweeping the planet. Yet, lest anyone get too optimistic about developments at the nose bleed level of international drug reform, the newest round of headlines regarding “WHO cannabis reform” is hardly cause for celebration.
Yet as reported at the end of January, such decisions appear to be headed for a tortoise speed approvals track. Yes, it appears that CBD will probably be descheduled, and from both the hemp and cannabis perspective. That should be good news to many who are caught in a raft of international standards that are confusing and all over the place on a country-by-country level. However, this will not be much of a boon to the industry in Europe, in particular, where the discussion is less over CBD but the source of it, and how distillates are used. From this perspective, the draft WHO documents will make no difference, except perhaps to speed the acceptance of CBD, and create clearer regulations around it.
On the THC front, the WHO appears to do nothing more than move cannabis squarely into international Schedule I territory. More interesting of course, is the intent of international regulators to keep cannabis very much in uncertain status while moving “pharmacized” versions of the same into Schedule III designation.
What Does The Opinion of The WHO Really Mean?
What this means is also still unclear except that those who want to sell to regulated medical and nonmedical markets have to get their products (whatever those are) registered as medicine or a legitimate consumer product in every jurisdiction and eventually at a regional level (see Europe). That is clearly underway right now by both the big Canadian and emerging Israeli entities in the market as well as savvy European players in both verticals. That said, it is also a game that is about to create a very interesting market for those who are able to produce cheap, but high-grade oils in particular.
What Does This Mean For The Future Of Flower?
On the medical front, Germany became the third country in the world to consider reimbursing flower via national healthcare. Of the three who have tried it to date so far (and it is unclear what Poland will do at this point longer term), Israel is inching away and Holland nixed the entire cannabis covered by insurance conversation at the same time Germany took it on. Where that plays out across Europe will be interesting, especially as the cost of production and end retail cost continues to drop. And doctor education includes information about “whole plant” vs. pre-prescribed “dosing” where the patient has no control. The reality in the room in Europe right now is that this drug is being used to treat people with drug resistant conditions. Dosing dramas in other words, will be in the room here for some time to come as they have in no other jurisdiction.
Beyond dosing and control issues that have as much to do with doctors as overall reform, flower is still controversial for other reasons. One, it is currently still being imported into Europe from highly remote and expensive import destinations. That will probably change this year because of both the cultivation bid and Israel’s aggressive move into the middle of the fray as well as widely expected ex-im changes that will allow imports from countries throughout Europe. However, in the meantime, this is one of the reasons that flower is so unpopular right now at the policy and insurance level. The other is that pharmacists in Germany are allowed to treat the flower as a drug that must be processed. In this case, that means that they are adding a significant surcharge, per gram, to flower because they grind it before they give it to patients.
How long this loophole will exist is unclear. However, what is also very clear is that oils in particular, will play a larger and larger role in most medical markets. Read, in other words, “pharmaceutical products.”
For this reason, the WHO recommendations, for one, are actually responding to unfolding realities on the ground, not leading or setting them.
Setting A Longer-Term Date For Widespread Recreational Reform
This conservative stance from the WHO also means, however, that in the longer run, individual country “recreational reform” particularly in places like Europe, will be on a slower than so far expected track. There are no countries in the EU who are willing to step too far ahead of the UN in general. That includes Luxembourg, which so far has made the boldest predictions about its intentions on the recreational front of any EU member. However, what this also may signal is that the UN will follow the lead set by Luxembourg. Even so, this legitimately puts a marker in the ground that at least Europe’s recreational picture is at least five years off.
In the meantime, the WHO recommendations begin to set international precedent and potentially the beginnings of guidelines around a global trade that has already challenged the UN to change its own regulations. In turn, expect these regulations to guide and help set national policy outside a few outliers (see Canada, Uruguay and potentially New Zealand) globally.
Bottom line, in other words? The latest news from the UN is not “bad” but clearly seems to say that cannabis reform is a battle that is still years in the making. That said, from the glass is half full perspective, it appears, finally, there might be the beginning of a light at the end of the international tunnel of prohibition.
There is a lot of European news afoot from the big public Canadian companies between all the headlines about Israel. Namely, established cannabis companies in the market already continue to shore up their presence across multiple member EU states.
What is at stake? Establishing some kind of European foothold in an environment where licensing and production costs will not bust the bank- and what will be the first government-set, pre-negotiated bulk price for medical cannabis flower. For all the high-flying news of even hundred million-dollar (or euro) investments, right now the biggest hunt is on for ways to trigger sales figures that continue to grow steadily in the customer column.
