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Why International Trade Agreements Are Shaping The Cannabis Industry

By Marguerite Arnold
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If you have wondered over the past several years, why the big Canadian companies (in particular) are following the global strategy they are, there is actually a fairly simple answer: Newly implementing trade agreements, particularly between Europe and North America.

More specifically, they are highly technical trade agreements that are also called Mutual Recognition Agreements, (or MRAs).

In fact, look at the schedule of the MRA agreements signed between the U.S. and individual EU countries over the last several years, and it also looks like a map of the countries that have not only legalized at least medical cannabis, but where the big Canadian companies (in particular) have begun to establish operations outside of their home country.

But what is going on is actually more than just CETA-related and also will affect cannabis firms south of the Canadian-U.S. border.

All of these swirling currents are also why the most recent MRA to come into full force in July this year, between the U.S. and Europe, is so interesting from the cannabis perspective. Even before federal reform in the U.S. If this sounds like a confusing disconnect, read on.

What Are MRAs?

MRAs are actually a form of highly specialized trade agreement that allow trading countries to be certain that the pharmaceuticals they purchase from abroad are equivalent to what is produced at home. This includes not only ingredients but processing procedures, production plant hygiene, testing, labeling and more.

When it comes to the  EU-US MRA agreement, this means that individual states of the EU can now recognize the American Food and Drug Administration (or FDA) as an effective federal regulator of American pharmaceutical production that is equal to the procedures in Europe. US GMP standards, in other words, will be recognized as equal to those of EU states.

This will now also, by definition, include GMP-certified medical cannabis formulations.

What is so intriguing, however, is how this development will actually place certain American (and Canadian) manufacturers in a first place position to import cannabis into Europe ahead of the rest of the American cannabis industry.

What Are Mutual Recognition Agreements All About?

One of the most important quality and consumer safety aspects of establishing a clean supply chain is tied up in the concept of GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices). These are procedures, established by compliant producers of pharmaceuticals, to ensure seed (or source) to sale reliability of the medication they make. In the cannabis industry, particularly in the advent of Canadian-European transatlantic trade in cannabis, this has been the first high hurdle to accept and integrate on the Canadian side.

GMPIf European countries recognize a country’s GMP certifications are equivalent to its own, in other words, and cannabis is legal for export, a country can enter the international cannabis market without facing bans, in-country inspections and the like. In the interim, imported products still have to be batch tested until the agreements are fully accepted and operational.

Israel, for example, already had an MRA with the EU, and medical cannabis is legal in the country. However, Israel was prevented from selling cannabis abroad until a legislative change domestically, passed on Christmas Day.

That is why the MRA agreement between the US and EU with Canadian companies in the middle also put both Israeli and U.S. firms at an extreme disadvantage in comparison. Both in entering the market in the first place, and of course associated discussions, like the German tender bid. That is now changing- and as of this year.

A Specialized Map Of Global Medical Cannabis Exporters

Ironically, what the new US-EU MRA could also well do is create a channel for pharmaceutical cannabis from the United States to Europe (certainly on the hemp and CBD front) just as Israel is expected to enter the international cannabis export industry (later this summer or fall). It could well be also, particularly given the Trump Administration’s tendency to want to not only “put America first” if not pull off “a better deal” in general and about everything, that this is why President Trump offered the delay to Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu in the first place.

Regardless of the international individual developments and subtleties however, what is very clear that from the time the first bid stalled in Germany in the summer of 2017 until now, the U.S.-EU MRA has been in the room even if not named specifically as a driver.

For example, the FDA confirmed the capability of Poland and Slovenia to carry out GMP inspections in February of 2019.  It was only last fall that Aurora pulled off its licensing news in the former (on the same day licensing reform was announced by the government). Denmark was recognized in November of last year during the first year of its “medical cannabis pilot progam.” Greece was recognized in March 2018. Italy, Malta, Spain and the UK came online in November of 2017.

Overlay this timetable with a map of cannabis reform (and beyond that, cannabis production) and the logic starts to look very clear.

The upshot, in other words, is that while cannabis still may be “stigmatized” if not still “illegal” in many parts of the world, more generalized, newly negotiated and implementing, specialized global trade agreements between the US, Europe and Canada in particular have been driving the development of certain segments of the cannabis industry globally and since about 2013.

The Biggest News?

As of this year, as a result, expect at least from the GMP-certified front at least, that such international trade will also include medical cannabis from the U.S.

Want an example of the same? First on that list if not early in the game will now undoubtedly be Canadian-based Canopy Growth, with Acreage on board, headquartered in New York.

