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European Cannabis Summer Roundup

By Marguerite Arnold
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There have been many significant developments this summer in Europe that will shape the debate about reform and the legal cannabis market that trails it, for at least the next year. Here is Cannabis Industry Journal’sroundup of our biggest events and trends over the summer so far.

Medical Sales Across Europe Are Slow

In Germany, it is easy to maintain a fairly ballpark understanding of patient count. Find the number of prescriptions issued in the trade press and divide by four. Everywhere else, however, the true realization of what is going on across Europe is slowly starting to hit everyone outside producers wanting to know what is going on.Establishing territorial footprint has been what the race in Europe has been all about since mid 2016 for the Canadian LPs so far.

This is going to start to hit stock prices soon beyond the wobbles already evident in the market thanks to this summer’s breaking industry scandals (CannTrust, lawsuits in every direction) to lack of financial performance for investors (Bruce Linton’s firing from Canopy). It is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone that just because a public Canadian company issues a press release about a (cultivation, import, export or processing) “event” does not mean anything other than a slew of social media telling everyone about it. The frustration with “forward looking” statements has hit European investors big time, from the retail to the institutional kind.

Despite a lot of press releases in other words, which clearly show market penetration, there is not much else going on from the sales perspective when it comes to growing those first numbers. Establishing territorial footprint has been what the race in Europe has been all about since mid 2016 for the Canadian LPs so far.

However, from an industry, if not investor and of course, patient perspective, patient numbers are what really count. And unlike Canada, where patients remain the biggest existential threat to the industry, the same industry may not sign them up or ship to them directly in Europe. For several reasons.

Germany is still the only country in Europe with a significant patient count, and while growing, slowly, is still a group where 2/3 of patients obtain dronabinol. It should shock nobody that the most accurate patient count right now in the UK is hovering somewhere under 20. For the whole country, 9 months after the law changed. While the peculiarities of Brexit are also in the room, this is so far, compared to U.S. state markets, Canada, Israel and Germany before it, pathetic.

The Industry Says It Supports Patients…But Does It?

There are several levels to this debate which start with the still appallingly high level of price gouging in the room. 2019 and certainly this summer is a time when the Canadian companies are clearly learning that European governments negotiate for drugs in bulk. Even (and especially in the near future) this one. See the difference between the EU and the US.

UKflagThe level of industry promotion vs patient access recently reached a new nadir this summer when it emerged that despite a great deal of interest, more people showed up (by far) to the week-long cannabis industry conference (European Cannabis Week in London in June) than there are legitimate patients in the UK right now.

That is about to change, but so far, industry support for trials has not materialized. When the various trials now being planned do get going, look for new battles over a couple of issues, starting with patient access to and control of their medical data.

Novel Food: The Regulation That Keeps On Giving

The issues involved in this discussion are complex, certainly by North American standards. This of course starts with the fact that there is no such regulation on the continent. But also rapidly bleeds into puncturing the amount of hot air entrepreneurialism there is in the room.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

The CBD market in Europe that everyone got so excited about in investor releases, in other words, is basically dead for the time being. Yes, there are a few smart niche players weaving around the regs, but it is a full-time job.

Here is the reality: Since Christmas last year when Austria put the kabosh on all products containing the cannabinoid CBD, several major countries have weighed in on the issue. It is not going away. And it is here to stay, even after recreational.

Political Advocacy Is Stirring In Europe

Whether it is the vagaries of Brexit, the discussion across the continent about how the EU will work together, right wing populist screeds about “too much regulation” or national elections, cannabis is in the room from now until the end of at least 2021 as one of the hottest global political issues under the sun. That includes of course, a discussion about global climate change, sourcing, pricing and resource use so far unaddressed but rapidly looming.

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

Further, patients are still having a voice – whether it is making sure that their children obtain imported CBD, or that they can obtain their own THC prescriptions without going bankrupt or having to solicit in the black market.

Cultivation Bids Looming?

One of the surest signs yet that the German authorities at any rate, are in no mood to solve the cultivation issues still on the ground and the bid itself, is that the government just renegotiated, for the second time since last fall, the amount of medical cannabis to come over the Dutch-German border. Who is going to go next? With the Italian hybrid now done and dusted, Poland is likely to be next. And when that happens, expect a raft of similar initiatives across Europe. But probably not until then.

And in the meantime? Distributors are looking for product. The demand is clearly there. But across Europe this summer there is a clear sense that the hype machine that has been the industry’s mouthpiece is at minimum overenthusiastic about the bottom-line details behind it all.

Poland Pushes Forward On Reform

By Marguerite Arnold
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Given all the fuss about newly opened markets in Europe of late (see all the hullabaloo recently in the UK), it would be remiss for anyone in the industry to forget about Poland.

The Eastern European country that shares a large part of its border (if not recent history and long cultural influence) with Deutschland has been proceeding slowly into the cannabis space for the last couple of years.

There are a couple of similarities (and differences too) about the market development in the country to its Teutonic sister to the West as well as the emerging fight over access that is sparking patient revolutions all over the continent now.

A Brief History Of Polish Cannabis Reform

Like other culturally conservative places (see state reform in the United States in places like Georgia), Poland has moved towards reform in a way that may make political sense, but has left patients in much the same boat as British ones. Reform began happening without access as of late 2017.