There is also a dawning realization that prices are going to start stabilizing if not falling after the German government finalizes its selection of bid winners.
As a result of all of this, to compete against each other and streamline distribution and supply chain costs, the larger Canadian companies in the market are clearly angling to set up efficient distribution networks- even if that means buying pieces of them one country and property at a time.
How well that will work in the longer run remains to be seen- but it is a play that is starting to show up in other European developments (from the Israeli side). That said, the latest news of the big guys in the field make sense within this context, if none other.
Canopy Growth Announces UK and Polish Moves
Spectrum Cannabis, the European-based medical brand of Canopy Growth chalked two more achievements off its Euro “to do list” in January. At the beginning of the month, Spectrum announced it was preparing to enter the UK market via the creation of a joint venture with Beckley Canopy Foundation, Spectrum Biomedical.
In Poland, the company also announced the successful shipment of its high-THC whole flower “Red No.2.” The Polish government began allowing sales late last year.
Neither development however should be a surprise to those watching the strategy of either Canopy or for that matter several other public Canadian cannabis companies. Aurora, for example, announced its first successful shipment into the country on the same day that the Polish government changed the law. On the British side, the combined forces of changing the regulatory scheduling of cannabis and allowing the drug to be dispensed by prescription have certainly changed the game on some levels. Brexit is about to play havoc with most imported products, and cannabis is no exception to this.
In this sense, the challenges facing both British and Polish patients right now are also fairly analogous. Importing is the only way to get the drug to patients, and the cost of import is also prohibitively high for most. Then of course, there is actual approval beyond that, which is also a problem everywhere cannabis has become legal.
While both developments of course, are good news for the company, this does not mean that the initial going will be easy or smooth for any company, including one as skilled at strategic market entry in core countries across the continent for the last several years as Spectrum has reliably proven to be.
Green Organic Dutchman Gets Cultivation License In Denmark
Why are so many public cannabis companies attracted to the tiny country? The first is that the country, like Switzerland, in fact, is not as bound by EU rules as say, Germany and France. It can “experiment” in ways that are notably different from its neighbors.
As a result of this and a change in the law that began a multiyear trial to experiment with regulation and medical efficacy, cultivation licenses are also easier to obtain than in other places. There are also other plusses to establishing a presence in the country if not the continent including a strong social care system, and a research environment that promises to produce great results on the medical efficacy discussion continent wide.
For those who have been watching (if not in the thick of) the drama over Israeli medical cannabis export rights, this latest development was not only inevitable but overdue. Israel’s parliament unanimously approved the legislation on Christmas Day (along with Thailand). Less than a month later, the cabinet concurred.
That means that export rights are now actionable law.
Beyond this final passage into reality, export rights have been at the forefront of a global drama on cannabis- most recently in this part of the world, as a specific chip in political dealmaking between U.S. President and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu since the former entered office. This go around at least.
The political bargaining that even allowed Israel’s medical program to flourish and get funding from its earliest days (including of the U.S. federal government kind) of course, is nothing new.
Pioneers Of The Cannabis Industry
Hard as it is to believe, most of what is widely known and easily digitally shared (including on social media) about cannabis (as a plant, let alone distinctions between cannabinoids) is information created during this last four to eight-year period (certainly since 2010). This has been driven by reform, and a birth of wider education about medical and recreational cannabis plus the cannabis industry and broader lifestyle press. And most of what is credible out there, no matter who claims credit today, has an Israeli origin, and of the medical kind.
Add this history of scientific research and insight to the philosophy of a nation driven by entrepreneurial zest, and say no more.
Now that Israel can begin to export its cannabis, the interesting thing to see is whether cannatech will in the end, be more valuable than individual strains themselves. The pick axe in this particular “green gold rush?”
For now, of course, all bets are off, even on the cultivation front. Because, no matter what else it is, it is well timed, globally, to give even the Israeli medical production market a big green shot in the arm.
Germany and Europe Beckons
The change in the law in Israel also comes as those who made first qualifying round in the German cultivation bid are getting prequalification letters, although this time, no firms, anywhere, have issued press releases about their finalist round status.
And here is the other issue to consider: While the bid itself does not have anything to do with import capability, new Israeli game in town is, in itself, a big game changer for anyone whose hat was thrown into the coalitions who applied for the pending cultivation license. Why? Until they deliver their first crops grown auf Deutschland, firms have to deliver from somewhere. And this being Germany, the import destination has to be from a place where the plant is federally legal. Israel becomes another option in a market so far dominated by Dutch and Canadian firms.