Marguerite Arnold

Canopy Growth Makes Multi-Billion Dollar Conditional Acquisition Deal

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

The first German cannabis bid may have come to an end more or less, and with a whimper rather than a bang (not to mention the inevitable still-to-be-settled legal challenges). However even as the dust settles, one of the biggest “names” in cannabis and the company formerly expected to win at least a few of the tender lots is looking elsewhere.

Namely Canopy Growth, which was a finalist in the first round of the tender, has not shown up as a finalist firm in Germany this time (at least not so far).

However, it is clear the firm has other intentions afoot, namely U.S. expansion.

In an unprecedented move, Canopy announced its intent to buy the largest U.S. based producer of cannabis, a firm called Acreage Holdings, just before Easter. The conditional deal is being consummated in both cash ($300 million) plus stock swaps, and will not finally close until federal reform has come in the U.S. In fact, the deal makes the bet that the entire issue of U.S. federal reform will be solved within the next decade.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoIn the meantime, however, what this also does is place one of the world’s largest cannabis companies in the middle of what is largely seen as the world’s most valuable overall cannabis market. Further it does so in an environment where the company benefits from Acreage’s considerable market and political clout. Former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner (a fierce opponent of legalization until it was personally convenient and profitable) is on the board of Acreage.

But there are those who might still be confused about why this deal happened. Canopy after all is fond of saying that its first focus is the “more valuable” medical rather than recreational market. And the U.S. market has many challenges still, that stem from a lack of federal reform. In fact, Canopy has frequently said in the past that they would not enter the U.S. until federal reform occurs. What gives?

What The Deal Also Does…

It is not “just” entry into the U.S. recreational market, albeit still on a state level that is significant about the deal. That starts with its timing.

When trying to understand the motivations of Canadian cannabis companies, especially ones who have eschewed the U.S. market in the past (at least until federal reform passes), it is also necessary to understand that they operate in a shifting world of global strategy that is never as straightforward as one might think. And often has nothing to do with cannabis per se.

Namely, while this deal places Canopy in the middle of the U.S. state industry it also does something else. It positions Canopy as a U.S. producer just two months after a new international pharmaceutical trade deal went into force (on February 8) called an MRA.

MRA agreements, also known as Mutual Recognition Agreements, are essentially trade deals between countries to accept the equivalency of their pharmaceutical production and supply chain.

On the cannabis front, the existence of MRAs between existing countries as cannabis has become legal, has also largely dictated the new international cannabis trade (see Canada and Germany as a perfect example) although this has been held as a closely held secret by the largest cannabis company executives (some of whom have previously denied that this was driving their expansion across Europe).

However, thanks to the agreement on this MRA in February, as of July of this year, Europe and the U.S. will formally kick off a situation where the European and therefore German health authorities will formally recognize American GMP processes.

That means that on the pharma front, Canopy has also essentially re-entered the European market, albeit by a bit of a backdoor. It also means that Canopy can immediately start to import cannabis drugs at least, made in the U.S. into the European and by extension, German market.

Cannabis drugs have been going in the opposite direction across the Atlantic to the U.S. for at least a year now (see the GW Pharma’s Epidiolex adventure last year). And further over the U.S.-Canadian border if now only bound for academic research (see Tilray).

It also may mean that they can import medical cannabis itself to be used as “medicine” or processed into one in Europe.

Does This Mean That U.S. Federal Reform Is Imminent?

Not necessarily. In fact, keeping the U.S. market in general out of the global cannabis trade, while allowing the top companies to participate both in the cross-state market and the global pharmaceutical one benefits the biggest companies. Conveniently, this also allows U.S. cannabis “pharmaceutical” producers to enter the EU in force just as Israel is expected to (third quarter this year). This also puts the “deal” U.S. President Trump and Israeli President Netanyahu cut on the subject to delay Israeli sales in an entirely new light (and one that should outrage both Americans and Israelis in the industry on this front even more). Not to mention every European hopeful producer unaware of the larger game afoot.

That said, what federal U.S. legalization will do is drop the operating costs of the larger U.S. entities now engaged in multi-state operations.

Cannabis in other words is not likely to be legalized in the U.S. before the next presidential elections for reasons that have everything to do with the profits of a few – and for that reason will certainly be a major theme in the next national political race.

And in the meantime, the biggest companies, Canopy included, are not only laughing all the way to the bank (although their shareholders are another story), but setting themselves up to be at the ground floor DNA of the global cannabis business as it establishes itself in every country of the world.

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How Germany Gets Its Cannabis

By Marguerite Arnold
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The German cannabis cultivation bid may be mostly done and dusted (although the last four lots are now up for legal challenge) but the drama is only intensifying on the ground in Germany. Namely, where is the cannabis being consumed on the ground now actually coming from?

