There is an ineffable logic to the pace of reform these days. Nowhere is that clearer in both the success of voter reform measures in the United States (along with timelines for implementation baked into the language of the same) and developments internationally. No matter that New Zealand decided to take a recent punt on the issue, there are other forces moving elsewhere that have the potential to be far more consequential – and in the short term.
Israel Announced Its Intent To Create A Recreational Market in 2021
There is little news anywhere as consequential as that of the oldest medical market finally succumbing to the inevitable. Namely, Israel has announced that it will allow an adult use market to begin operations probably by the third quarter of 2021. That said, don’t hold anyone to a deadline in the days of COVID-19, which will just as surely have not passed by then.
However, this development means that the entire conversation has moved up a notch – because the Israelis have so much research on the plant at this point.
For this reason, the tiny country is likely to have an outsized impact on the entire discussion – along with conveniently timed medical exports to the world.
Luxembourg Will Initiate Its Recreational Market Shortly Thereafter
It is likely not insignificant that the Israelis announced their intent to begin an adult use market just ahead of the long-announced Luxembourg flip – now on the agenda of the Green Party domestically for several years.
The strategic location of Luxembourg in both the European market as well as the much larger financial one now interested in the vertical cannot be understated. Indeed, the country has already played an outsized role in the development of the medical market here due to the contretemps over the clearing of stock trades in the German market as of 2018.
The double whammy of good news from both markets will also create a buzz internationally that is sure to drive other conversations forward – even if it is to study how both countries approach the issue. And, more to a point, how they differ from Canada, including regulation of their equity markets.
Combined with a more regulated market in Holland and presumably continued “experimentation” in Denmark, and by the end of next year, adult use reform will have hit the continent and in no small way.
Does This Mean The Sudden Potential of Adult Use Everywhere?
As 2020 has shown, in spades, just about anything can and frequently does happen. However, do not expect many more countries to move into the recreational column for the next several years.
Whatever the UN does or does not do about cannabis at the next meeting of the WHO, cannabis the plant remains a Schedule I drug internationally. This means that, for example, import and export of the same across borders, even in Europe, is likely to be problematic and for some time to come – let alone its international travel across say, the Atlantic.
Further from the law enforcement and financial security (namely money laundering) perspective, there are big issues that have to be dealt with finally, internationally, that so far have not – and under the guise of “medical reform.”
For that reason, in other words, do not expect Germany, much less France or even the UK to suddenly switch gears. And remember that both Luxembourg and Israel are small countries.
Bottom line? Adult use reform is here to stay, and will increasingly show up on the map. But the more “blanket” reform, still driving the entire discussion, is broadly, and globally, medical.
Cannabis reform is proceeding globally right now in some interesting places, and in an oddly syncopated schedule yet again.
Namely, in the last few weeks, change has been moving forward not only in the U.S., but Europe too. That this effort in the EU came literally weeks before the American presidential election where as of now, no matter who will occupy the White House, even more states move into the adult use camp is also surely no accident. Particularly given the results.
In South Dakota’s case, voters agreed to legalize both a medical and recreational market in a single election. In New Jersey, the referendum that passed authorized a market that is moving quickly to get implemented. This is equally intriguing. Namely that to the average person right now, no matter where they are, the continued delays and gridlock to get going, no matter the problems along the way, are increasingly unpopular politically. That too, is showing up at the ballot box.
Indeed, cannabis reform is now absolutely one of the most pressing and yet unaddressed issues in several countries at present. See New Zealand (where the voter mandate for adult use reform failed during their Presidential election last week).
Europe Seems To Be Following New Zealand’s Caution As Germany Delays Further Reform But…
Last week, a proposal on adult use cannabis reform failed in the German Bundestag (Parliament). With the exception of the far right Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD), every other political party agrees that there needs to be forward motion on the topic, but nobody seems to want to fully address it. This is no surprise. Indeed, the recent appointment of a former German minister last month to a Swiss cannabis company seems, certainly in retrospect, to presage the same. As well as the many protest votes on the topic emanating from Berlin, one way or the other.
However, in the aftermath of what is expected to be a widely influential medical case here (namely the regional approvers may not interfere with a doctor’s right to prescribe to qualified patients), it may be that the government wants more time to grow its medical program while Denmark, Holland and Luxembourg (if not Spain) figure out the logistics on the ground.
Given that France has finally committed to a national medical trial to begin no later than the second quarter of next year, and further one where it punts the majority of the cost onto the industry itself, this would create a solid “medical cannabis” bloc in Europe’s most affluent states. Not to mention the first real, nationally authorized patient trial in Europe that is not commercial.
But even this is not the whole story. While dickering about the certifications and scheduling of the plant go on now at the highest international levels, let alone federal ones domestically, hemp products are clearly entering the consumer market here – from upscale CBD stores in city centers to hemp seed oil and hemp-infused mayonnaise appearing on the shelves of German mainstream grocery stores. Not to mention hemp infused alcohol of at least the vodka, gin and rum varieties.