Can you smell new bid lawsuits also, if this scenario has not already been addressed by BfArM? The history of cannabinoids in Germany in general (historically as well as recently) is fraught already. This pending challenge, should it come, will be laden with symbology modern Germany will do everything to avoid provoking.
Beyond the soap opera that the bid has turned into in Germany (the ultimate test case for cultivation and insurance-backed medical and industry acceptance across the rest of the EU essentially), there are of course, other markets beckoning. This includes all of Eastern Europe and much of the EU. This includes France and the UK immediately.
In other words, no matter what the longer-term impacts will be, this well timed, politically astute Israeli decision is coming at the beginning of what is going to be, as everyone is clearly seeing at the end of January, a momentous and earth-shaking year not only for Europe, but globally.
And that is big business for a little country with an eye on the export game.
Both developments are likely to have huge implications on the entire global cannabis discussion, albeit in slightly different ways.The impact will be interesting to watch.
Israel’s Export Decision
The issue of exports from the original home of the medical cannabinoid revolution has been a perennial sticky wicket for the last several years. As the Israeli medical market liberalized at home and certainly in the last five years, the government steadfastly refused to export the drug. Further, the country’s president Benjamin Netanyahu also cut a political deal with Donald Trump to move the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that delayed this discussion over the last 18 months. With a global market now exploding that Israel to date has been excluded from and Netanyahu’s political capital tarnished with corruption, things are about to change.
The impact will be interesting to watch. Especially with the network of Israeli production farms also sprinkling around particularly Eastern Europe and Greece.
Here is also what is intriguing: The country is, like Israel, looking at creating a domestic boon with a tightly controlled domestic economy booster. Not to mention clearing the jails, which are filled to bursting with people on even low level drug offenses.
And just like Israel, Thailand is also, already, talking protectionist measures to shield domestic producers from being bought out by foreign interests, certainly of the corporate kind.
The Combination Package
In the short term this means, at least on the export front, that there will be more competitors to the Canadian giants now entering the room. And between Israel and Thailand alone, this also means that new strains on the medical side, will begin to enter global medical markets.
For all the future promise of tweaked product, cheap cannabis flower and oil flooding markets globally by importers and distributors realizing that the game is far from over, is going to be the first real challenge the Canadian cannabis companies have yet faced.
In the wake of the news that Epidiolex is not as effective longer term as hoped (which is a common phenomenon in the pharmaceutical industry known as a “drug holiday” where users initially improve and then develop tolerance to the drug), this is also an intriguing new development. This means that new strains are entering the global market at an unprecedented pace, literally competing with pharmaceutical products at a time when reform continues apace.
At a time when cannabis investments (particularly in the US), quadrupled in 2018, this also means that western dollars, if not companies, will begin to find other markets and market outlets.
And that is a Christmas present in 2018 that will reverberate long into the future.
Canopy Growth Corporation, continues to move aggressively across Europe to solidify its presence across the continent. As of the beginning of November, Canopy’s European HQ in Frankfurt announced that the company is currently eyeing additional cultivation sites in Spain, Italy and Greece.
Aphria is also making news. The producer has just announced that it is seeking EU GMP certification and its intention to buy existing German distributor CC Pharma, with distribution reach to 13,000 pharmacies. Earlier in the year, Aphria acquired German Nuuvera, a global cannabis company currently exploring opportunities in Israel and Italy beyond Germany.
But that is also not the only thing going on “in town.” Wayland Corp also has announced recently that it is going to be producing in Italy in a unique cleantech, biogas fueled facility, and even more interestingly, working with a university on high-tech absorption techniques to help standardize dosing for (at present) CBD.
The European Production Industry Is Growing At Lightning Speed
Buoyed by their experience in the Canadian market, LPs are now focusing on Europe with even more intensity as the drama over the German cultivation bid, British schedule II access (no matter what happens with Brexit), and medical cannabis reform itself unfold.
As a group, they have money and talent, but are now also aware that they are not the only game around.
Producers from the rest of the world, including South America, are increasingly eyeing the European market, frequently in combination with Canadian corporate ties (see ICC and Hexo). So are institutional investors (from the U.S. in particular). The European market represents, as a region, the first real medical market anywhere and a healthcare system set to absorb a great deal of cannabis sales.
One thing is also increasingly crystal clear. Not being in the room, especially at the top industry conferences now establishing themselves across the continent, but even more particularly in Germany, is the best way to be locked out of a highly valuable and rapidly expanding market.