Polish Flags Image: włodi, Flickr

Poland, or so the joke goes in Germany, is Deutschland’s “trailing sister,” on most things, and cannabis reform in some ways, is absolutely following that pattern. But it is not exactly analogous, starting with patient access. In fact, the first opening of the market did not touch import much less cultivation. It only authorized patients to cross borders in search of their medication. No matter the high cost involved. And of course, the still dodgy proposition of returning across a border with a highly stigmatized narcotic product.

Fast forward a year? Many of the major Canadian cannabis companies had achieved some sort of import (mostly of small amounts of the drug and mostly to single hospitals). See the announcement of Aurora last October on the same day that the Polish government announced a change in the law that they had imported in bulk to a hospital.

But what is going on now, particularly with a growth in acceptance of the medicinal impact of the drug across Europe? And will the Poles, like the Germans, launch a domestic cultivation bid anytime in the near future? Not to mention learn the lessons that so far have continued to stymie German domestic cultivation as well as frustrate a smooth supply chain if not operations on the ground?

The Market Is Coalescing

According to Andrew Makatrewicz de Roy, managing director of Bearstone Global, a market research and investigative firm moving into the cannabis space, Poland has one of the more progressive laws in Europe, but still is lagging behind other countries in terms of organisation and a political lobbying movement.

“There is a lot of vibrancy in the market, but we want to make sure that there is an initial forum where the market can meet and discuss the industry here”.There are also a few (low volume) transactions taking place.

However, as in other places (see the UK in particular), there is a lot of heat if no fire yet behind the scenes. Both individuals and companies are starting to appear who will help build a wider ecosystem in the cannabis space.

As in other countries in Europe, despite the market potential, there is still a general political lag in further development of the industry. Perhaps because of complications in the German market. And almost certainly because of complications with German reform and its own cultivation bid. There have been rumours of a Polish bid circulating for at least a year. Licensed cultivation is beginning to take place.

In response, Makatrewicz de Roy is moving to establish one of the first industry conferences in the country in October. In late July, he also held the first precursor to the same – an online streamed event that attracted 70 major thought leaders from the industry including many members of the political class, producers and distributors (including some of the biggest Canadian ones), doctors and patients.

“We want to build an ecosystem,” de Roy said. “There is a lot of vibrancy in the market, but we want to make sure that there is an initial forum where the market can meet and discuss the industry here”.

Marguerite Arnold

UK Non-Profit Launches Project TWENTY21 To Register 20K Cannabis Patients

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

In late June, as more than a thousand people descended on the South Bank Center to attend the largest cannabis conference held so far in the UK, another development was taking place away from the headlines.

Drug Science, a non-profit research group founded to reform drug policies based on scientific evidence rather than politics or even economic considerations, launched an ambitious trial project in the UK.

The goal? To get medical cannabis to 20,000 British patients suffering from a range of conditions that the drug is well known to help treat.

Who Is Drug Science?

Founded by Professor David Nutt, the former chief drug advisor to the British government who was fired in 2009 for stating that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol, the group itself is clearly not afraid to tackle controversy. The Project TWENTY21 initiative is an ambitious if not desperately needed undertaking.

Targeted patient groups include those suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, MS, Tourette’s and addiction.

Several cannabis companies have already signed up to support the effort which also includes the United Patients Alliance ,and academic researchers.

According to Abby Hughes, Head of Outreach for UPA, “Whilst a change in UK law has given clinicians the green light to prescribe medical cannabis, the majority of patients are denied access, some even being criminalised, whilst corporations are profiting from the same plant.”

UKflagHughes also noted that the goal of the project is to begin to ground patient demand in research and hard data. “We hope that by having a dataset that proves the efficacy of medical cannabis, thousands of patients will be able to access legal, affordable medicine, which may improve their quality of life,” she said.

What Is The Scope of Project TWENTY21?

It is the first-of-its-kind project in the UK where, 9 months after the law changed to allow prescription of cannabinoids as well as the medical importation of the same, there are less than 20 (legal) patients in the country. And all of the successful candidates so far have fought for the right and still do.

While important in its own right, the concept if not forward motion on the same, is also poised to create similar trials all over Europe. This is especially true in countries (like France) where the issue of reform has not moved at all. Or even in Germany (with well over 50,000 patients two and a half years after similar reform was passed by the Bundestag) where problems with access and questions about medical efficacy still frustrate the close to a million Germans who cannot access the drug. Switzerland and Luxembourg may yet prove to be similiarly interesting.

Why Is This Timely?

There has been an increased call for the need for widespread and sustained population trials across Europe as the cannabis industry has really begun to establish itself since mid-2016. This is the only way to help forward medical understanding of cannabinoids at a level that leads to mainstream acceptance. And more importantly, medical and payer mainstream approvals. Until that happens, despite all the press releases, overall sales across the continent remain low.

One of the most important issues beyond this – the extraordinarily high pricing seen in Europe until late last year – has also played a role of course. Payers (see the German “statutory” health insurers) on the front lines of uncertain medical efficacy are still reluctant to pay for a drug, in any form, they do not understand, do not have evidence for, and are still highly suspicious of.