And then of course there is Italy.
The Italian Market May Be The Dark Horse In Europe Everyone Has Been Waiting For
Within literally the month of October, all in public view, the Italian government circled on the topic of legalizing the CBD/hemp market. As of last week, the Ministry of Health finally decided that cannabidiol sourced from hemp is not a narcotic.
Given the fact that home grow now is not illegal, and medical cannabis is technically available, it would seem that Italy is positioning its hemp market to survive if not thrive at least domestically and further thread the needle of industry continuity against fluid and further rapidly changing European and international regulation right now.
In the meantime, like Germany, however, the country is clearly angling to create an industry infrastructure – and further beyond the pharmaceutical vertical – via “other” channels before taking the final plunge. Cannabis Lite fits that bill perfectly.
What Does This Mean For 2021 And Beyond?
No matter the official denials, it is very clear that recreational cannabis reform at the American and Canadian ballot box is moving the conversation forward globally, even if at a different pace.
With the WHO now poised to weigh in on the issue, more American states signing up, an expanding medical market across the world and adult use upstarts everywhere, 2021 is absolutely sure to be a meaningful year just about everywhere on the cannabis front.
Europe continues to be the new frontier of medical and wellness developments in the cannabis industry, with various sources predicting that Europe will become the world’s largest legal cannabis market over the next 5 years. Key related statistics, include:
A population of over 740 million (over double US and Canada combined)
Total cannabis market estimated to be worth up to €123 billion by 2028 (€58bn medical cannabis (47%), €65bn recreational cannabis (53%))
Over €500 million has been invested in European cannabis businesses (including significant expenditure in research and development, manufacturing and distribution)
To reiterate this belief, this month, hundreds of industry experts and delegates will be attending Cannabis Europa in Madrid, to discuss the expansion of cannabis across Europe and the challenges facing the industry across the member states of the EU and the UK.
Global mainstream leans to European strength
Since late 2018, major global operators have made substantial moves into the cannabis sector. Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer company and maker of Budweiser, entered into a partnership to research beverages infused with two types of cannabis. Constellation, owner of Corona beer, announced a commitment for $4 billion investment in Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth. BlackRock Inc, through five actively managed BlackRock funds, has invested into Curaleaf Holdings Inc, a dispensary operator, for a not too insignificant investment sum of $11 million (as at March 2019). Such international investments prove that cannabis has moved from the fringes and into the mainstream.
When considering the impact of mainstream cannabis, it should be recognised that major European countries have approved or are planning on implementing, legalisation of medicinal cannabis. The UK, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands already have legal systems in place for medicinal cannabis and France and Spain are currently reviewing key legislative reform to align themselves with international practices. At present the German market is the third largest cannabis market (in terms of size) behind the US and Canada.
In addition to medicinal cannabis, several key European countries have systems in place, or are developing systems, or considering the reform of existing systems, to approve cannabis with THC content at a recreational level. The Netherlands already has a system and Luxembourg’s health minister in August 2019 announced the intention to legalise cannabis for Luxembourg residents. The Luxembourg government is lobbying EU member states to follow suit.
Whilst the EU has a labyrinth of laws in relation to edible CBD (as a novel food) which make the regulatory landscape complex, there has been an explosion of CBD products for vaping and cosmetics. Of course, with each of these products being subject to different local laws (some aligned between EU members states) in relation to vaping and cosmetic related regulations. The Brightfield Group has predicted a 400% increase in the European CBD market (including vaping liquid) from $318m in 2018 to $1.7 billion by 2023. There is also an expansion into applications for CBD with animals with many US manufacturers of CBD-infused pet food.
The European Parliament’s health committee has been calling for properly funded scientific research and there are motions to establish policies to seek to incentivise member states to advance the studies of medical cannabis, with a priority on scientific research and clinical studies – the first step necessary to drafting legislation, designed to better support the industry.
Where does the UK sit within cannabis?
Medicinal cannabis famously saw a legalisation, of sorts, by the then Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, who provided the authorisations for prescriptions for the high profile cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley. Subsequently, on 1 November 2018, this was codified into law by an amendment to Schedule 2 of the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations. This allows clinicians to prescribe cannabis as an unlicensed medicine.
There have, of course, been some high profile licensed medicines. The UK company, GW Pharmaceuticals, is the largest exporter of legal medical cannabis in the world, cultivating medical cannabis for production of cannabis-based medicines (e.g. Epidiolex & Sativex). Epidiolex (manufactured by subsidiary Greenwich Biosciences) became the first cannabis-derived medicine approved for use in the US for treatment of seizures caused by Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes (both severe forms of epilepsy).