British Home Secretary Sajid Javid appears to have become the most high ranking cannabis advocate in the British government. He has just launched a review into medicinal uses of cannabis in the UK. However, this dramatic change in policy has only come after a series of high profile campaigns and escalating battles for access waged by patients and their families against a government which has remained stubbornly intransigent in the face of growing evidence of medical efficacy and reform elsewhere. In fact, the cannabis “Battle of Britain” has come to resemble the contretemps in Israel over the same issue four years ago that led to a national review of medical use and greater patient access.
It is expected that this recent turn of events will open better access for more British medical users. The fact that the timing of all of this comes as GW Pharma has received the right to distribute Epidiolex in the U.S. as the first FDA-approved cannabis-based medicine is not only part of the irony but the underlying problematic politics surrounding all of this. Starting with the timing of who has access to what, and under what circumstances. As it stands, Epidiolex is also the only cannabis-based drug now eligible in the United States for healthcare coverage. The rest of the market is so-far excluded from it. Unlike, it should be pointed out the situation in the UK, the rest of the Commonwealth, and of course, the EU. Starting with Germany.
A Major Win for Patients
Celebrate one for Alfie! Alfie Dingley that is – the British 6 year old with epilepsy who has become one of the most well-known faces of medical justice for cannabis users in the UK. Dingley and his parents waged a battle since last fall over his right to consume low THC cannabis oil that allows him to manage his epilepsy. He has just been granted an emergency license to import the oil from the Netherlands.
But this is also a victory for Billy Caldwell, the twelve-year-old who ended up in emergency care in hospital recently after his medical oil (from Canada) was confiscated at the border. Video of border control agents at Heathrow Airport removing the oil from the Caldwells caused a national outcry in the UK. Caldwell’s mother, Charlotte, has also waged a high profile battle for access, including at the doors of the hospital her son was admitted to last week. She has also started her own CBD company named after her son.
Like the rest of Europe, which the UK still technically is part of until Brexit, the focus here has very much been on medical use.And of course, this new indication in change of policy is seen as a major victory if not step forward for literally thousands if not millions of Britains who suffer from chronic conditions that are still drug resistant (like Epilepsy but not limited to the same.)
As he addressed the House of Commons on the issue of medicinal cannabis use, Javid said “It has become clear to me since becoming home secretary that the position that we find ourselves in currently is not satisfactory…I have now come to the conclusion that it is time to review the scheduling of cannabis.” As in the US, cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug in the UK – with supposedly no medical efficacy. This new development clearly challenges that scheduling – but where and how?
Recreational Is Still Not On The Table
Like the rest of Europe, which the UK still technically is part of until Brexit, the focus here has very much been on medical use. This is for several reasons, including a much better and more inclusive public health system – despite imminent fears about the longevity of the British National Health Service (NHS).
In the UK, however, further reform is not likely to move fast. Unlike anywhere else, cannabis production is essentially limited to one company – GW Pharmaceuticals – who themselves have high standing political connections that continue to oppose reform. This is not based on science but rather profit. Despite the fact that the British Isles are the largest exporter of medical cannabinoid pharmaceuticals in the world, British patients are still largely excluded from access. The only reason that these children and their parents were able to pierce the wall of privilege and profit that has driven the debate here since the late 90’s is that GW Pharmaceutical’s cannabinoid concoctions do not work on this kind of epilepsy. Plus the failure of a recent trial of their new drug (shamefully in Europe, not even conducted in the UK).
As a result, GW Pharmaceuticals and the well placed scions of British society who have profited directly and personally from this situation have little choice but to back down – but not by much. As soon as Javid announced his intention to do a review of British policy, former Tory (conservative) leader Lord William Hague called for full legalization. An initiative that as of June 19 was rejected by the government.
Is Medical Finally About To Get Its Due?
In Europe, politically, the frustration is clearly growing. And much like in the United States circa 2012, activists and advocates realize that medical access is the first step towards full reform. However here there is a marked difference to what is going on in both the U.S. and Canada. And in turn, this may bring a long overdue focus on the medical issue that has continually been obscured and overlooked by the industry itself as soon as recreational seems it is in reach.
When real and regulated medical markets are allowed to flourish, the first beneficiaries are both children and women, not middle-aged men. That is clearly the face of the “average” German patient now that the data of the first year has come in. It is also likely to be the case of the British patient as well as Europeans across the continent.In Europe, politically, the frustration is clearly growing
Further, as cannabis has become more of an accepted treatment, this is in turn forcing governments (and even the industry itself) to begin, for the first time, to consider funding widespread trials – and of the raw plant itself along with extracts and other forms the drug can be consumed in.