There has been an increased call for the need for widespread and sustained population trials across Europe With cannabis companies agreeing to provide product (in this case potentially from Australia), a research organization with national chops and brave leaders is likely to take the conversation far. And not just in the UK.

While Drug Science is of course not the only British entity planning canna trials and in part supported by the Canadian industry (see The Beckley Foundation for starters), Project 2021 is also certainly likely to be a study with both local as well as regional and global implications.

In Europe, there are other regional trials now in the offing (see Switzerland, Germany and France). Only Germany of course, has a patient population that is starting to be large enough to be effectively studied, and of course, the majority of these patients are still receiving dronabinol.

It is also clearly a steady state march, rather than a discussion that is likely to see significant boosts in patient numbers any time soon. Unless of course, there are other contributing factors.

Regardless, unlike the U.S. and even Canada, the strict medical focus of Europe (including the UK) is finally moving the conversation to the next level. Large, regional and/or national medical trials – and further for conditions the drug is well-known to treat but are so far considered “off-label” for most Europeans will be the watchword here for the next several years.

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The Face Of Cannabis Education In Europe

By Marguerite Arnold
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More than a few cannabis “education companies” – mostly from Canada and the U.S. but some with Israeli ties, plus German and British efforts have targeted Europe as the next logical expansion plan in their global roadmap.

These include most recently Cannvas Medtech Inc., and several initiatives funded by Canopy Growth, including teaching children about the drug. It also includes training programs for frontline staff, launched by Organigram (although in this case it appears to be geared towards “brand education.”)

There are also doctor training programs launching in the UK.

In Germany, there are several efforts underway, helmed by both doctors and cannabis advocates generally, in several cities around the country.

But how effective is all of this “education” in both preventing illegal use, and promoting legitimate sales?

Particularly if such “education” platforms are exported from a foreign market for use in Europe?Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

Education Is Desperately Needed, But So Is Channel Penetration

Nobody is arguing that “education,” as well as trials and more information for payers and doctors are not required. The problem is that some education is more effective than other campaigns. And most of the talk in most places is more a discussion of the need for further regulatory reform, more trials and more investigation.

That has to get paid for somewhere.

That, at least in Europe is also tricky, as both early educational movers Weedmaps and Leafly have both found out, especially in medical only markets in the EU. Why? There are also highly limited opportunities for advertising either a drug, or to doctors.

Different Regulatory Environments Cause Bigger Issues

Even in Canada and the United States, there is an ecosystem of supplying the demand that has very much grown up customized by the strange paths to reform if not the first mover discussion.

That is not going to be the case in Europe, which in effect creates a brand-new ecosystem to educate, with new players, and every ecosystem participant group has a different kind of educational needs.

Here is one example of where this shows up. So far, in most countries, doctors are still highly resistant to prescribing the drug. Nurses, on the other hand, in both the United States and Canada at least, have proven to be a much more reliable source of converts for the cannabis cause. That approach of course is not possible in places like Germany where only doctors may issue prescriptions, including of the cannabis (and narcotic) kind.

european union statesAccess issues also play a big role in just about every country- from cost to privacy. And on the privacy front, it is not just foreigners who are getting used to new rules. So are German doctors.

The pharmacy discussion is also very much in the room – and this is not “just like” approaching a “dispensary” from North America. They are regulated chemists. Which causes a whole new set of issues and a serious need for new kinds of educational materials.

In Germany, for example, pharmacists are being recruited and trained by not only staff recruiters specializing in the same, but also sent on special training courses funded by the big Canadian companies (Tilray being the noticeable one recently). The brick and mortar vs. online discussion is also a big topic across Europe. Notably, where it is allowed and where it is, as in Deutschland, verboten.

And, of course, the big green giant in the room everywhere in Europe, in particular, is payer/insurance approvals, which are based on a kind of education called proven medical efficacy.

And that, so far, is in markedly short supply.

In the UK, it is so far the main reason that NHS patients (for example) cannot access coverage for the drug to treat conditions like chronic pain.

In the meantime, the most widespread “education” that is going on, is still mostly at the patient level. Especially when patients sue their insurers, or lobby doctors to prescribe.

The cannabis industry may be maturing, in other words, to be able to answer these questions – but there is also clearly a long way to go.

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Has Cannabis Reform Landed In The UK?

By Marguerite Arnold
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The British have finally decided that cannabis reform is overdue. In London at least, 63% of the population believe that recreational reform is a good idea.  According to a poll by The Evening Standard, the rest of England too, is getting close to a majority when the idea of recreational reform is in the room.

It is, as usual, recreational reform that is the icing on a medical cake that has yet to be baked. But that spice brownie is well on its way to the oven too. According to the British Medical Journal as of the beginning of July, the idea of broader access to regulated medical supplies for patients is mandatory.

And in the ranks of the conservative party, Crispin Blunt founded the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group last September to lead Parliament in a long overdue discussion about the use of both medicinal and recreational cannabis use in the UK that formally “launched” during the last week of June.

But how the industry will develop here is also a big question in the room right now, especially with a country poised on the edge of one of the biggest constitutional questions in the country’s history – to Brexit or not, and how.