When considering the level of research development and investment in the medicinal field, it is no surprise that the UK is the world’s largest producer and exporter of medical cannabis. Research published by the International Narcotics Control Board indicates that the UK produces over 100,000kg a year of medicinal cannabis.
Previous guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) indicated that further research is required to demonstrate the benefit of medicinal cannabis, citing its cost versus evidenced benefit. However, there is now renewed confidence in the UK following NICE’s approval of two cannabis-based medicines produced by GW Pharmaceuticals, Epidiolex (cannabidiol) oral solution and Sativex (nabiximols), for routine reimbursement through the NHS.
Following the re-categorisation of medicinal cannabis in November 2018, a number of clinics have been established where specialised clinicians can start the process of prescribing cannabis based medicinal products (CBMPs). Whilst this route is not fast, and challenges are well documented as to the satisfaction of prescriptions made in the UK, there is momentum behind the development of this as a means for providing genuine and established medical care. A significant step in October 2019, was the CQC registration of one such cannabis clinic, Sapphire Medical Clinics Limited.
The UK medicinal cannabis sector is establishing a research-based approach to expand usage in the UK and across Europe.
How North America compares to Europe
Canada, as a first mover within the cannabis sector, has a multitude of large companies which are well-capitalised and have substantial international footprints. The Canadian exchanges have large listed companies looking to Europe with the intention of acquiring or investing into European operations. As of the date of writing, the 10 largest cannabis companies in Canada have an aggregate market cap of over $23.5 billion (and all registered cannabis companies in Canada having an aggregate market cap of over $46.5 billion).
Listed companies have had a tough time over the last 6-12 months with a slowdown in the market as a natural re-balancing occurs – part of which is due to rapid expansion and heavy investment into cultivation by all the major participants in the market. Over the next 6 -12 months we can expect to see management changes (some of which will be voluntary and some of which will be imposed by institutional pressure) to introduce different skill sets at board and senior management level to facilitate the oversight and leadership necessary for large pharmaceutical companies. Many operations have expanded into highly regulated products and complex supply chains whilst still operating with fundamentally the same team that established the operations with entrepreneurial efforts but, perhaps, a lack of experience in these sectors. The recent announcements by Aurora Cannabis and Tilray demonstrate that these restructurings and costs reductions have already commenced. However, with increased experience at board level and an improvement of profitability focused on sustainable business practices, should come new opportunities on a global scale for these North American operations.
The US market, because of the complexity of state and federal laws not being fully aligned, is closer to its infancy than the Canadian market. This is not too dissimilar to the European market. That said, there are a number of well-funded and quite large US enterprises. A limited number of these, such as Tilray, are looking to expand into Europe.
Many of the companies in the US have, and continue to, expand quickly so we can expect to see a number of mergers and acquisitions. We are likely to witness Canadian and US entities merging with one another with the potential for acquisitions for operations within Europe. It is unlikely that the North American companies will risk their capital through organic growth so would be expected to be identifying “turnkey” solutions.
One of the major challenges facing US companies is the complexity of supply and distribution. This is largely a result of the complexities for state and federal laws interacting with one another as well as international importation and exportation with US states.
How you can invest within the UK and Europe
Developments in the fields of research and development are anticipated to add further weight to the lobbying of government and regulatory bodies across Europe.The UK remains, despite the events of Brexit, a major financial hub for Europe. The London market has seen the growth of several investment and operation cannabis companies. This includes private companies such as; EMMAC Life Sciences Limited and the operations formerly trading as European Cannabis Holdings (now demerged into several new entities including NOBL and LYPHE) as well as publicly listed companies; including Sativa Group PLC (the first publically listed cannabis specific company in the UK) and World High Life Plc, both operating on the NEX Exchange.
The Medical Cannabis and Wellness Ucits ETF (CBDX), Europe’s first medical cannabis ETF fund, domiciled in Ireland, and which has been passported for sale in the UK and Italy, has also caused a renewed stir within the market with a further platform for listed investment.
As the regulatory framework evolves further there is an anticipation that more medicinal cannabis and CBD related enterprises should have the opportunity to list on public exchanges, whether in the UK or in European countries.
Despite a period of slow down following the natural rebalancing of the fast-growing North American markets for the cannabis sector, there is renewed confidence in the expansion of the industry. Developments in the fields of research and development are anticipated to add further weight to the lobbying of government and regulatory bodies across Europe.
There is an increased push for a public dialogue and consultation in relation to medicinal and recreational cannabis in the UK, backed by several mainstream media platforms. This is likely to be shaped in some parts by national debates in Luxembourg and other European countries as they consider their own domestic laws.
With European parliaments across the EU (including the UK) hopefully having time freed up to discuss other political matters now that Brexit is progressing, the next 18 months should prove an exciting time within the European cannabis sector.