What does this really herald, in fact then besides relief for chronically ill patients? The first widespread scientific inquiry into the efficacy of cannabinoids outside of Israel.
And that too, is cause for celebration. Congrats Alfie and Billie! And all the people who helped move the issue forward.
The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin is now officially over. The speeches have been made, the parties have been attended. The hard-working crew behind it all has wrapped up, checked out and is off to Vancouver. And most of all, the marathon of meetings and deal discussions that were the mark of this budding and certainly by now established market are done. Even if there are still details to be ironed out in all the new business in the coming months.
As always, the dilemma for conference attendees was how to spend the limited time in this concentrated cannabis gathering. With all of the networking and excitement, people still wanted to hear the experts who spoke on topics ranging from cannabis financing to actually doing business in Germany to new medical advances. Traffic in the expo section was also heavy, as attendees visited the wide range of vendors. Producers and distributors of both plant and derived product were present, along with vape companies brave enough to compete with Storz and Bickel on their own turf, various tech solutions and of course, international consultants.
As the dust clears and the contracts get signed, what are the takeaways from the second edition of the ICBC in Berlin?
Germany Is Going Green
The simplest takeaway? The ICBC Berlin is not a market to be missed in the future for the global cannabis executive. Even if you are an American firm (and for the most part still largely excluded from a rapidly expanding worldwide trade that is establishing itself now with authority), you need to be here. The contacts you make are global, and you do not want to be left out. For foreign investors interested in this market, it is a must. For everyone else, this is a meet and greet, not to mention education, barnone. The German medical and even prosumer CBD market is attracting the world.
Yes, there have been ups and downs even in the last three weeks that include the crashing of the German bid along with news stateside that the Trump Administration is going to hang Jeff Sessions out to dry for Russia with his latest “Make American States Great For Cannabis Again” contortion.
But here on the other side of the Atlantic, it is clear that the federal cannabinoid horse has left the barn. There are now rumorsfloating that the bid is not yet entirely dead (now apparently in a legal purgatory of appeals and even potentially “bid amendments”) that nobody is willing to go on record to discuss. Beyond that, however, as was clear from the frenzied deal-makingon the floor and off it at the ICBC, the market is open, distributors are finding new channels to move product, and patients demanding access are not leaving the streets.
Far from it. In fact, the budding nascent umbrella national non-profit campaign designed to open access for patients and educate doctors, The German Patients Roundtable, had a huge second meeting during the conference, with both German and international attendees from countries including Israel and South Africa.
The CBD and THC genie cannot be stuffed back into the local bottle. And everyone knows it. This is federal medical reform, and even better, covered under German national public health insurance. Despite the hiccups and challenges that still remain, this is open blue water for a medical market that has never existed anywhere to date.
Anyone with a GMP facility, Euro cleared export rights and crop or product ready to ship will be welcome here in a market that at this point, cannot get enough plant or oil. Edibles are still a to-come discussion.
To the extent that this is also negative, it is very clear that the market is still highly inefficient. Producers who do have productare not being found by those on the ground who want to sell it to patients. That will also begin to change. But for now, many on the ground are playing a digitalized Rolodex game of “who do you know” that still consists of personal emails between conference-met colleagues if not LinkedIn contacts and impromptu (and freebie) favors. Those who hope to gain an income merely by connecting the source of product and outlets the old fashioned way are also about to be left in the dust by a market that will not be held back and activist businesses who are eyeing both the United States and Canada right now (if not Israel and Australia), and translating all of that into both euros and German.
It is also very clear that the savvy Germans who were largely left out of the bid proceedings last time do not mean to sit this party out – and are angling to get into the game however they can. This is taking some interesting forms, but processing and testing are going to be huge issues of the market here for a long time to come. And so is home-grown, high-quality CBD. The German government is even offering tax credits for growing certain kinds of hempright now. Sound familiar Kentucky?
Trends and Takeaways
It is not just the Canadians who are going to get market share. The Canadian LPs are still in a good position to dominate the early market but it is clear that there is still room for others to enter. Whether the government allows an appeal of the court’s decision to hold up, there is a quick bid “redo” for the top 10 finalists, or a second bid, the market has now arrived and is in its second year.