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt (right)
Photo courtesy of The UK Ministry of Justice, Flickr

The North American Influence Is Controversial

While Blunt, for example, sees no issue with injecting North American capital into the debate, there are others who are not so sanguine. And while the idea of Canadian reform is popular here, including the freedom of patients (and others) to grow small amounts themselves, the idea of Canadian companies influencing national policy is not. From The Daily Mail to The Guardian, there have been front page headlines about the coming financial influence of “The North Americans.”

That this discussion is also going on at a time when the UK is considering a completely new trade agreement with the world, including on pharmaceuticals, is not insignificant. Where the country’s drugs come from, far from cannabis, is absolutely on the table. Not to mention how much they cost.

Questions of basic access are likely, in other words, to be in the room for a long time here. The barriers to obtaining and filling a prescription start at its expense – which is ₤1,100 (about $1,400) per prescription. There are few people, let alone those who are chronically ill, who can afford the same. This is far from a “normalized” drug- even of last resort- at the NHS.So far, the number of actual cannabis patients in the UK (ones who go to a doctor for a prescription and fill it) is still under 100 people.

That said, it is a start. And for the first time, as of this summer, those with the money can in fact, obtain cannabis by prescription.

But what happens to those (the vast majority) who cannot? 

Patients Are Feeling Side-lined

Just as in national legalizing conversations in the United States and Canada so far, patients are being pushed aside for “the business” to take the conversation forward. But where does this business fall on matters of price and access?

So far, the number of actual cannabis patients in the UK (ones who go to a doctor for a prescription and fill it) is still under 100 people.

While patient groups are organizing, and the earliest ones to gain national attention, usually families whose children have been directly in the line of fire, are getting commercial ambitions themselves, the fact remains that patient voices are not the loudest ones in the room. Although as Blunt announced last week, he does not see recreational reform happening in the UK for the next five years.

That also means that every Canadian company entering the market (in particular) will have to continue to sing the same medical song they have been humming across Europe- at least in public.

The UK is NOT Germany – But It’s Not Canada Or The US Either…

No matter how much more “liberal” supposedly, the English people are on the whole CBD question (there is already far more CBD for sale in the UK than just about anywhere else), the UK market is still far behind Germany. Why? Since March 2017, insurance companies auf Deutschland have been required to cover the drug – from sprays and pills to floss when prescribed by a doctor.

There are, by latest calculations about 50,000 German patients.

That said, it is clear that the British do not seem to give a fig about the entire “novel food” discussion and are literally, in some cases, daring the police to raid stores and shut down establishments. The idea of rebellion against EU rules seems very obvious on the CBD front.

Beyond this, however, it is also clear that “Canadian” much less “American” cannabis reform is not necessarily the only model in town.

As the British, in other words, do finally embrace the cannabis question, it is very likely that the face of the same will be of a unique Limey strain all of its own.

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FDA Public Hearing On Hemp: What You Need To Know

By Aaron G. Biros
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Folks from around the country and the world tuned into the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) website as they held a public hearing on Friday, May 31. Manufacturers and suppliers asked the FDA to regulate CBD like food or dietary supplements, while the FDA seemed to want more evidence on the safety of CBD products before giving the greenlight.

Background On The HearingFDAlogo

For the uninitiated, after President Trump signed the Farm Bill into law back in December 2018, Scott Gottlieb, now former director of the FDA, issued a statement the same day the Farm Bill passed, clarifying the FDA’s regulatory authority. In the statement, Gottlieb explained that Congress preserved the FDA’s authority to regulate products containing cannabis and its constituents under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).

In April 2019, around the same time he resigned from the FDA, Gottlieb issued another statement, acknowledging the quickly growing industry throughout the country and total lack of federal regulatory guidance. This time around, Gottlieb laid out a handful of steps that the FDA plans on taking to address regulations around hemp and cannabidiol (CBD). Those included scheduling the public hearing for May 31, where written and oral public comments were submitted by stakeholders, sharing “their experiences and challenges with these products [hemp and CBD products], including information and views related to product safety.”

That statement also announced the formation of an internal agency working group to “explore potential pathways for dietary supplements and/or conventional foods containing CBD to be lawfully marketed; including a consideration of what statutory or regulatory changes might be needed and what the impact of such marketing would be on the public health.”

Fast-forward to May 31, the day of the public hearing, and all eyes in the industry focused on what all these stakeholders had to say to the FDA about CBD. The day started off with about two hours of oral comments, each speaker had roughly two minutes to deliver their thoughts.

Karen Howard, CEO of the Organic and Natural Health Association, speaks about the quality of CBD products 

Oral Comments

Industry stakeholders representing cannabis businesses sang much of the same tune, clamoring for wise regulations on safety, testing, banking and interstate commerce, among other standards. NCIA Policy Director Andrew Kline’s comments included running through five major positions of the industry trade organization representing CBD companies. Those included recommending the FDA act quickly in setting up regulations, stressing the massive economic impact of the industry, saying that CBD products are generally safe, clamoring for voluntary, consensus-based standards and informing consumers of any potential risks. “The bottom line is this – an overwhelming preponderance of evidence indicates that cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds present minimal health and safety concerns,” Kline told the folks at the FDA. “Time is of the essence. Hemp-derived CBD products are in very high consumer demand and the industry is eagerly awaiting FDA’s regulatory framework for these products. We strongly recommend that FDA act quickly to clarify the regulatory environment because there is significant confusion in the market.”