The Italian Supreme Court seemed to take a page from both Israel and Thailand last year (who announced exports and reform legislation on Christmas Day 2018). In the dying days of 2019, on December 19, the court ruled in what is basically a landmark decision for not only the country but the continent, that small-scale domestic cultivation of cannabis (both of the CBD and THC kind) is legal.
Even more intriguingly, the ruling was ignored for several days in Italy before being picked up by news agencies. This in turn has apparently set off a much wider and predictable debate about the use of the plant in the country – either for medical and or recreational purposes. Many are doubtful that any legislation will pass formalizing the inevitable in the near future (one attempt has already been killed), but one can never know these days. This is an issue that perennially takes countries and politicians by surprise as populations warm quickly to the concept of medical reform.
That said, so far efforts to formalize the ruling into law have been slapped down by the center right Forza Italia Party. Further, if a right or center right coalition comes to power in Italy as widely expected, it is likely to try to overturn the court ruling legislatively which has been described at least in such circles as an “absurd verdict.”
It is important also to understand this distinction if not label and how it translates both internationally and domestically.
In Canada, reform was championed by economic liberals (who are basically centrist, globalists if not free traders) and libertarians more than any other label. However initially, reform was driven not by political campaigns but rather a national challenge to prevailing cultivation law at the supreme court. This then became the legal basis for reform legislation of both the medical and recreational kind.
In the U.S., cannabis reform is frequently championed by states’ rights advocates, who are from a European perspective, extreme right wing. Right down to opposing the federal imposition of not only civil rights but other kinds of regulatory law. Including in this space. This also includes absolute hostility to anything resembling “national” if not “single payer” federal healthcare.
The two issues obviously overlap, intersect and create many strange juxtapositions if not outright contradictions and paradoxes. And many strange bedfellows.
This disconnect of course is also what has held back a united front on passing federal reform no matter how much this has allowed recreational to now spread to 11 American states as of January 1 this year. As a result, for now and certainly for several years after the next presidential election, barring a surprise realignment of politics in the U.S., there is unlikely to be any progress on federal reform. But in the U.S., cannabis legalization is a “purple” issue. Trump, for example, still opposes any national change – although if the election is tight, look for a lot of promises from both sides.
Across the Atlantic however, what Italy’s new judicial stance on the subject means for the first time, is that there is potential for a real fight on the ground from a political grass-roots front in a socially conservative European state. This is also intriguing for another reason. Italy’s health ministry also just cancelled one of Aurora’s cultivation licenses. For all the naysayers on the significance of this development, this should not be discounted.
Kind of like a Canada or Mexico moment for the continent indeed.
Not to mention what this discussion does for the CBD discussion. Both in Italy and elsewhere.
Look Homeward Deutsch Angel
Advocates across the continent if not the UK, are of course, also watching closely. Germany in particular, tried to avoid this exact discussion three years ago, but it is unlikely that advocates at least, will let this continental victory rest. Starting with the fact that this is a debate that was firmly shut off in 2017 with the passage of the medical cannabis insurance coverage law to widespread patient frustration and huge patient issues with access ever since. Even though, in fact, Guenther Weiglein, the German patient who brought the suit, took it as far as he could legally. His right to domestic cultivation, along with the few patients who managed to avail themselves of the same right before the law changed, are no longer allowed to do so.
So of course, beyond charging the debate in Italy, this development will also increase pressure in Germany (for starters) as well as other European countries to reconsider what so far at least has been verbotten and largely because of Germany’s lead so far.
Even in places like Holland, Denmark, Portugal, Spain and Greece, the domestic cultivation discussion has been off the table. Luxembourg, and just outside the EU, Switzerland, has not raised this prospect.
That may well change in all of these countries plus others as the clock now starts to tick down to the end of 2021.
Regardless, early predictions about the pace of change as well as the size of the markets have largely been wrong.
So, for all the intriguing possibilities, this is not a slam dunk, but certainly a strong charge down the court in the right direction.
2019 opened with a strange vibe in the air on the cannabis front. Israel and Thailand set the stage with dramatic reform announcements last Christmas. And as the calendar counts down to 2020, the larger players all seem to be licking their wounds (if not stock prices).
But cannabis reform is not just about profits on the public markets. What has gone down and where and ultimately, has the year lived up to its promise?
Reform Marched On In Several Countries
At this point, reform is certainly “too big to fail.” There will be no going back anywhere no matter the laggards still in the room.
From the perspective of opening patient access (and markets beyond that), There were several big stories on the medical front this year – and – in a real first for the EU – of not only the medical, but recreational kind as well.
Germany of course is going, relatively speaking, like “gangbusters” on the medical front although supply, quality and supply chain issues are still in the room. Even more so now because the German government has also announced, for the first time, a public reference wholesale price per gram of floss. That alone is big news, although expect that too to drop (see Aurora’s pricing for Italy, for starters).