CBD is going to be an important path to other kinds of provision and cultivation. Despite the widespread misconceptions about Germany being a “CBD only” market (it is not), it is clear that a consumer CBD only strategy will be an interesting path into the market here but not one for the faint of heart. The Canadian companies in particular are beginning to move into the realm of big pharma (their market caps certainly are). But it is also clear that more local competition is hip to the same. And as a result, even this part of the market will be a highly competitive one.
German firms are first at this gate, beyond the big Canadian LPs, but they are not the only ones now in the market. See Dutch, Austrian and Swiss firms, many with pharmaceutical company credits and market entry already under their belt. Not to mention producers from both Greece and the Baltics. Everyone on the import side is eyeing the opening market and stalled bid as a fantastic opportunity. Look for products from these locales as testing and certification protocols become more effective.
Central to all of these developments? The conference is theplacefor the global cannabis industry to meet and get to know one another, put together by Alex Rogers and a seasoned, international team behind the ICBC.
Disclaimer: Marguerite Arnold has just raised the first funds for her blockchain-based company, MedPayRx in Germany (and via traditional investment funding, not an ICO). She will also be speaking about the impact of blockchain on the cannabis industry in Berlin in April at the International Cannabis Business Conference.
You have probably heard of cryptocurrencies, tokens and smart contracts. You might have also heard, even if you did not understand the significance, that IBM recently suggested that the Canadian government use their form of blockchain, called Hyperledger, to track the recreational cannabusiness. Or that a large LP called Aurora is also looking at this space (as are other licensed producers large and small). Or maybe you have seen an item in the mainstream news about an ICO for a cannabis company that is now also going terribly wrong.
What on earth is going on?
These are all related issues, even if highly confusing and disjointed. Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency are hot right now and getting hotter – both in the mainstream world and in the cannabis industry globally. But for all its fans, the drumbeat for caution is also growing louder the more mainstream this technology (and the legitimate cannabis industry) becomes.
The many problems the entire cannabis vertical has with banking has make this current development almost inevitableOn the technology and finance side, that is why so many big names right now are urging caution. Nouriel Roubini, professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, is just the latest to do so – and for reasons that everything to do with history. Including recent history ten years ago, when the world stood on the brink of a financial disaster thanks to unchained derivatives. The biggest worry in fact, right now, is about the financial implications of widespread adoption of the technology, beyond the tech itself and how it may (and may not) be legitimately used. Which itself is a huge question.
So why all the fuss?
This is revolutionary technology which is also being introduced into the market at a time when decentralized processing for automation is on the horizon. But also because blockchain can be used to create tokens or digital coins that act like financial instruments. And once created, such tokens can be issued much like money or even stock, to raise additional funds – for both start-ups and ongoing enterprises. The best thing though? This technology was invented to create a decentralized form of value exchange and trust-less, anonymized auditing and verification. No traditional financial institutions or even governments needed, wanted or should apply (at least in theory).
The many problems the entire cannabis vertical has with banking has make this current development almost inevitable. Not to mention accessing investment cash (although this is certainly changing outside the United States). Compliance issues in every direction are another wrinkle this tech will help solve. Starting with tracking product but also rapidly expanding to uses including protecting users’ privacy and facilitating access to high-quality, inspected product for qualified users and buyers. Not to mention other areas that are literally space-age but coming fast. Look for cool stuff coming soon involving both AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (internet of things).
It is a fascinating, complex space. However, one aspect of this world, in particular, Initial Coin Offerings – or ICOs are getting attention right now. Why? They can be an incredibly efficient way to raise money for companies – both ones currently in business and start-ups with little more than a whitepaper or business plan and perhaps a working prototype. More and more of the successful ICOs are, however, for an existing company or are even attached to an asset, including a license, a prototype or a fund of money (or other combinations). They also rely on blockchain and alternative currency or tokens (sometimes also referred to as smart contracts) to work.
From a technology perspective, you can “mint” new coins relatively easily these days, sourced from a variety of different kinds of blockchain. Or even combinations thereof. You also can issue tokens or altcoins without an ICO.
In a world where there is vastly expanding cannabis opportunity, and many of these hopeful entrepreneurs are both digitally astute but without access to traditional capital, what could be better?
From a financial and investor perspective, ICOs are a hybrid form of an IPO meets social media. “Coins,” “tokens” and “smart contracts” –or cyber currency collectively– are digital forms of cash, contracts, membership cards, discounts or even authorizations for identity. There are many ways tokens can be used, in other words. This by way of saying there are also important differences too. Not all tokens are the same. Not all are used as “money.” Some are but have assets assigned to them (like real estate). Others, particularly smart contract tokens, are strictly functional (pay funds when product is delivered and verified). The one caveat here is that the exchange of any token or altcoin will also cost money. Why? It is the electricity cost of computer processing the request for transfer. Plus access and service fees. There is no such thing as a “free” token. How tokens are priced, sold, bought, maintain value and for what purposes, is a debate if not process function that will not be solved anytime soon. Starting with the fact that some blockchains are more energy efficient (and sourced from green energy) than others.