Anna Williams, representing the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), stressed the importance of testing for contaminants and adulterants as well as advocating for national standards on lab testing, instead of the state-by-state network of different standards.

Patients & Public Safety

After industry stakeholders had their chance to speak, the FDA allowed a group of advocacy organizations representing patients time to speak. That included representatives for the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Epilepsy Society, both of which were hesitant to throw their full support behind CBD as medicine. Kevin Chapman with the American Epilepsy Society said he wants to see clear warning labels, testing standards, more clinical trials and more studies before the group is ready to form a position on using CBD as medicine. Keith Fargo with the Alzheimer’s Association supports clinical trials to study it more, but thinks CBD is risky for patients without serious evidence of efficacy. A representative from the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance also echoed similar concerns. They want to see labeling of drug interactions on labels of CBD products.

One section of the oral comments included discussions about patients, public safety and retailers/distributors.

After those comments, some organizations had the chance to speak followed by comments from retailers and distributors. Patrick Bird, owner of PMB BioTek Consulting, spoke on behalf of AOAC International, where he primarily discussed public safety. He said they want cannabis products to be regulated with food safety in mind, asking for FSMA to apply to hemp products. They want to adequately ensure product safety with things like mandating HACCP plans, recall readiness, saying hemp products should be treated just like food products.

Retailers & Distributors

Peter Matz, representing the Food Marketing Institute, the trade association for the supermarket industry, said that regulatory ambiguity is a serious issue that needs addressing. “There is mass confusion in the marketplace for the public, suppliers, retailers and state regulators,” says Matz. “Demand for CBD products in human and animal use is growing rapidly. ¼ of American have already tried it. We are fielding questions from companies seeking clarity regarding the current federal regulatory framework.” He added, what many others also mentioned, that the FDA needs to move swiftly to provide a pathway to regulation.

State Regulators

Next on the docket came presentations from state government entities, including state departments of agriculture, followed by healthcare professionals. The state regulators that spoke mentioned a lot about food safety, standards, testing regulations, GMPs and things like that to protect consumer safety. “Currently states are struggling with the lack of sound scientific research available in CBD and long-term health impacts,” said Pam Miles, representing the Virginia Department of Agriculture.

The docket for state regulators delivering presentations

One interesting aspect on their talks however was telling the FDA just how large their markets have gotten already and how they need guidance on how to regulate markets in their own states. Joseph Reardon, with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, said they already have about 600 farmers growing hemp and thousands of processors working with the product in their state. “We urge the FDA to resolve the statutory issues improperly establish a legal pathway for CBD products to enter the market place,” Reardon commented. He also asked that the FDA extend the written comment period from July to August. “We are simply looking for a regulatory framework on the extraction, production and reconstitution of CBD or cannabinoid related products.”

Healthcare & Research

Healthcare providers, and physician testimony also echoed a lot of the same concerns, including the lack of research done, concerns about effects on at-risk populations and concerns about use as ingredients in dietary supplements and food. Some of the presentations also highlighted the room for nefarious activity in an unregulated marketplace. Some went as far as to mention cases where they found CBD vape juices with DXM in it (the active ingredient in cough syrup), CBD products found to contain THC, as well as synthetic cannabinoids responsible for drug overdose deaths. Some advocates in the hemp and CBD community have equated these arguments similar to reefer madness.

The major takeaway from this hearing is that everyone wants to see more data. Researchers and healthcare providers want to study the efficacy of CBD used in medicine, regulators want public safety information, patient advocates want to see data about effects on at-risk populations, trade organizations want data to back up label claims and the FDA wants to see just how safe CBD really is.

Arizona Still Doesn’t Require Lab Testing, But That Could Change Soon

By Aaron G. Biros
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As of today, Arizona is the only state in the country that has legalized medical cannabis but does not require producers to test their medical cannabis. States throughout the country that legalize medical cannabis routinely implement regulations that require third-party, independent lab testing to protect patient and consumer safety. Arizona legalized medical cannabis for a number of qualifying conditions back in 2011, but still has no measure like other states to protect patient safety.

Lawmakers in Arizona now have the opportunity to change that with SB1494, which passed unanimously through the state’s Senate back in March of 2019. According to the Arizona Cannabis Laboratory Association (ACLA), the bill awaits action in the House of Representatives. The ACLA says in a press release that “supporters of the bill are calling on lawmakers to move on a bill that unanimously passed in the Senate earlier this year.” The bill would require producers to use independent, third-party labs to test cannabis for things like harmful toxins and molds.

Ryan Tracy, co-founder of the ACLA and founder/CEO at C4 Labs.

According to Ryan Treacy, co-founder of the ACLA and CEO/Founder of C4 Laboratories, the ACLA was formed for a few important reasons: “We feel it is very important that we encourage and cultivate a professional and collaborative rapport among the reputable Arizona cannabis labs,” says Treacy. “So that we can call upon the collective groups’ years of experience to help provide insight and suggestions on how we as a group can insure the most accurate and consistent results for our clients throughout the state and ultimately their patients.” Treacy went on to add that it is particularly important their collective voice be heard at the State Capitol as lawmakers work towards passing SB 1494.