In the UK, the NHS finally got down to brass tacks and negotiated a bulk discount for GW Pharmaceuticals cannabis drugs for a very narrow band of patients (mostly child epileptics and MS patients). A tiny minority of the estimated 1.4 million daily British “medical” users including those suffering from chronic pain can afford imports. The rest is all black, or in the case of CBD, gray market.
In France, the country finally got on the reform bandwagon with a “medical trial.” This means that all the major countries in the region are finally on board with some kind of reform. That too is a meaningful move.
Poland is also opening – a good sign for the remaining conservative countries in Europe still on the fence.
And in a real first (although do not get too excited just yet), on the “recreational” front, it is not just Holland that is in the room any more. Both Denmark and Luxembourg announced that they were opening this conversation. In Denmark and Holland’s case, this is in the form of “trials” in places where operational grey markets have already been established. In Holland, this is of course, regulating the “coffee shop” trade in large cities like Amsterdam. In Denmark, the new “trial” will be on the grounds of a revived hippy experiment called Christiana, that morphed predictably into the control of gangs over the last generation.
Luxembourg, however, seems intent on setting the benchmark if not timeline and is moving aggressively in one direction. As a result, as of this year, the strategic “heart” of Europe is now on the schedule to go full monty by 2022. That said, it is a country of about half a million people. Further, no matter the inevitably hype on the way, don’t expect the country to turn into a big cannabis hub- nor encourage pot tourism even from neighboring Europeans.
The end of 2021 is the time to watch for all things recreational. In the meantime, including next year, look for increasing “experiments” in other places. Particularly of the Swiss variety (where both recreational and medical products are sold via pharmacies.)
THC Is Being Accepted As Having Medical Efficacy
No matter the controversy in the room, and the strange inclinations of the British NICE to try to undo forty years of medical knowledge about the impact of THC on chronic pain, medical cannabis and specifically medical cannabis with THC has made its global medical debut as of this year.
That said, the push is on to “pharmacize” the product.
Flower (floss) is in the room, in other words, but the future is looking towards oils and distillates – at least for the medical market long term. And a lot of that will also come increasingly to this market from places like Portugal, Spain, Greece and other European markets now moving into the cultivation space seriously.
Then again, there is still a lot of road to travel. Wags who predicted that German health insurers would never pay for floss cannabis just five years ago were wrong.
CBD Is Not All Its Cracked Up To Be
For all those who sang “Free the CBD” this year, Europe has taken a rather conservative and concerted push back. From Austria to Italy and Sweden to Poland, the path to market for any product containing CBD has been a tough one this year.
That said, perhaps it is a call for more standardization- no matter how painful that might be economically. At a presentation given at this year’s IACM medical conference in Berlin, a medical researcher revealed the results of a study he had conducted on the accuracy of labelling of these products in several European countries. The industry has not standardized, labelling is all over the place in terms of accuracy – and the claims about “medical efficacy” are hard to swallow for substandard over-the-counter product.
If the CBD-based part of the industry is to thrive here, it will have to find a way to establish and certify itself. That appears to be going on in Italy right now. It also impacts every cultivator from Portugal and Spain to Eastern Europe looking at the possibilities right now.
However, with labelling and other EU cross currents in the room, this route to the industry has been fraught this year with all the cross winds and those are not likely to dissipate next year or indeed for the next several.
The Cannabis Winds Of Trade Are In The Air
While it may be a bit ironic, given that international trade has pretty much always been a hallmark of the development of the modern cannabis industry, next year will undoubtedly be the year of “International Cannabis Trade.”
No matter the problems “back home,” as of this year, a German-based manufacturer of GMP-certified product got fully underway (see ICC/Wayland’s success this year). That, along with the final decision on the first German cultivation bid, has clearly shaped a market that is still changing. And that change is driven by the admission, even by authorities, that there is not enough legal cannabis grown in the country.
That means that the strength of the German market will continue to drive policy (see the recent announcements on wholesale pricing) as well as demand that will be met across the continent.
Along the way, cannabis reform is also being driven locally. And that means, no matter the trials and tribulations of the Canadian part of the sector, which perhaps can be considered aptly warned for getting a bit too big for its britches, and no matter how faulting, the winds of reform are still afloat. Just perhaps, on the cards for next year and those to come, blowing from many more points on the globe.
While Luxembourg is a tiny country in the middle of Europe, it is beginning to play an outsized role in pushing all aspects of the cannabis discussion forward in the EU.
The country has steadily moved forward on integrating cannabis into the medical system. In 2018, medical cannabis was tested in a pilot project and is now available, on prescription, from a limited number of hospital pharmacies since February of this year. The program, at least from the Department of Health’s perspective, has been “very successful” so far in the words of Health Minister Etienne Schneier.
So, as a result, the next phase of the transition is going into effect. The budget for doctor training and medical cannabis purchases will be increased from €350,000 to €1.37 million next year. The drug will also be available from all pharmacies. Overall, the government has allocated a budget of €228 million for its cannabis “pilot” next year – an increase of €22m in 2019.
