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Shakeups In The German Cannabis Market

By Marguerite Arnold
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As Germany begins to enter a summer where life seems ever more normal, there are fairly major shakeups underway in the German cannabis market. These are structural but will have a profound impact on the entire market going forward.

A Mass Of Distribution Licenses
It is an interesting metric to understand that before 2015, there were no specialty cannabis importer/distributors in Germany. As of July 2020, there are rumors that this number has now shot to close to 80 (either licensed or in the process to become licensed). That is a huge number. So was the last amazing number (40) as of the beginning of this year. Just the previous estimate would mean, literally, 1 specialty cannabis distributor for every 2 million Germans. That obviously is not sustainable. What it does indicate is the huge surge of interest in medical cannabis not to mention acceptance, as well as the amount of money actually now beginning to slosh around in the domestic market.

And that spells good news for both patients and insurers. The rest of the industry, however, will be under further pressure to reduce cultivation and operation costs to meet the challenge.How many of these distributors will survive is another question, particularly in an environment where the government is looking for just one to fulfil the needs of all of Germany’s pharmacies from what is grown domestically. This does not of course mean the end of specialty distribution. Indeed, far from it. There is not enough cannabis entering the market, presumably this fall, that is grown here to even come close to meeting demand.

No surprises here. This has been one of the enduring criticisms of the entire process, if not the bid itself since 2017.

However, one thing this does mean is that distribution fees, like pharmacy fees for processing the plant before them, are finally hitting a price adjustment phase.

This is also going to be good not only for patients, but also health insurers.

For all the standardization of the industry, including fees and mark-ups, one of the strangest things about the German cannabis market is how widely cannabis prices can differ even between pharmacies. This is as true of flower as it is of dronabinol.

The Wholesale Price Of Medical Cannabis Is Dropping
Again, no surprise here, the government will end up buying more cannabis than contracted for under the original bid. This was actually anticipated in the language of the contract that currently exists between the government and the three bid winners. Namely, an automatic 50% reduction in price is mandated for any cannabis sold beyond the 120% agreed upon qualities.

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

The growers domestically, in other words, who won the bid will be under a severe price restriction. This may have been the ultimate strategy of the government to begin with (namely to attract foreign capital and expertise but then begin to reign in the sky-high prices of medical cannabis so far.)

This means that the price of €2.30 a gram will undoubtedly fall. Where it will float is anyone’s guess, but right now it appears on course to hit about €1.87. Or about the same price that other governments across Europe (notably Italy) had previously negotiated with the big Canadian cannabis companies (notably on this one, Aurora’s military contract in Italy).

Implications For The Import Market
With domestic producers under the gun, this also means that all imports will begin to feel the price squeeze too. And that will also have a significant impact on point of sale cannabis prices.

And that spells good news for both patients and insurers. The rest of the industry, however, will be under further pressure to reduce cultivation and operation costs to meet the challenge.

The Dawn of Delivery: How This Oregon Company Launched During a Pandemic

By Aaron G. Biros
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Back in late 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) legalized delivery for cannabis products. Since then, dispensaries could offer a delivery option for their customers to purchase cannabis products without leaving the comfort of their home. Up until quite recently, that market was dominated by a handful of dispensaries who also conduct business at their physical location, offering delivery as an option while conducting most sales in-person.

Enter Pot Mates. Founded in 2018 by Hammond Potter, the company embarked on the long regulatory road towards licensing and beginning operations. On April 20, 2020, Pot Mates opened for business, starting their engines to take on the fledgling cannabis delivery market in Portland.

Pot Mates is a tech startup through and through. The founders are former Apple employees. Hakon Khajavei, the chief marketing officer at Pot Mates, founded Blackline Collective, a business and marketing consultancy, which is where he joined the Pot Mates team. The other co-founder of Pot Mates and chief technology officer, Jason Hinson, joined after serving in the US Navy as an electronics technician maintaining satellite communications networks.

With the sheer amount of regulations for cannabis businesses, coupled with the new delivery-based business model, Pot Mates had to focus on technology and automation from the get-go.

Not Just an Online Dispensary

For the cannabis companies already offering delivery in the Portland metro area, their websites seem to mimic the in-person dispensary experience. They offer dozens of products for each category, like concentrates, edibles and flower, making a customer pour through options, all at different price points, which can get confusing for the average consumer.

The Pot Mates logo

Pot Mates does things a little differently. “Our start up process was thinking through how do we make this the best experience possible, how do we get rid of the unnecessary junk and how do we do things that only an online dispensary can do,” says Khajavei. They have flat pricing across the board. In each category, almost every product is priced the same, moving away from the common tiered-pricing model. This, Khajavei says, removes the decision barriers customers often face. Instead of choosing the right price point, they can choose the delivery mechanism and effect they desire uninhibited by a difference in cost.

It all comes back to focusing on the simplest way for someone to buy cannabis. “Shopping online is just very different,” says Khajavei. “Our process focuses on the customer journey and limits the number of products we offer. We have a mood system, where we tag our products from reviews to typify moods that you experience with different products.” All of that requires a lot of back-end technology built into their website.

The Long Regulatory Road

Technology has been a strong suit for Pot Mates since they opened their doors, and well before that too. Making the decision to be an online-only delivery cannabis company pushed them to pursue a very unique business model, but regulations dictate a lot of the same requirements that one might see in dispensaries.

Hakon Khajavei, Chief Marketing Officer

The same rules apply to them when Pot Mates submitted their license application. You need to have a signed lease, extreme security measures, detailed business plans, integrated seed-to-sale traceability software (Metrc in Oregon) and much more. “During the months leading up to getting our license, we were able to iron out a lot of the regulatory details ahead of time,” says Khajavei. A lot of that was about security and tracking their products, which is why technology plays such a huge role in their ongoing regulatory compliance efforts. “We built in a lot of automation in our system for regulatory compliance,” says Khajavei. “Because of our technology, we are a lot faster.”