To add to all of this confusion, not all ICOs function the same way. Some do give investors ownership in the company or specific portfolios that even include real-world assets. Others offer to use pooled funds to buy assets (like real estate or an expensive license). Many rely on the “coin” issued as a kind of discount scheme, reward mechanism and in many cases, direct discounted payment for future goods and services, of both the digital and real world kind. Many offer banking services directly, including in the very near future, the ability to exchange cyber cash for the fiat variety at even remote ATMs. Sound futuristic? It is coming and soon.
Most ICOs in the market now, however, rely on the following supposition: Issue a token with a unique name. Put up an ICO website. Encourage investors from anyplace on the planet with an internet connection, to use either crypto or fiat currency to buy tokens in the issuing startup as an investment that will give the new company funds to operate and build out services or the application (whatever that is). Also, plan to use the tokens for an exchange of some kind in the future (either for other coins or a good or service). Watch the value of the coin increase (for whatever reason) while informing investors (or contributors) that this is not really a security but a “utility” token that is expected but not guaranteed to become more valuable. Retire early with the prospect of having brokers of expensive real estate in places like London and Dubai come calling.The public tide of opinion, even if regulations are slow to move, is on the side of reform if not outright advocacy.
That will not be the case for the vast majority of ICOs, however, no matter what returns, goods or services they offer. Even if they also have vibrant communities already using their services (whatever those are). It will not be the case for most of the cryptocurrencies upon which such ICOs are based (most at the moment are based on Ethereum, NEO, Hyperledger or combinations of the three). There will be more of those too. And not every blockchain will make it (cryptocurrencies and tokens are based on an origin protocol or blockchain much like computer operating systems are either PC or Mac or mobile phones are Android or Apple). Some speak to one another well. Most do not “exchange” easily – even between themselves – let alone back into good old cash. And while nobody wants to be the Betamax of blockchain, there will, inevitably, be quite a few of them. When that happens, any economic value of the coins and even contractual relationships created with them disappear as well. Add in extreme price volatility in the current market pricing of these tokens, and you begin to get a sense of the risk profile involved in all of this.
The real hurdle, not to mention expense, comes when transferring back from the world of crypto to the one of fiat (regular money). Being a Bitcoin billionaire (there are about 1,000 individuals who own about 40% of the entire global Bitcoin issuance) is no fun if you have no place to spend it.
A Rapidly Changing Marketplace
In the past 18 months, cryptocurrency and ICOs have gotten increasing attention because of the increasing value of all kinds of cyber currency (far beyond Bitcoin). The total market cap for all forms of cryptocurrency itself zoomed past $700 billion at the turn of the year. That is impossible to ignore. You might have heard of some of these currencies too. There is ETH, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Dash, even Dogecoin (created originally as a joke on an internet dog meme). Right now, in fact, at some of the most expansive exchanges, there are literally hundreds of these coins which are constantly bought and sold if not exchanged and used.
And then there are the sums ICOs are bringing in some cases, flagrantly flaunting regulatory agencies and doing end runs on the global banking system that cannot keep up with them. The top ICO of 2017, a company called Block.one and registered in the Cayman Islands, so far holds the record at $700 million and counting. Filecoin, the second largest ICO last year, raised $262 million in one month from August to September. And then, of course, there is the cannabis industry-specific case of Paragon – now headed for class-action lawsuit litigation over their $70 million pre-and ICO sale intentions.
It would be logical to assume, given the eye-watering sums potentially involved not to mention the large role a smart digital media footprint has to do with an ICO’s success, beyond its service or technology offerings, that this would be a perfect place for cannapreneurs to turn for funding. The global market is opening for cannabis reform at the same time the crypto craze meets Fintech Upheaval is occurring – in fact, these two things are happening almost simultaneously.
Thanks to regulatory realities and an ongoing stigma, there is still no institutional investment in the industry in the United States (that is rapidly changing other places). These are two new industries and dreams are large.
In the legit cannabis space, so are the expenses.