Canopy Growth Moves Into A Prime Position
Canopy Growth also announced last month that it has now become the exclusive supplier of medical cannabis to the country in a deal that extends through the end of 2021 (in other words presumably until recreational reform becomes legal). This is an interesting twist of events, given that Aurora announced it was the first company to import the drug into the country last year.
This is certainly a new chapter in the ongoing competition between the two Canadian companies who have, since 2017, essentially split Europe’s “first entries” between them (with the exception of Tilray in Portugal).
Why Is Luxembourg’s Cannabis Experiment So Interesting?
The increasingly strategic position of this tiny country on the cannabis discussion cannot be discounted.
In the summer of 2018, it was the government’s decision to change the law on medical cannabis use that preserved the ability of Germans to continue to buy cannabis stocks. Confused? The Deutsche Börse, in Frankfurt, the third largest stock exchange in the world, claimed that it could not “clear” stock purchases last summer because their clearing company, based in Luxembourg, could not close the transactions in a country where even medical cannabis was still off the table. When Luxembourg changed their law, in other words, the Deutsche Börse had to reverse course.
Since then, this tiny country has continued to challenge the cannabis discussion in the EU – also announcing that a full-boat recreational program will be enacted within the next two years (almost certainly by 2021). This aggressive timetable will also move the discussion in almost every EU regulation still on the table, and probably position the country as the only one in Europe where a fully integrated medical and recreational policy is in place. Even Holland does not cover medical cannabis these days. Dutch insurers stopped covering the drug in early 2017 – just as the German government changed its own laws.
Luxembourg, in other words, has now effectively pulled at least on par with Denmark and Germany in the cannabis discussion, with recreational now the agenda. And appears to be willing to preserve its medical program after recreational comes.
Who says size matters?
The “Colorado” Of Europe?
One of the reasons Colorado was such a strategic state in the cannabis discussion in the U.S. was undoubtedly its “purple” status – i.e. a state which politically swung both ways on a range of policy issues.
Luxembourg in fact, as the seat of the European Courts of Justice, may end up playing the same role in Europe – but on a national level.
In fact, the battle here increasingly resembles not Canada, but the U.S., as individual countries begin to tackle the cannabis question in their own way – both within and beyond the EU rubrics on the drug.
Will the United States legalize federally before the EU changes its tune? That is unknowable.
However, for the moment, the market leader in the EU to watch is undoubtedly Luxembourg, no matter its geographical size and population count.
As usual, cannabis reform enters through a crack, and widens from there. Luxembourg appears to be, if not the only crack, then certainly one of them that is turning into a decently sized crevice in the unyielding wall of blanket prohibition.
For those who have been watching, Luxembourg has played an inordinately influential role on the entire cannabis discussion in Europe for the past year.
This summer, the country announced that it had plans to implement recreational use (for residents only) within two years.
Last summer, the country not only changed its medical use policy as the Deutsche Börse tried to halt the clearances of cannabis trades made in Germany (Luxembourg is the place where the stock trades clear), but set a five-year mandate and timeframe as well.
This new announcement certainly is an attempt to signal at any rate, that the government is not going to run out the clock. But, realistically, with the extra six months already in front of the start date necessary to enshrine the legislation, plus whatever complications arise after that, Luxembourg could initiate its market on January 1, 2022.
Or, as is more likely, it could not. Including rolling delays caused by everything from EU objection and internal logistical hurdles of other kinds to lack of access to product.
Will Luxembourg be the “Colorado of Europe?” Probably not.
Will Luxembourg “be the next Canada?” Probably not either. However it is also worth noting that legislators and lawmakers from Luxembourg have drawn recent inspiration via numerous fact finding trips to Canada of late.
It is also worth remembering that even Canada’s great, green, “well-oiled” cannabis machine delayed its recreational market start by months last year. And that was a scenario already a generation in the making.
Further, as some would argue this summer, certainly post CannTrust, the relative “speed” with which Canada embraced its recreational market is again being criticized for not only being precipitous but a direct cause of problems in financial compliance and tracking.
The lack of regulatory muster, in other words, that even allowed a CannTrust to happen, will not fly in Europe. Certainly not in a country where regulations, including that of the European kind, are decided upon (the other center of EU regmaking is of course Brussels).
For that reason, no matter how exciting the news to an industry fighting an uphill battle on medical efficacy, there is plenty of room to temper enthusiasm.
Luxembourg is not going to be “just like” anywhere seen so far. The needle has moved. And the conversation is morphing if not moving on.
One of the most intriguing aspects of all of this, of course, is how insurers will treat the entire discussion.
Holland Round 2?