“There isn’t any reason to wait for someone to get sick before the legislature passes this bipartisan bill. Let’s get it done!”George Griffeth, President of the ACLA, says there is a sense of urgency in passing this bill before the voters decide on legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis next year. “Everyone agrees that now is the time to be proactive to protect patients from unsafe contaminants,” says Griffeth. “Currently 61 tons of medical marijuana is consumed by patients and many believe that the number of people using the medicine will continue to grow. With a ballot initiative related to the recreational use of marijuana facing voters next year, Arizona must act now to make sure standards are in place.”

They say the bill has bipartisan support and many stakeholders in Arizona’s cannabis industry express support for it as well. For Ryan Treacy, he is worried about patients consuming harmful chemicals and toxins. “My colleagues and I are deeply concerned that more than two-hundred thousand people who use medical marijuana could be inadvertently exposing themselves to toxic chemicals, E. Coli, Salmonella or mold,” says Treacy. “There isn’t any reason to wait for someone to get sick before the legislature passes this bipartisan bill. Let’s get it done!”

Treacy says this bill is particularly difficult to pass because the original measure to legalize medical cannabis was a ballot initiative. That means the bill needs 75% support in both the House and the Senate in order to amend the original measure. “The passing of this bill would be a huge win for the patients and will help to ensure honesty and transparency for those that operate in the current medical cannabis program here in AZ,” says Treacy. “This testing bill is also written with legislative intent to cover any and all future adult use or recreational use legislative laws or ballot initiatives. We hope to have a final verdict on this bill by end of this week or early next.”

Marguerite Arnold

Farmako Inks Deal To Import 50 Tonnes of Polish Cannabis Into Germany

By Marguerite Arnold
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The ex-im cannabis map of Europe has been promising to get interesting for some time. And in March, it’s long promised potential just bloomed a little more as Frankfurt-based Farmako announced a first-of-its kind import deal of 50 tonnes of medical cannabis (and from Poland no less) over the next four years.

Farmako was just founded in September 2018. They began distribution to German pharmacies this month. They also have an office in London and cross-European aspirations.

While Farmako is the first to announce such a unique cross-border production and distribution agreement, however, they are far from the only ones planning the same. In fact at least Tilray is expected to announce that their newly-minted Portuguese crop is being processed into oil bound for German pharmacies any day now. It is also not unrealistic to expect that (at least) Canopy Growth, of the big Canadian producers at least, will soon announce the same situation for their crops in countries across the continent, starting with Spain.

Outside Germany of course, this kind of entrepreneurial endeavour is already underway. In the UK, a new import group just announced the first bulk shipment of Dutch medical cannabis into the country, distributed directly to over 1,000 pharmacies nationwide.

There still are a couple of jaw-dropping things to consider about this new German development. Namely, that the amount of just this deal over the next four years between two (relatively new, non-Canadian) companies is approximately five times the amount currently called for in the still pending domestic cultivation bid in Germany.

The second, of course, is that the Polish company on the other side of the border and this ex-im deal, PharmaCann Polska, is a uniquely positioned conglomeration of individuals with apparently Canadian and Israeli market experience. This means that they are already positioned to access the biggest two production markets in the world and are certain to be looking to exploit other Eastern European connections (at minimum). If not ones further afield than that.

One thing is absolutely certain far beyond the particulars of this one deal. The current import limitations from Canada and the Netherlands into the German market appear to be a thing of the past. And the cross-border trade for medical cannabis is now clearly entering a new phase.

Implications

Farmako clearly intends to go after the existing Canadians in the market on price, which means both Canopy Growth and Tilray. But it also means Wayland, at this point is the largest domestic certified producer (albeit with Canadian roots and partners) and an entire licensed facility in eastern Germany ready to go. That is not an insignificant threat and sets up another looming question: Which will actually be cheaper in the long run? Domestically grown German cannabis, or that imported from adjacent countries with lower paying labor markets?

This announcement also means that the “cannabis shortage” in the country is officially over as of this spring. And that won’t just come from Farmako but others already in the market and those angling now to get in via other creative means.

Regardless, what that will do to overall sales, patient numbers and overall speed is another matter.

Other Looming Problems

There are two big issues that this development does not solve of course. The first is the ability of patients to find doctors willing to prescribe the drug, and further to make sure they spend the time filling out the paperwork and negotiating with the patient’s insurer, to make sure that patients can actually get it. Starting with affording medical cannabis in the first place. Most patients on what is known as “statutory” health insurance (90% of the country) cannot afford the out of pocket cost at pharmacies without insurance approvals. Once they get them, they pay up to $12 for a month’s supply (in the case of flower, about an ounce).