In the end, their licensing process through the state of Oregon as well as the city of Portland took about nine months. Once they had the license, they could finally get down to business and begin the process of building their website, their POS system, their inventory and reaching out to partners, producers, distributors and growers.

For any cannabis company, there are a number of regulations unique to their business. “We need to report every product movement in house through Metrc,” says Khajavei. “Every time something is repackaged it needs to be reported. We focus so much on our technology and automation because these regulations force us to do so.” But delivery companies are required to report even more. Pot Mates needs to report every single movement a product makes until it reaches the customer. Before the delivery can leave the shop, it is reported to Metrc with an intended route, using turn-by-turn directions. It complicates things when you make two or more deliveries in one trip. Reporting a daisy chain of deliveries a vehicle makes with turn-by-turn directions to regulatory authorities can get very tedious.

As far as regulations go for delivery parameters, they can legally deliver anywhere inside Portland city limits. “It is our job to figure that out, not the customer’s job; so we don’t have any distance limits, as long as it is residential,” Khajavei says. “We programmed customized technology that allows us to handle really small orders.” Without a minimum order policy or a distance limit, Pot Mates can reach a much bigger group of consumers.

Launching in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Chief Technology Officer, Jason Hinson

Luckily, the Pot Mates team received their license just in time. About two weeks after they submitted their application, Oregon put a moratorium on any new dispensaries.

They went forward with their launch on April 20 this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic impacting just about every business in the world, including their marketing efforts tremendously. With cannabis deemed essential by the state, they could operate business as usual, just with some extra precautions. What’s good for PotMates is that they don’t need to worry about keeping social distancing policies for customers or curbside pickup, given the lack of storefront.

They still need to keep their team safe though. The Pot Mates team began 3D printing washable and reusable face masks, getting more gloves for delivery drivers, cleaning their warehouse thoroughly, cleaning vehicles and making sure employees maintained distancing. Pot Mates is even 3D printing enough masks and donating them to local organizations that need access to masks. “As a cannabis company, we always have to handle things with gloves here and take necessary safety precautions anyway, so our response is more about how we can help than what we need to change.”

Advertising Cannabis in a Pandemic is No Easy Task

“The marketing aspect is where covid-19 really hurt us,” says Khajavei. “There are so many regulations for cannabis companies advertising already. Unlike other products, we can’t just put up advertisements anywhere. We have to follow very specific rules.” So, in addition to the normal marketing woes in the cannabis industry, the team then had to deal with a pandemic.

Pot Mates had to scrap their entire marketing strategy for 2020 and redo it. “We wanted to begin with a lot of face-to-face marketing at events, but that didn’t quite work out so well.” Without any concerts, industry events or large gatherings of any kind, Pot Mates had to pivot to digital marketing entirely. They started building their SEO, growing their following on social media, producing content in the form of blogs and education around cannabis and the local laws.

On an Upward Trajectory

Obviously, the short-term problem for a new cannabis company is reaching people, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. “We have a good trajectory though, we know we are growing our business, but we still have a ways to go,” says Khajavei. It doesn’t help that social media companies have nonsensical policies regarding cannabis. Their Facebook page was recently removed too.

Founder & CEO of Pot Mates, Hammond Potter

But the bigger issue here is kind of surprising when you first hear it: “It’s not even a matter of customer preference, a lot of people just have no idea that delivery is even legal.”

It’s pretty evident that cannabis delivery has not really gone mainstream yet. “We’ve told people about our business in the past and a common answer we get is, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know we could get cannabis delivered.’” It’s never crossed their mind that they can get cannabis delivered to their home. It’s an awareness problem. It’s a marketing problem. But it’s a good problem to have and the solution lies in outreach. Through educational content they post on social media and in their blog, Khajavei wants to spread the word: “Hey, this is a real thing, you can get cannabis delivered.”

As the market develops and as consumers begin to key in on cannabis delivery, there’s nowhere to go but up. Especially in the age of Amazon and COVID-19 where consumers can get literally anything they can dream of delivered to their front door.

Moving forward, Pot Mates has plans to expand as soon as they can. Right now, they’re limited to Portland city limits, but there’s a massive population just outside of Portland in towns like Beaverton, Tigard and Tualatin. “We are so close to these population centers but can’t deliver to them now because of the rules. We want to work with OLCC about this and hopefully change the rules to allow us to deliver outside of the city limits,” says Khajavei. In the long term, they plan to expand out of state, with Washington on their north border being first on the docket.

To the average person, one would think launching a delivery cannabis business in the midst of a global pandemic would be a walk in the park, but Pot Mates proved it’s no easy task. As the market develops and the health crisis continues, it seems the Oregon market will react positively to the nascent delivery market, but first they need to know it is even an option.

New Zealand Proceeds With Medical Cannabis Program

By Marguerite Arnold
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For those looking for relief from bad news in general, whether it is about the pandemic, the economic meltdown or the impact of both on the cannabis industry, there is a glimmer of hope from the Kiwis this month.

On April 1, New Zealand’s Medical Cannabis Agency opened its application process for cultivation and manufacturing. Beyond sounding the starting gun for the race to local production and imports, the new rules also create a licensing framework that is aligned with international GMP (pharmaceutical grade) quality standards now becoming the norm globally for medicinally bound product.

It is good news for the industry, but it is good for a lot of other people too.

Doctors will be able to prescribe the drug more normally and for more conditions. And patents will have more access.

That said, this will also be a strictly “pharmacized” market for now with an emphasis on dose-controlled products like pills, oils and creams. Edibles are forbidden. And while dried flower will be allowed, smoking is strictly banned.

The license fees for cannabis start-ups are ridiculously low for those used to North American and even European pricing (all in for $7,409). But, even here, it is not a business for those without deep pockets and the right connections. The GMP certification required before such approvals are issued does not come cheap.