The price of opening a dispensary in most U.S. states tops a million dollars right now. In Europe, the price of entry is even more expensive. A GMP compliant grow facility in Western Europe, plus the money for lawyer’s fees and negotiations for the license itself will set you back anywhere from $20 million and up, depending on the location. Even staying afloat in the industry once the doors are opened is a challenge. And loans, even for outstanding invoices, are still tough to come by in an industry where banking services of the simple business account kind are a challenge. Particularly in the United States.
The public tide of opinion, even if regulations are slow to move, is on the side of reform if not outright advocacy. Why shouldn’t a reform-group-rooted ICO aspire to own or provide ongoing business financing to a community-minded canna farm in California, Canada, Germany, Israel or Australia? Or even Greece?
However, right now, with some noted exceptions, the cannabis business remains at minimum, a dangerous place to consider issuing altcoins that act like financial instruments or raise money with them. Why and how?
Trump Administration-Israeli relations had the distinct whiff of cannabis to them in the first week of February. In a development potentially just as impactful as transplanting Israel’s capital to Jerusalem, it has now emerged that Israel’s president, Benjamin Netanyahu, has effectively scotched, at least temporarily, the country’s budding medical cannabis international export plans on the eve of finally launching them.
What this latest act of international “diplomacy” will eventually impact in the long run is anyone’s guess. There will, however, be winners and losers out of this situation, both now and in the long term.
On the surface (and to gentiles) it might be hard to understand why Israel effectively shot itself in the foot from a global perspective. But cannabis falls into complicated geopolitical and religious crevices at home too. Bibi, as Netanyahu is referred to by an international Jewish audience, has just scored political points over the Jerusalem showdown. Why rock the boat over a plant that has so recently gained legitimacy just in Israel? Remember the country only partially decriminalized recreational use in 2017. However, Israel has explored legal medical cannabis for quite some time, and Tikun Olam, the country’s flagship producer, has been growing cannabis since 2007.
The quote from Netanyahu that has been widely circulated in the press says a great deal. “I spoke with Trump and he told me about his general opposition to the legalization of cannabis, and I’m not sure Israel should be the export pioneer.”
The fact that apparent encouragement of this policy came from the Israeli Finance Ministry only underscores the gravity of the impact for the losing side – and what was also probably threatened. Uruguayan pharmacies, who began distributing medical cannabis legally, walked away from customers last year after their banks were first informed by U.S. partners that they would either have to cut off the pharmacies or sever ties and access to the entire U.S. banking system. The cannabis trade was estimated to be worth between $1-4 billion per year to Israeli firms.
That said, this will also be a short-lived hiccup. Netanyahu apparently wants to see more medical evidence before moving forward with the plan. That means Israel will be in the race, but not for the next 12 to 18 months (minimum).
This will also not affect the cannabinoid-related export of intellectual property, where Israel has also led the cannabinoid discussion and for several generations now. Recipes, breeding instructions and even seeds cross borders more easily than plants. If anything, it will merely sharpen and shape the start up nation’s many budding cannapreneurs in a slightly different focus.
Canadian, Australian and a few other exporters also win. As of 2018, there will also be multiple European countries and EU-based firms importing and exporting (even if it is to each other).
The U.S. legal state cannabis movement has just been served a two fisted punch in the face by the White House. The Trump administration, in fact, has doubled down, in the space of less than five weeks, on its views towards cannabis legalization.
This also means that there will be no U.S. firms in any position to join a now global and exploding legitimate cannabis industry that stretches from the American hemisphere north and south of the U.S. itself. Not only will American producers not be able to get export approvals themselves from the U.S. government, but they may well be facing federal prosecution back home.
It will also be interesting to see whether this heralds any post-Cole memo prosecutions of the many Israeli entrepreneurs already operating in the U.S. state cannabis space. American and Israeli entrepreneurs with IP to protect are also the losers here, no matter how much this is being fought on the California front right now. That is just a state battle. IP must be protected federally.
Investors in the U.S. who had already been tempted to invest in the Canadian cannabis industry, now have little incentive to invest domestically or in Israel, no matter how big and bad California is. There is clearly budding (and less politically risky) competition elsewhere.
It goes without saying, of course, that this decision also hurts consumers – both recreational consumers and medical patients.
This is clearly sabre rattling of the kind intended to make news both internationally and abroad. However, in direct terms, it will have little impact to the overall growth of the industry, no matter who is doing the growing, distributing and ex-im. The cannabis industry will also clearly not stop being a political business for the near term.
Look for prosecutions this if not next year in the U.S. – potentially in California or another high profile “impact” state. We might see pressure on Netanyahu at home, and probably from abroad as well, to get Israel into the cannabis game globally.
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