Here is what Luxembourg also won’t be. A new tourist mecca for out of towners. At least according to the current discussion. How the government will prevent that, is of course unclear. The same grey areas exist in the law behind Barcelona’s social clubs. The Dutch have tried for most of this decade to discourage this – and have largely failed.
What it very well might be, however, is a catalyst for change. A before and after moment if you will.
The Swiss are moving ahead with recreational and medical trials. The British, whatever their relationship with the world after Halloween, are too.
Luxembourg, whatever it ends up being, in other words, is well timed, if nothing else, to be a reference point if not conversation starter about real reform.
Including of course, medical impact, if not, beyond that, efficacy.
Here is where Luxembourg might in fact, be much closer to the Dutch experiment than any other place. Despite the fact the country has had a coffee shop culture for over 30 years, and Dutch medical cannabis is exported to countries all over the world, here is what is missing in Holland: Medical health insurance coverage for patients. In fact, Dutch insurers, en masse, stopped reimbursing the drug as soon as Germany changed its insurance rules in March 2017.
If that is on the agenda for Luxembourg, in other words, no matter how exciting a timeline for recreational is anywhere in Europe, this will be a pyrrhic victory indeed.
The Frankfurt-based newspaper Handelsblatt Zeitung is reporting that three Canadian firms (actually two Canadians and a German start-up cofounded by another Canadian company) have now been selected as the first cannabis cultivation bid finalists, however insiders on the ground say that this is not necessarily a final decision.
A Berlin-based subsidiary of Wayland in Germany called Demecan, along with Aphria and Aurora have all been named as bid finalists pending a normal review period.
However, there are other complications still looming. This is far from over.
The first issuance of the bid in 2017 went down in court over a technical fault on the part of the issuing agency. The current iteration was posted last summer and saw its application moved several times because of further legal challenges.
As Peter Homburg, partner and head of the European Cannabis Group at Dentons said when contacted by Cannabis Industry Journal, “This is of course not an official announcement. I have a tendency to believe that others involved in the tender process historically may well challenge this decision.”
BfArM, the federal German agency in charge of the cannabis cultivation tender process, did not respond to a request for a comment as of press time.
The Decision Is Far From Over
Here are the basic challenges still ahead:
There is a lawsuit pending against the bid itself from applicants that has yet to be decided. The Klage (formal hearing in court) is due next week. If that does not derail the process, here are the next considerations.
While all three firms named in the bid have international reputations, there are some pending questions.
Wayland is far ahead of the other two firms in terms of production capability in the country. Their facility in eastern Germany has just been certified GMP standard – which means they are qualified to produce the quality of flower required for medical consumption. This news is also far from a surprise.
As Ben Ward, CEO of Wayland Group, commented when contacted by CIJ for a response via email: “At Wayland, we believe in meaningful partnerships, investing in Germany from day one, demonstrating a long-term commitment to the market,” says Ward. “Wayland GmbH is a German company, operated by Germans, existing in Dresden and Munich and is committed to this market. The companies awarded lots received the allocation based on a rigorous application process, not media sensation.”
Of all the Canadian firms, in fact, despite its lack of high-flying stock price, Wayland has made the most concerted effort to show its commitment to producing in Germany by a large investment of capital and expertise. Further, the firm has shown itself to be the most culturally sensitive to German culture, including hiring a female member to the board (a hot topic far from the cannabis industry). However, there are other issues looming. On the same day that Wayland issued a press release announcing its position in the bid, it also issued one announcing the merger talks with ICC had failed.
The second is that Aphria’s main cultivation center in Canada is not EU-GMP certified although they have applied for the same and now also own one of Germany’s largest distributors (with approximately a 6% market share).
Other firms not only kicked off the entire cannabis discussion in Germany, but have established GMP-compliant facilities both in Canada and across Europe, namely Canopy Growth, which was widely believed to have also applied to the second tender. However prevailing rumours about a Canadian “crop failure” in British Columbia (described by the company as a deliberate destruction of plants created by delays in the licensing process) last fall may have also played a role in the German decision.
Aurora is also in interesting waters. Having distinguished itself as Canopy’s closest rival across Europe, winning significant kudos in Denmark, Italy, Poland and Luxembourg last year, the company is also clearly not “just” a medical cannabis company and apparently was refused an opportunity to go public on the Deutsche Börse last fall. The selection of the firm by BfArm for the bid in a situation where the company is on a watch list created by the stock market regulatory agency in Frankfurt is also an intriguing one. Especially given the company’s announcement of its Polish success on the same day as the decision to import was announced, and the fact that so far it is the only Canadian cannabis company to successfully import to Luxembourg.
And The Import Game Is Just Getting Hot…
The unsurprising news that the bid appears to be moving forward is actually not the hottest news in Europe right now. The reality on the ground is already shifting. Several weeks ago, a Frankfurt-based distribution start-up announced that they had successfully imported cannabis into the country from Macedonian-based Nysk Holdings via Poland.