What Is Behind the Change?

This is not an overnight edict, obviously. And the wheels have been turning here since late 2018 when palliative patients were given limited access (basically a defence against criminal prosecution for possession). The medical cannabis scheme became law in December last year, allowing doctors to prescribe in limited situations.It remains to be seen if recreational will follow just six months later here.

In opening the licensing process, New Zealand’s health agency is keeping its word about rolling out the program on time. But unlike other jurisdictions, this first step in April is also part of a rolling agenda that will probably see more cannabis reform coming to Kiwis before the end of the year. This would be a lightning quick transition indeed for a country that as of November 2018, became the last country in the world to make hemp seed fully legal for human consumption.

Cannabis was completely outlawed in 1965. That said, it is estimated that about half a million New Zealanders still use the drug either medically or recreationally every year.

But reform is in the air. Lawmakers and policy makers have been looking at other recreational models for at least the last 12 months, including sending observers to Portugal last year to observe how this famously “open” European country has dealt with the issue.

Greater Reform A Possibility In September

This is not going to be all she wrote in New Zealand this year for cannabis reform. Legalizing the personal use of cannabis is being floated as a referendum on the same day as the 2020 General Election (September 19). The referendum may not pass, although support for the measure seems to be steadily rising. Currently about 59% of New Zealanders support medical use reform. A new poll seems to also show (as of March 31), that 54% of Kiwis might  support personal recreational use.

No matter what happens, however, New Zealanders are just the next nation-state to admit that prohibition has roundly failed. 83% of New Zealanders believe that illicit cannabis is widely available anyway.

Regardless of the success of recreational reform, at least this fall, the medical market is likely to expand and the topic of greater reform is clearly in the air.

As always, no matter the geography, medical use comes first. It remains to be seen if recreational will follow just six months later here. Unless of course the general election itself is delayed because of the trailing end of the pandemic.

The CalCannabis Appellations Project Is About to Spark a New Chapter in Place-Based Branding

By Amy Steinfeld, Jack Ucciferri
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Connoisseurs know that pairing a fine cut of steak with a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is a sure winner. But how many are aware that pairing strawberry cheesecake with a certified Santa Cruz Blue Dream cannabis strain creates an equally delicate palatal synergy? Thanks to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Appellations Project (“CAP”), premium cannabis regions will soon have the potential to capitalize on such newfound awareness among discerning consumers.

For decades, cannabis connoisseurs have been willing to pay a premium for flower said to have been grown in certain regions or with certain techniques, but because of cannabis’ legal status, supply chains have been opaque. As a result, cultivators of distinct cannabis strains struggled to capture the full market potential of their products. That has begun to shift with implementation of California’s Cannabis Track-and-Trace System. The costs associated with implementation of the METRC1 system have been bemoaned by many in the industry, but there is also tremendous potential value in having the most transparent supply chain in the world. The CalCannabis Appellations Project is the vehicle through which brands will be able to harness that value.

The underlying premise behind the CalCannabis Appellations Project is that the distinctive qualities of a cannabis product are often attributable to where and how the plant is grown. Through this project, CalCannabis is developing a statewide appellations system2 that will allow qualifying licensed cultivators to effectively communicate information about their cannabis crops (i.e., the standards, practices and/or varietals used) through labels, advertisements and other marketing techniques. It will also prevent disingenuous cannabis cultivators from making inaccurate claims about where and how a product is grown, which protects the integrity and value of the appellation.

What is an appellation?

In general terms, an appellation is an identifying name, title or label that can be legally defined and protected. Appellations are most commonly used in the wine industry to geographically identify the origin of grapes in a particular bottle. This place-based identification system comes from an understanding that certain regions have unique environmental and growing characteristics, which result in a product that cannot be produced from other regions even when the same varietals are used. Famous wine appellations or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in California include the Napa Valley and Santa Ynez AVAs, and sub-AVAs such as the Russian River Valley AVA, located within the larger Sonoma County AVA.

Recognizing there are also growing regions that produce uniquely distinctive cannabis, CalCannabis is developing a process for:

  1. Establishing an appellation (i.e., identifying regions that produce distinctive cannabis and defining standards, practices and/or varietals that must be used in those regions to qualify for an appellation); and
  2. Qualifying to use a particular appellation once they are established (i.e., determining the cannabis cultivators that can legally label or market themselves as belonging to a particular appellation).

While the state has not released program details, it’s likely that cultivators will have to demonstrate their outdoor-grown cannabis is distinctly unique.3 CalCannabis has until Jan. 21, 2021,4 to establish these processes, but a draft is expected to be released by early January 2020.5 This is an opportunity for cultivators to organize and participate in the process to define and create unique local appellations.

What are the benefits of an appellations system?

Napa wine country
Image: James Faulkner, Flickr

Appellations benefit both cannabis cultivators and consumers. It allows small farmers to capture the value that consumers place on unique and local cannabis products. Allowing for product differentiation through an appellations system will prevent cannabis from becoming a commodity—a situation that could result in indistinguishable products and a single market price for cannabis regardless of how or where it is grown. Thus, an appellations system protects not only local economies and farming communities, but also consumers that care about the origin and growing practices of their cannabis.

A criticism of appellations, particularly in the wine industry, is that they can disincentivize innovation and industry growth when strict growing practices and standards are required to be a part of an appellation. This will be an important consideration as CalCannabis establishes its appellations system.

County of Origin

In addition to setting up an appellations system, the CalCannabis Appellations Project will expand upon current county of origin regulations. Unlike an appellation designation, the county of origin designation is designed to be much more inclusive—it can currently be used on any cannabis product as long as 100% of the cannabis is grown within the designated county.6 Whereas an appellation will communicate information about the quality of a cannabis product and how it was produced, a county of origin designation is more like a “Made In” label. For example, a county of origin designation can be applied to indoor cannabis whereas an appellation will likely only include sun-grown cannabis.