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

The second issue is that it is currently unclear, mostly due to the lack of granularity provided by the country’s statutory health insurers, what is actually being prescribed for which kind of condition and to whom. Earlier this month, new information was made available about the overall growth of coverage of medical cannabis in Germany. While the total spending, and rough breakdown of flowers vs. product was provided, it is unclear beyond that, where this is going. There were also apparently just over 46,000 patients in Germany as of December 2018. And this is a growth trend that while clearly on an upward trajectory for the last three quarters is slow and steady as she goes. The sudden uptick in the market seen in the second quarter of last year appears to be an anomaly.

Further, understanding market price points is also hard. Flos and prepared pharmaceuticals such as Sativex are highly expensive right now. In the case of the Canadian firms, their medical exports are being sold at about twice the price of their domestic recreational sales points. Look for this to change dramatically as real competition heats up across Europe (and from more distributors than just this Frankfurt upstart).

What the news in other words about Farmako really signifies is that the price barriers in the medical market are about to come down at the point of sale- and hopefully in the short term, patients will not have to rely on the approval of their insurance companies to be able to access the drug because they will be able to afford it themselves. No matter what happens with the bid. Although this too will also serve to lower prices.

The great medical normalization race for medical cannabis in Europe is now officially “on.” And that is good news not only for patients, but of course, the industry.

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Where Is The German Cultivation Bid?

By Marguerite Arnold
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For those following the German cultivation bid drama, there appears to be a real light at the end of a now two year tunnel– driven by a domestic demand that essentially requires that there be no more delays.

Then again, given developments so far, who knows really what will happen in April. It could be a whole new “fresh start” for a much-beleaguered process or it could just go down as yet another “train” on the basis of a “technical fault.”

One thing is for sure: BfArM again appears to be cautiously optimistic. Yet they have been there before, too. Yes, there is a rising patient count. But there are also now many other import options and cheaper prices coming into the EU. As a result, there is still the likelihood, however implausible, that the German government will want to kick this can a bit further down the road.

German Parliament Building

What is the newest development? In late January, BfArM, the German equivalent to the FDA and the agency in charge of oversight and regulation of all medicines and medical devices, issued a press release about the status of the cannabis cultivation bid they are tasked with overseeing.

If things are not taken off track by the next still pending lawsuit (due to be heard by the high court in Dusseldorf on 10 April of this year), the agency will award the bid. Not before, as the press release also states categorically.

The Highlights

There is no award date yet of course. However, if the court case is decided in favour of BfArM this time (namely defending their exclusion of a bidder even though the deadline was delayed again for seven weeks last fall), there is reason to believe the public airing of that final list of license holders will be released soon after. That means the bid decision could come as soon as the next day and certainly by the end of April.

There were over 200 questions asked of the agency this time by around 79 bidders who submitted a total of 817 bids for a total of 13 cultivation lots. No more than five lots can go to any one bidder or consortium.

The amount to be cultivated under this first bid is 10,400 kg over four years (up from the first amount). Even this is expected to be too low to meet a clear and increasing domestic demand. That said, there is clear expectation that the remainder between what is cultivated domestically and consumed will be taken up by imports (although from where was not explicitly discussed).

The agency also stressed that they are responsible only for the administration of the tender itself. They will not receive, store or redistribute the cannabis or cannabis products. Further, BfArM also stressed that they are not responsible for the regulation of the final retail price at pharmacies.

Finally, the target date for the delivery of the first crops is a conservative estimate which says two things. One, BfArM are not tipping their hand in favour of Wayland (who at present has the largest licensed GMP facility in the country), and second, they are leaving themselves and bid respondents a little more wiggle room. Just in case. For whatever reason.

As the bid states, successful respondents do not need to have suitable real estate under contract until the finalists are announced, but if they are awarded the bid, they will have to not only move fast to secure a facility, but also set up a grow facility that can be certified in the next interim period.

By way of contrast, Wayland announced its purchase of the Ebersbach facility in the summer of 2017. They have just received, 18 months later, their GMP certification. Anyone starting from scratch, in other words, would have to move at least as fast as Wayland has. If not a bit faster, considering that Wayland is already up and running, and at this point certified.

Between The Lines

The entire cannabis legalization discussion has been caught up in the cultivation bid since the beginning. Patients in fact, lost their temporary right to grow if they could not afford the expensive cannabis being sold in pharmacies before 2017. After the law changed, only licensed and regulated operators were allowed to distribute the imported variety and then only from Holland and Canada.

Since then, the first cultivation bid went down in a legal challenge, the price of cannabis at the retail end has effectively increased at least 1,000 euros a month and there are as many as 80,000 German patients taking some kind of cannabinoid, mostly for chronic pain.

It is insurers, in other words, at least as much and now more than patients who are now on the sharp and expensive end of the stick.

Then again, until the actual announcement from the Dusseldorf high court if not BfArM itself, expect late breaking developments and drama until the very end.However, the interim frustrating period auf Deutschland plus the continuing needle of political reform just about everywhere (certainly in Europe) has changed the scenery dramatically in just two years. There are cultivation operations in Spain and Portugal with crops ready to be exported to the German consumer. Eastern Europe and Italy are also cultivating. Greece is preparing to. And Israel finally allowed its producers to jump into the medical game globally.

Prices will inevitably come down. The German government and insurance industry beyond that are two powerful drivers to insure the same. And a big part in bringing that price down is setting a bid reference price to begin with.