At the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin last weekend, Australian producers (for one) were also reporting a German demand for their product that was greater than they could fill. And there were many Israelis present for what is expected to be an official opening of their import ability by the third quarter of this year.
Price Wars Are Looming
The bid itself is going to have a powerful impact on pricing in both the German and European market beyond that. It represents the first time in any country that a government has attempted to pre-negotiate prices for the drug as a narcotic beyond Israel and in this case, it will have at least regional implications.
At the same time, it is also clear that producers like Nysk and beyond them, Israeli and Australian firms (in particular) are actively finding ways to have their product enter the country- and further at prices that are catching the Canadians on the hop. Indeed Aurora is reporting that it actually lowered its “usual” prices to win European contracts which have been reported as being 3.2 euros a gram in Italy and 2.5 euros a gram in Luxembourg.
To put this in perspective, this is a range of about CA$3-5 a gram of flower which is also well below what Canopy (for one) has reported selling its product even to recreational users in Canada and significantly below medical export prices as reported by recent company corporate reports.
Wayland in contrast, is reporting that its production price in Germany will be at least a euro-per-gram cheaper than this. Or in other words, more in line with prices expected to be generated from both the bid itself and the cannabis now entering the country from other sources.
And of course, this is only the first of what is expected to be a series of new tenders. The original amount, itself increased in the two years the issue has been pending, is clearly not enough to even begin to meet demand as proved by the levels of competitively priced imports now entering the country.
Beyond questions about whether this time the tender will actually stand, are those now pending about new ones potentially in the offing – and not just in Germany but across Europe as cannabis continues to see a very green spring.
As the German bid fiasco proves, and in spades, there is no easy transition out of prohibition. As of this April, it will be two years since the German Cannabis Agency issued its first cultivation bid. Since then, the first attempt went down in legal flames (in court) and the agency in charge, BfArM took an embarrassing hit for committing a “technical fault.” As of April, the second issuance gets its day in court. And then presumably, hopefully, cultivation can start to get going.
However, the German cultivation bid is far from the only time that government officials and regulators have created canna Frankensteins. In every legalizing market so far, in fact, from Colorado’s recreational start in 2014 to Canada, lawsuits, flubs and mistakes have been the order of the day.
There is a growing debate in Europe over how the cannabis industry should be allowed to flourish.States throughout the US continue to model their legalization frameworks off of states that have already done so. No wonder, then that as legalization rolls on, other countries are beginning to study the early movers- for tips on what to do and what to avoid.
New Zealand Takes A Look At Portugal
New Zealand is widely expected to become either the “next” country (or the one after that) to fully legalize recreational cannabis. Further it plans to do so during a national election (presumably ahead of the U.S. but that will be interesting to watch). New Zealand has jumped the gun already and put it on the electoral agenda.
That leaves the Kiwis with at least another 18 months to consider how they might pull it off. Don’t forget, it took the Canadians that long, with one failed initiation date last summer that was pushed to the fall. And that was with a medical market that was already three years old.
As of this month at least, New Zealanders are looking at several options, Portugal being one of them. Portugal gained distinction by decriminalizing all drugs at the turn of the century and has not looked back.
The country has seen a steady decline in all the bad stuff associated with the black market. Overdoses, drug crime, teen use and HIV infections have all dropped dramatically.
That said, for all Portugal’s forward motion, nobody else, yet, has quite followed suit.
Decriminalization, it should be pointed out, is also only one of the many issues facing a national change in policy. As Canada knows well.
Luxembourg Takes A Look At Canada
The Greens in Luxembourg certainly made news last year when they announced that recreational cannabis legalization was on their five-year legislative plan. In a tip to both U.S. and Canadian discussions about how legalization can increase tax revenues, Luxembourgers are also clearly looking at how to follow suit.
Aurora cannabis so far has the only distribution agreement inked with the country to provide medical supplies, but it is unknown at this point whether Luxembourg will be content to merely import or grow its own.
One of the biggest problems Europeans will encounter immediately in looking at the Canadian transition to recreational use is that the government literally had to mandate an additional five-year period for medical use after the beginning of the recreational market. So far, at least, Luxembourgians appear to want to do this the other way around. They have already created a multi year test and study program for medical uses of the drug.
A Big Difference In Approaches
There is a growing debate in Europe over how the cannabis industry should be allowed to flourish. On one end of the discussion who see no issues with the North American model of public companies, in particular, having the greatest influence over the shape of the industry. But this is not the only discussion in the room at this point, particularly given the huge head start the Canadian public companies now have in the rest of the world.
In places like Spain and Thailand, for example, politicians are also starting to bring other models to the fore- including protectionist policies around domestic cannabis production.
Regardless, compare and contrast is a trend that is still in its infancy as the market leaders struggle with the implications of half-baked policies and those who follow seek to emulate the successes but avoid the mistakes.
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.
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