There is also a desire to allow city of origin designations in addition to county of origin designations, which would enable products grown wholly within the political boundaries of a city to further differentiate themselves.7 As the legal cannabis landscape changes nationwide, it may also be important to have a statewide appellation allowing products to be marketed as “Grown in California.

What should cannabis cultivation regions be doing now?

After CalCannabis releases a draft process for establishing an appellation, the next steps will be clarified. However, not everyone is waiting. For instance, growers in Mendocino County have already started to organize.8 The Mendocino Appellations Project divided the county into 11 unique subregions based on regional growing conditions and practices that could potentially be turned into appellations in the future. The goal of the appellations outlined by the Mendocino Appellations Project is to protect cannabis products coming out of Mendocino County and preserve the region’s growing heritage.

A group in Sonoma County is also discussing the establishment of appellations with the hope that it will help differentiate their cannabis and draw attention to the unique microclimate and soil structure in parts of Sonoma County.9 The groups involved in these discussions also believe it will allow cultivators to develop strict growing standards and to protect certain strains, while creating new jobs and encouraging agritourism. Appellations will become increasingly important as sophisticated consumers begin to select quality cannabis that aligns with their preferences.


References

  1. METRC is the third-party-owned software contracted by California authorities to implement the commercial cannabis track-and-trace system “from seed-to-sale.”
  2. Passage of Senate Bill 185 calls for the use of the term “appellations of origin” instead of “appellations.”
  3. Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
  4. Business and Professions Code Section 26063.
  5. Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
  6. Business and Professions Code Section 26063(a).
  7. Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
  8. https://swamiselect.com/mendocino-appellation-project/
  9. https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/cannabis-appellations-the-small-cannabis-farmers-elyon-cannabis.

Bremen Steps Up Its Cannabis Campaign As Other Groups Lobby For More Access

By Marguerite Arnold
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The German city of Bremen (perhaps you know it from the Brothers Grimm and the animal musicians) is determined to force the federal German government to play another tune when it comes to basic access within the city.

For those without the special geographic knowledge that comes with being a “local” this is also a deliberately strategic political move. Bremen, like Berlin, is a strange German hybrid, a city-state.

Change here, of course, like Berlin, would have wide impact on other German states.

It is not a new campaign of course. None of these city campaigns for home-grow really are. They are the result of efforts, at this point with elected officials involved, of literally decades of patient activists, who are still necessary. But this time, they have politicians involved. When the national ones don’t listen, the local ones are being dragged in.

That said, don’t expect any breakthroughs or miracles from Bremen or Berlin either right now for that matter. This experiment, in Bremen just like the country’s capital, is still at least several years off, no matter its regular recycling in news stories for the last several years.

The German city of Bremen
Image: Chaim Dönnewald, Flickr

Politically right now it is hard to understand the CDU’s continued reluctance to embrace the weed. The CDU is Germany’s strongest and largest “middle of the road” party. Particularly because they along with everyone else of alternative political persuasions are highly alarmed by the right wing AfD’s popularity and spread. It is not inconceivable that even Germany’s largest if not highly beleaguered party might use a little cannabis to stop that. And they are being pushed, hard now, by the fringes.

The Outpricing Of The Patient Movement

Talk to any cannabis-connected company right now and chances are you will hear the phrase “patient first.”

That means nothing in an environment where most patient groups are kept out of the room when legislation opening markets is being written (certainly in Europe). And of course, it is precisely the individuals that these groups represent who cannot afford the legal medication hitting the markets early.

Here, because of the focus on high-quality, GMP-certified product, the chances of a patient collective actually being able to afford a cultivation license (for example) are so far non-existent.

As a result, there is an active foment on the ground right now in almost every country in Europe. This is meeting other kinds of frustration right now and that can be a powerful weapon for change. However, without funded lobbyists in most European capitals and Brussels, there is more power and money behind the established industry right now to keep the (almost) status quo.

As strange as they seem to the cannabis industry right now, GMP certification is a standard pharmaceutical designation.

The boogeymen in the room right now, in other words, for every strong patient group, with its own grey market distribution channels, are the well-funded companies who are in fact getting the laws to change.

Patients, in these environs, as well as their concerns, are left out entirely.

The Strength of The European Gray Market

For this very reason, the gray market problem is going to be large in Europe for quite some time to come. Patients are effectively priced out of the legitimate market if they cannot get insurer approvals and for most that is still the biggest problem in the room.

Are there large gray market grows all over Europe? Yes. As one German activist told Cannabis Industry Journal recently, echoing the comments and practices of thousands of others, “Yes, they made me jump through the hoops, and I have packaging from all the big guys. That’s how I carry my home grow these days.”

Forget “patient cards” that some enterprising distributors are trying to get patients to carry.

The cops don’t challenge legit packaging. And every producer, distributor and patient knows that. Buy once, no matter how exorbitant, and that is all she wrote.

For that reason, “patient numbers” if not “sales” actually mean very little.

It does not matter, in other words, if a cannabis company announces its market entry in any country right now. What matters is that they can prove consistent supply and sales and real patient numbers – which if GDPR (European privacy legislation) is strictly followed, producers and distributors should never really know at a level that such sales are trackable per patient.

And that is where this all gets difficult down in the weeds.

Are there large gray market grows all over Europe? Yes. Are they all under the purview of the criminal black market? No. There are very organized patient non-profit networks locally in just about every city and town in Europe. If not other places.

And, where those fail, certainly in Germany, there is always the area around every local train station. If you are hard up enough and desperate enough, skunk and hash albeit of an indeterminate source, will cost you about $12 per gram.