The situation, in other words, is being staged to move into the next “four-year plan” where Germany begins to understand how widely effective cannabinoids can be, for what conditions and what kind of delivery mechanisms work best for different patients.

It also aligns the country’s medical program perfectly with Luxembourg’s own four-year medical trial and now stated timeline of ensuring there is recreational reform by 2022.

All of which, in other words, also spells victory and potentially the end game to the first part of the German medical cannabis cultivation question and a larger first step for the EU beyond that to finally end medical cannabis prohibition.

Then again, until the actual announcement from the Dusseldorf high court if not BfArM itself, expect late breaking developments and drama until the very end.

Stay tuned.

Wayland Group’s GMP Certification Begins To Clarify German Cultivation Scenarios

By Marguerite Arnold
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Wayland Group just announced that they received GMP (good manufacturing practices) and GDP (good distribution practices) certification for their Ebersbach facility near Dresden, Germany. The plant already produced 2,400 kg of CBD isolate last year.

The certifications give Wayland the right to sell directly into German and other EU markets, and more significantly, the ability to store bulk product domestically.They have, by far, the largest cultivation site now legal in the country, with distribution to not only German pharmacies, but Europe beyond that.

Wayland is also widely believed to have applied for the much-stalled German cultivation bid. With per-gram production prices at Ebersbach cited at 1.34 euros, this certainly also sends an interesting message about who might win what in the bid, and where the price of cannabis might be headed.

Currently, cannabis is being sold to pharmacies in Germany at prices almost twice the retail price per gram in Canada. In turn, this means that the “retail” price of floss (flower) is running much higher than it is in more established markets (read Canada and of course the U.S.). Point of sale prices in Germany, for example, run between $2-3,000 per month per user. That is an era that is clearly also now coming to an end.

The Cultivation Bid

With the news of Wayland’s certifications, comes an almost certainty that they will become finalists in the pending cultivation bid in Germany. Why? They have, by far, the largest cultivation site now legal in the country, with distribution to not only German pharmacies, but Europe beyond that.

If Bedrocan was the incumbent favorite to win the majority of the licenses handed out to any one firm (especially given the recent increase in cannabis allowed to be sold into Germany across the Dutch border), this places Wayland in a strong second. If Bedrocan is not involved in the bid, this news might indicate that Wayland might be the largest winner in German cultivation licenses this time around.

The plot indeed thickens.

Prices: In General, Across Europe

The firm will be providing product, no matter what the outcome of the bid, at a production price, which is in line with the widely estimated requirements of the bid itself. Winning firms must also be able to provide pricing that is competitive to each other. It is unclear where the government will set that floor, but all medical cannabis sold in Germany after that, will then be competing with that price.

Could it be that the reference price of cannabis, in other words, has just been indirectly announced with the Wayland certifications?

Then there is this wrinkle. Given that production in Germany is more expensive than other countries in Europe (see Portugal, Spain and Greece in particular), the difference in labor costs may still outweigh the costs of shipping across the continent. Or, as the market gets going, it may not. Regardless, in a country like Germany where drug prices are routinely pre-negotiated in bulk by the government, cannabis prices will start to be regulated in a way they have not in other places, notably Canada. This means that heady visions of “mark-ups” to meet a so far unmet demand are also probably not in the cards, although government supported cannabis exports might be.

Insurance “Brands” And Bulk Buys Ahead?

Then there is this intriguing wrinkle. German “public” insurance patients (in other words 90% of the population) are not always free to choose the products they use. Why not? Beyond bulk purchases by the government, insurance companies are also allowed to enter into bulk contracts with some providers, namely medical equipment manufacturers. This is sort of the same situation as visiting an “in network” provider in the United States. In other words, the equipment is free (or vastly cheaper) to the patient if the selected brand is chosen.

Could cannabis go the same route?

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

At this juncture, that is unclear. Dronabinol, the only widely available source of cannabinoids in the country until 2016, is considered more of a generic than “name brand.” So far, neither it nor Sativex were pre-negotiated drugs. This was also for a very simple reason. There were only 800 registered patients in Germany until that year. That is far under the “orphan drug” category, which in Germany is 10,000 people. At this point, there are already much higher patient numbers (some cite as many as 79,000), with the majority of treatment going to patients with chronic pain.

By definition, this means that cannabis prices here will continue to be negotiated with little room for high mark-ups as the market consolidates. The more patients there are, the more attention will be paid to ensuring that the drug becomes affordable- not just to patients, but also insurers.

There is zero chance that the government will allow German public healthcare to be bankrupted over this still stigmatized plant, no matter how medically efficacious it is.

Germany and Israel at this point, have the longest established insurance mandate for cannabis- and in the German situation, this is now just two years old. The British NHS just announced that cannabis would be covered, with Luxembourg and Poland now also in the mix. However, the place of the insurance community in this debate is also a factor to be considered into the entire conversation as it unfolds here, beyond efficacy.

Dutch insurers in fact, stopped covering the drug almost as soon as Germany announced its own experiment.

It is unlikely that Wayland is unaware of such realities. The company has former executives from AOK on its German board. AOK is one of the largest statutory health insurers in Germany and one on the front line of cannabis reimbursements for the last two years.