There is no cannabis company in the room anywhere in Europe that can provide legit product via any pharmacy, for that price at point of sale. Yet. And therein, as always, lies the rub.

steep-hill-labs-logo

Steep Hill Expands to Oklahoma

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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steep-hill-labs-logo

According to a press release published back in September, Steep Hill announced their expansion to the state of Oklahoma. Steep Hill, a cannabis science company that started with cannabis testing labs in California, has been on an impressive expansion trajectory over the past few years.

In 2016 and 2017, the company expanded into Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Oregon, Hawaii, among other regions of the country. In May of 2018, they announced a plan to go international, expanding to places like Mexico, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom via licensing agreements. As recently as March of 2019, Steep Hill announced plans to open a testing lab in New Jersey as well.

Kandice Faulkenberry, co-owner and CEO of Steep Hill Oklahoma, says they hope to raise the bar for cannabis lab testing in Oklahoma. “With Oklahoma being one of the fastest-growing medical markets in the nation, we are excited and honored to be a part of our state’s growth,” says Faulkenberry. “We hope to be a valuable resource in our community and Oklahoma’s cannabis industry. Through our partnership with Steep Hill, the world’s leading cannabis science company, we aim to raise the bar in laboratory services, education, and product safety for the medical cannabis industry in the Sooner State.”

Dr. Chris Orendorff, the other co-owner of Steep Hill Oklahoma, is a family physician based in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. “As a physician, I understand that safety and regulations are critical to patient outcomes and I look forward to providing the same assurance for my patients and fellow Oklahoma residents in the cannabis industry,” says Dr. Orendorff. “I am excited to partner with Steep Hill to provide the highest quality testing in the State of Oklahoma.”

A Year In Review: Canadian Recreational Reform Year 1

By Marguerite Arnold
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There is certainly, in retrospect, much to be proud about in Canada – home of one of the most disruptive international cannabis industries in the world. And certainly an early mover.

That starts with having the national mojo to begin this journey in the first place, not to mention pivot and even admit faults along the way. For all the complaints and whinges, however on the ground, most Canadians are proud that they tackled the canna question at a federal level.

As the industry now does a bit of an annual review and revisit, what are some of the largest accomplishments, takeaways (and let’s be honest, major f*ckups) so far? And where is this all headed as the industry at least tries to gear up for another year, if not quite Cannabis 2.0?

The Big Bravos

Launching in the first place. Yes Full Monty Recreational was scary, and delayed a few months last year. And even though there have been many problems (retail outlets, online sales, privacy, supply chain issues in every direction, ex im, foreign markets and etc.), it is up and running.

In comparison, the Brits have been haranguing over Brexit for the last three years and are still not really there.

Further, it is also apparent that the agencies in charge of the new industry are themselves giving a bit of a shake after CannaTitanic (CannTrust). That was embarrassing for them too, although of course, while a bit of a negative compliment, the recall system seems to work.

Even if it needs a few jump starts via whistleblowing.

That in and of itself is a fact that is still in the room, although perhaps the pancaking of the stock price of most of the public industry of late was also another much needed wakeup call.

The Devil In The Details

Domestic Requirements. Health Canada is getting hip to the fact that the industry needs a bit more of a heavy hand. See the book thrown at CannTrust. No matter what, Canadians are demanding to know where their cannabis comes from, and further are also demanding that it be at least free of pesticides that can harm them.

Licensing. Many cannapreneuers are complaining, still, about the delays in licensing, particularly for retail outlets in the provinces who are taking the cannabull by the horns.  That said, there are still lots of enterprises who are perfectly happy to dodge the requirements all together and sell to the black or gray market. No licensing fees, and no taxes is a wonderful dream, but that is not exactly how regulated democratic capitalism works – at least at this level.

Supply Chain Logistics and Related Technologies. Canadians are struggling to implement a regulated industry in a country where patient home grow is constitutionally protected, and in an environment where who can sell what, and to whom including online, is still evolving. Predictably, no matter how groovy the solution works at home, (or the U.S.), no it will not fly in Europe. See GDPR regs, for starters.

Seed Culture (Aka Strain Protection). No matter how much the lawyers in the colonies are gearing up to sue each other over Huey’s Half Baked, in Europe, there are tomato and pepper farmers who are laughing, literally, all the way to the bank on this one. While hip to be a “strain defender,” the reality in a medical market looking for cheap cannabinoids is rather different. Effective, clean product, which can be reproduced reliably and cheaply, is the name of the game. Girl Scout Cookies, and such ilks will be a long time in coming as anything but highly expensive, niche products you can find in a Dutch Coffee Shop.

GMPDomestic Requirements Vs International Export. Canadian standards, so far, have been widely divergent in an environment where exports to Europe in particular are part of the story for the biggest companies. That said, GMP, and in particular EU GMP, has become at least a buzzword if not a standard to live up to.

Privacy. California might be considering its own form of GDPR (European privacy legislation) but so far, the industry has largely failed to protect consumers (from themselves). Ideas about owning huge data troves on cannabis users for someone else’s profit are still very much in the room. After all, data is the new oil, whether people know their data is being harvested or not. And just like big oil has done for most of its existence, those in the driver’s seat so far show little compunction about harvesting personal information, to become in the words of the now departed CEO of Canopy Growth Bruce Linton, “the Google of Cannabis.” Won’t happen. Starting with the fact that in not just Europe but now even California, people, far beyond pot users are tired of a world where privacy is a second class right.

While the issue first hit in Canada on the recreational side, the reality is that companies know who their clients and patients are in a way that is not only disturbing but increasingly being challenged.

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Medical Cannabis in Georgia: Federal Policy Effects on State Industries

By Reggie Snyder
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Under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Controlled Substance Act (CSA), drugs are classified into five distinct schedules depending upon their acceptable medical use and their overall potential for abuse or dependency. The DEA currently lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug, which the CSA defines as drugs having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. It appears, however, that the DEA may soon reconsider its current Schedule I classification of cannabis.

This article considers how the DEA’s potential reclassification of cannabis potentially could affect Georgia’s medical cannabis industry. Specifically, the article discusses: (1) how Georgia medical cannabis distributors would operate within this new regulatory framework; (2) how this change would affect registered Georgia patients who are either currently purchasing medical cannabis or are planning to do so; and (3) whether this reclassification would cause big pharmaceutical companies to enter Georgia’s medical cannabis market, and if so, how.

The DEA’s Reclassification of Cannabis Would Likely Affect the Regulatory Framework of Georgia’s Medical Cannabis Industry

On April 2, 2019, Georgia became the 34th U.S. state to legalize cannabis for medicinal use when the Georgia Legislature passed House Bill 324 (“HB 324”), which recently took effect on Monday, July 1, 2019. In Georgia, medical cannabis is defined as a “low-THC oil” that contains 5% or less of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the psychoactive chemical in cannabis that causes a “high.”

Georgia State Flag

If the DEA reclassifies cannabis, the regulatory framework of Georgia’s medical cannabis industry under HB 324 would likely be affected. For instance, depending on how the DEA elects to reclassify cannabis, low-THC oil products manufactured and sold in Georgia could become subject to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) costly, complicated and time-consuming drug approval process. Then, any low THC oil products that the FDA approves will be subject to federally mandated quality, efficacy and potency standards for FDA-approved drugs. Also, any federal standards that stem from the DEA’s reclassification of cannabis will trump any conflicting provisions in HB 324 or any other conflicting rules, regulations or procedures established by the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (GAMCC), the seven member state agency responsible for promulgating and implementing the state-based rules, regulations and procedures necessary to produce and distribute low-THC oil in Georgia, and the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy (Pharmacy Board). However, even if the DEA reclassifies cannabis, the following state regulatory framework established by HB 324 will remain unaffected:

  • The GAMCC will likely continue to oversee the state’s medical cannabis industry.
  • The following two different types of dispensary licenses issued under the legislation will still likely remain: retail outlets (issued by the GAMCC) and pharmacies (issued by the Pharmacy Board).
  • Licensed dispensaries will still likely not be located within a 1,000-foot radius of a school or church, and licensed production facilities will still not be located within a 3,000-foot radius of a school or church.
  • Pharmacists who dispense low-THC oil will still likely have to review each registered patient’s information on the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) database to confirm that they have been diagnosed with one or more of the 17 approved conditions and diseases. The legislation does not require retail outlet dispensaries to review patient information on the PDMP database or employ a pharmacist to dispense the drug.
  • Registered patients will still likely be prohibited from vaping low-THC oil or inhaling it by any other electronic means. The legislation does not expressly prohibit the use of other, non-electronic delivery methods of low THC oil such as pills or nasal spray.
  • All licensed dispensaries (and all licensed production companies) will still likely be subject to an “on-demand” inspection when requested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the GAMCC, the four-member Medical Cannabis Commission Oversight Committee (MCCOC), or local law enforcement. The GAMCC and the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency (GDNA) will also still likely be able to conduct one, annual inspection of dispensary locations. And, upon request, licensed dispensaries will still likely be required to immediately provide a sample of their low-THC oil for laboratory testing to the GBI, GAMCC, MCCOC, GDNA or local law enforcement.
  • All licensed dispensaries (and all licensed production facilities) will still likely be required to utilize a GAMCC-approved seed-to-sale tracking software.
  • All licensed dispensaries (and all licensed production companies) will still likely be prohibited from advertising or marketing their low-THC oil products to registered patients or the public. However, they will still likely be allowed to provide information about their products directly to physicians, and upon request, physicians will still likely be allowed to furnish the names of licensed dispensaries (and licensed production companies) to registered patients or their caregivers.

The DEA’s Reclassification of Cannabis Would Likely Affect the Availability of Low THC Oil

To date, approximately 9,500 Georgians are registered with the state’s Low-THC Registry, which allows them to purchase low-THC oil from licensed dispensaries. Since the legislation’s passage, the number of registered patients has increased significantly and continues to steadily rise. If the DEA reclassifies marijuana, this patient number will likely increase at an even faster rate because the public will likely perceive reclassification as an acknowledgement by the federal government that marijuana possesses health and medicinal benefits. If that occurs, statewide demand for low THC oil could quickly outstrip the supply.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp
Image: Georgia National Guard, Flickr

Under HB 324, the GAMCC is tasked with ensuring that the state has a sufficient number of retail outlet dispensaries across the state to meet patient demand but is limited to issuing only six production licenses. As the number of registered patients continues to grow, the GAMCC may be forced to recommend amendments to the statute allowing it to issue additional production licenses to increase the state’s supply of low THC oil, and depending on how many additional patients are added to the state’s Low-THC Registry, the GAMCC may also have to issue additional dispensary licenses to keep up with patient demand by relaxing the geographic limitations on locating dispensaries.

Thus, the DEA’s reclassification of cannabis likely would affect the amount of low THC oil available to registered patients in Georgia.

The DEA’s Reclassification of Cannabis Would Likely Cause Large Pharmaceutical Companies to Enter Georgia’s Medical Cannabis Market

Large pharmaceutical companies typically manufacture, market, sell and ship their products on a national and international scale. Given cannabis’ current status as a Schedule I drug under the CSA, these companies have largely steered clear of the burgeoning medical marijuana industry because of the inherent risk of violating federal law. If the DEA reclassifies cannabis, that risk will be diminished greatly, and the companies therefore will likely decide to enter the market by acquiring existing medical marijuana companies with established national or state-level medical cannabis brands.

If the DEA reclassifies cannabis, Georgia’s medical cannabis market will likely be affected in multiple ways.Depending on how the DEA reclassifies cannabis, low-THC oil in Georgia could be subject to stringent federal standards, including the FDA’s complex and expensive drug approval process. Georgia medical cannabis companies will likely not be accustomed to complying with such federal regulations. Large pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, are very accustomed to dealing with the federal government, including FDA drug approval. So, if the DEA reclassifies marijuana, pharmaceutical companies will likely view reclassification as a tremendous opportunity to enter the Georgia market by leveraging their experience and institutional knowledge dealing with federal law to acquire or partner with a licensed Georgia cannabis company that has an established brand of low -HC oil.

Entering Georgia’s medical cannabis market won’t be easy, however, because HB 324 prohibits licensees from transferring their licenses for five years and requires that the original licensee be a Georgia business. But, HB 324 does not prohibit them from selling their businesses, which necessarily includes any licenses the business owns. Purchasing a licensed Georgia medical cannabis company requires payment of a production license business transfer fee. The fee for the first sale of a business with a Class 1 production license is $100,000 and the fee for a Class 2 license is $12,500. The fee for the second sale is $150,000 for a Class 1 production license, and $62,500 for a Class 2 license. The fee for the third and fourth sales is $200,000 for a Class 1 production license, and $112,500 for a Class 2 license.

Conclusion

If the DEA reclassifies cannabis, Georgia’s medical cannabis market will likely be affected in multiple ways. Specifically, depending on how the drug is reclassified, the regulatory framework for medical cannabis companies likely will change to include both state and federal requirements, potentially including the FDA’s complex drug approval process. Also, the amount of low-THC oil available for registered patients to purchase likely will be diminished precipitating the need for the GAMCC to modify the statute to allow for issuing additional production licenses and relaxing the geographic limitations on locating dispensaries. Finally, large pharmaceutical companies likely will attempt to enter Georgia’s medical cannabis market by purchasing existing, licensed Georgia companies that have established low-THC oil brands.

Water Policy in California: Six Key Takeaways from the State Water Board’s New Cannabis Cultivation Policy

By Amy Steinfeld
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Cannabis is the most highly regulated crop in California, and the state just added another layer of regulation. This article breaks down the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) recently updated Cannabis Cultivation Policy – Principles and Guidelines for Cannabis Cultivation (“Policy”) into six key takeaways.1 These guidelines impose new rules on cannabis cultivation activities that have the potential to impact a watercourse (stream, creek, river or lake). Most of these rules apply to cultivation of sun-grown cannabis, which is currently allowed in some form in 12 counties. Compliance with these new requirements will be implemented through the CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Program.

  1. When developing farmland, hillsides should be avoided and erosion must be controlled.

The Policy provides specific rules for growing pot on undisturbed land. To prevent erosion, numerous limitations are placed on earthmoving and activities in sensitive areas, and cultivators are not allowed to grade hillsides that exceed a 50% slope.2

Cultivation prepping activities must minimize grading, dust, soil disturbance, erosion, and impacts on habitat, especially during the winter season.3 No vehicles or heavy equipment may be used within a riparian setback4 or watercourse,5 and cultivators must avoid damaging native riparian vegetation6 and oak woodlands.7 All farm equipment, fuel, and hazardous materials must be carefully stored away from creeks and sensitive habitat.8 The Policy also governs road construction.9

  1. Cultivators should avoid work in or near a surface waterbody.10

If a cultivator’s activities impact a river, stream, or lake, they must consult with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).11 Cultivators must maintain minimum riparian setbacks for all cannabis activities, including grading and ancillary farm facilities. Before grading land, a biologist must identify any sensitive flora or fauna, and if any is located, consult with CDFW and provide a report to the Regional Board.12 No irrigation runoff, tailwater, chemicals or plant waste can be discharged to a waterbody.13 Diversion facilities for the irrigation of cannabis may not block fish passage, upstream or downstream, and must be fitted with a CDFW-approved fish screen; new facilities are subject to all applicable permits and approvals.

  1. During the dry season, cultivators may not use surface water.

The use of surface water supplies in California requires a valid water right and the use of water for cannabis cultivation is no different.14 Anyone seeking to appropriate “water flowing in a known and defined channel” or from a watercourse must apply to the SWRCB and obtain a permit or license.15 Alternatively, a landowner whose property is adjacent to a watercourse may have a riparian right to divert the water for use on her land. Riparian users do not need permission from the SWRCB to divert water, but they must report water use annually.16

The biggest obstacle that growers face under this Policy is that they cannot divert anysurface water during the dry season—the growing season (April 1 through Oct. 31). It should be noted:

  • The seasonal prohibition of surface water diversion applies regardless of the nature of the water right or what has been historically used to irrigate other crops.
  • During the dry period, cultivators may only irrigate using stored water (see no. 5 below) or groundwater.
  • It remains to be seen whether a legal challenge will be brought against the state for their draconian prohibitions on irrigating cannabis during the six-month growing season. Because this prohibition applies to all watersheds in California, singles out one low-water use crop, and ignores established water rights, it is overly broad and may constitute a constitutional “taking” of property rights.
  1. During the wet season, surface water diversions must be monitored closely.

Cannabis-specific restrictions also apply during the wet season. From Nov. 1 to March 31, cultivators must comply with instream flow requirements and check in with the state daily. All surface water diversions for cannabis are subject to “Numeric and Narrative Instream Flow Requirements,” to protect flows needed for fish migration and spawning. To ensure diversions do not adversely impact fish flows, cultivators must also “maintain a minimum bypass of at least 50% of the streamflow.”17,18

While valid appropriative right holders may divert more than 10 gal./min. for cannabis irrigation during the wet season, riparian right holders are not allowed to exceed that diversion rate.19 All cultivators (including small diverters <10 acre-feet (“AF”)/yr) are required to employ water-saving irrigation methods, install measuring devices to track diversions daily, and maintain records on-site for at least five years.20 Cultivators must inspect and repair their water delivery system for leaks monthly,21 and inspect sprinklers and mainlines weekly to prevent runoff.22

  1. Cannabis cultivators may obtain a new water storage right for use during the dry season.

To address dry season irrigation limitations, cultivators are urged to store water offstream during the wet season, including rainwater, for dry season use. Growers may not rely on onstreamstorage reservoirs, except if they have an existing permitted reservoir in place prior to Oct. 31, 2017.23 Alternatively, small growers (storage is capped at 6.6 AF/yr) may benefit from the new Cannabis SIUR Program, an expedited process for cultivators who divert from a surface water source to develop and install storage offstream. Only diverters with a valid water right that allows for diversion to storage between Nov. 1 and March 31 qualify.

  1. Groundwater is less regulated, but cultivators should avoid drilling or using wells near waterbodies.

Groundwater is generally the recommended water supply for cannabis because, unlike surface water, it may be used during the dry season and is not subject to many of the restrictions listed above. It should be noted however:

  • Many groundwater basins are now governed by California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (“SGMA”), which requires water agencies to halt overdraft and restore balanced levels of groundwater pumping from certain basins. Thus, SGMA may result in future pumping cutbacks or pumping assessments.
  • In some counties, moratoriums and restrictions on drilling new wells are on the rise.
  • Under this Policy, the state may step in to restrict groundwater pumping in the dry season in watersheds where there are large numbers of cannabis groundwater, wells located close to streams, and areas of high surface water-groundwater connectivity.24

In short, groundwater pumpers are at risk of cutback if the state deems it necessary to maintain nearby creek flows.Noncompliance can bring lofty fines, revocation of a grower’s cultivation license, or prosecution

Final Takeaways

This cannabis policy presents one of California’s most complex regulatory schemes to date. Before investing in a property, one must understand this Policy and have a robust understanding of the water rights and hydrology associated with the cultivation site. Growers looking to reduce permitting time and costs should invest in relatively flat, historically cultivated land with existing wells and ample groundwater supplies, or alternatively, grow indoors.

This article attempts to synthesize the maze of water supply and water quality regulations that make compliance exceedingly difficult; more detailed information can be found here. Noncompliance can bring lofty fines, revocation of a grower’s cultivation license, or prosecution. Growers are encouraged to contact a hydrologist and water lawyer before making major investments and to designate a water compliance officer to monitor and track all water diversions and water used for irrigation. Growers should also consult with their local jurisdiction regarding water use restrictions and stream setbacks before moving any dirt or planting cannabis.


References

  1. The Policy is available at: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/cannabis/cannabis_policy.html (will go into effect on or before April 16, 2019.)
  2. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Term 4. The Policy defines “Qualified Professional” as a: California-Licensed Professional Geologist, including Certified Hydrogeologist and Certified Engineering Geologist, California-Licensed Geotechnical Engineer, and Professional Hydrologist. (Policy, Definition 72, p. 11.)
  3. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Terms 4 and 10.
  4. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Term 3.
  5. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Term 40.
  6. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Term 33.
  7. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Term 34.
  8. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Term 7.
  9. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Terms 15 to 29.
  10. Policy, Appendix A, Section 1, Term No. 41.
  11. Policy, Appendix A, Section 1, Term No. 3; see also 1602.
  12. Policy, Appendix A, Section 1, Term No. 10.
  13. Policy, Appendix A, Section 1, Term No. 326.
  14. Policy, Appendix A, Section 2, Term 69.
  15. Wat. Code §1225; See alsoWat. Code §1201 [providing that the state shall have jurisdiction over, “[a]ll water flowing in any natural channel” except water that is appropriated or being used for beneficial purpose upon land riparian to the channel.”]
  16. Wat. Code §§ 5100–02.
  17. Policy, p. 12.
  18. Policy, Attachment A, pp. 60, 63.
  19. Policy, Section 2, Term 78.
  20. Policy, Section 2, Term 82.
  21. Policy, Section 2, Term 95.
  22. Policy, Section 2, Term 99.
  23. Policy, Section 2, Term 79.
  24. Policy, p. 11.
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Steep Hill Expands To New Jersey

By Aaron G. Biros
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steep-hill-labs-logo

steep-hill-labs-logoAccording to a press release published today, Steep Hill has signed a licensing agreement with Green Analytics East to open a new laboratory, Steep Hill New Jersey. “We are pleased to announce a licensee partnership with Green Analytics East to bring Steep Hill to New Jersey,” says Jeffrey Monat, chairman of the Steep Hill board of directors. “Since 2008, Steep Hill has developed and now employs cutting edge cannabis testing practices, providing analysis to ensure safe medicine and products. With Green Analytics East as our trusted partner, New Jersey patients and consumers can be confident that all Steep Hill-tested products will fully comply with public safety and regulatory standards.”

They haven’t obtained the local permits yet, but the press release states they expect to be open for business in the third quarter of 2019. Steep Hill began their cannabis laboratory testing business in California. Since their start in 2008, the company has grown rapidly, developing programs for regulatory compliance testing in medical and recreational cannabis markets. They have also ventured into research and development testing, licensing, genetics and remote testing.

The company has a history of expanding into new markets via licensing partnerships, including states such as Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, Maryland, OregonHawaii, among others. As recently as May of last year, Steep Hill announced they will expand their international footprint as well, including opening locations in countries like Mexico, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, all through their Canadian branch.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy

The news of Steep Hill moving into the New Jersey market comes at a time when Governor Phil Murphy and lawmakers in the state are in the midst of planning adult use legalization. According to Shannon Hoffman, director of operations of Steep Hill New Jersey, they are hoping lawmakers reach a decision soon. “We are excited to bring our focus of service, accuracy, and scientific knowledge and expertise to the New Jersey market,” says Hoffman. “We look forward to serving the licensed producers, the patient community, and hopefully soon, the adult use consumer.”