For the past several years (in fact since 2016 when a Frankfurt-based start-up called Medcann imported the first Canadian medical cannabis into the German market in partnership with Canopy Growth), the conventional wisdom has been that Holland and Canada were the only two countries allowed to import medical cannabis into the country.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoAs is usually the case in the cannabis industry, when it comes to such things, there were also multiple and highly creative explanations about this strange state of affairs that sounded oddly exotic enough to be plausible. This is after all, the international cannabis business.

These explanations also usually referenced conventional industry “lore” including such tall tales as these two countries were not signatories to an international drug treaty (not true), to being European (nope) or even a member of the EU (also completely false).

Yet there was always something strange with such urban legends – perpetuated by insiders across the German industry. Starting with a deliberate vagueness about details. Especially as in the summer of 2017 when Tilray announced grow facilities in Portugal, and by the end of it, Canopy was moving into Spain, and later by early 2018 Denmark and more. Italybegan to appear on the radar of multiple big Canadian companies. Clearly all these big companies seemed to know something that those outside did not. See Greece. Not to mention the teeth-gnashing of the Israelis– repeatedly shut out of the German market by not being allowed to export by their own government until Christmas Day, 2018.

The mystery deepened in March in fact, as a furore rocked the German-based cannabis industry over the last weeks. Farmako, a new, Frankfurt-based distributor, not only announced that it was importing 50 tonnes of cannabis into the country– and from Poland (where production of such bulk has not even been seeded) – but then gave additional details on a Bloomberg appearance that appeared to indicate that in fact the medical cannabis they were already selling (sourced from other places) had come from Macedonia. 

Certification, and most certainly paperwork are the name of the gameIn fact, no such transfer of cannabis had occurred from the Macedonian side (yet), although the firm in question at the other end of the deal was subjected to considerable harassment in the German canna-specialty press in the meantime.

The news, that occurred right at a time when Tilray is clearly training pharmacists for the German market, the first bid is concluding, Greece issues even more cultivation licenses, Canadian companies are clearing still stepping up their production game, and South Africa is also getting into the formal licensing act, with all sorts of interesting things afoot in Uruguay, also set off what appears to be an official investigation of the firms involved at the governmental level.

Insiders are tight lipped and nobody is willing to talk on record. However, the distribution firm, Farmako, has subsequently reported that in the month of March, they became the top selling cannabis specialty distributor in Germany. And since they are not out of business, it is also clear that while their PR may have been a little premature if not easily misunderstood, the broader message is very obvious.

What is also very clear at this point, in other words, is that the German door for cannabis and the international industry appears to be opening to product sourced from many places. Further by extension, the German government is in the process of recognizing foreign GMP certification processes from multiple countries all over the world as being equal to its own – at least on the cannabis front.

In fact, this has been going on relatively quietly for the past six months or so.

What Are The Standards, Certifications, and Qualifications?

A press release from January of this year, issued from an Australian firm called MCA, announced they had accepted the first letter of intent to ship to a German firm (in 2020). The company is currently accepting pre-orders as it finishes construction and achieves EU GMP certification. The same (female founded) firm was also present at the ICBC in Berlin this year in March, reporting that German demand from a universe of local distributors was already greater than they could fill. The news that their first sale went to German firm Lexamed, the controversial German wheelchair distributor who helped bring down the first German bid, was also largely unremarked upon at the time by most of the industry press and in fact, ever since.

GMPIn truth, it appears that the countries and companies that have the right to import to Germany must first have their own national GMP certification recognized as being equal to German standards – or a so-called Mutual Recognition Agreement (or MRA) must exist between the importer and exporter nations. It still means that to be really EU-GMP compliant, inspectors have to walk your cultivation floors. But first your country has to have the MRA. And that is a matter for lawyers and regulators to decide.

In the Australian case, the GMP equivalence for cannabis production apparently became reality within the last six months although no one is giving exact dates. In the case of Macedonia, this is pending, with German inspectors now apparently scheduled to begin inspecting domestic cultivation facilities within the next month to six weeks.

The biggest news, of course, which makes even more sense on the heels of Canopy’s latest “record breaking” U.S. acquisition, is that the EU and the U.S. will enter into an MRA in July that was finally agreed to in February of this year. This will also mean that cannabis “medicines” potentially even beyond CBD, produced via U.S. GMP processes, will be allowed to enter Europe if not Germany in the near future – and from the U.S. for the first time. Ahead of federal legalization in the U.S.

It also means that Israeli and American firms will be allowed to enter the European and thus German market for the first time (on the ground with product) by at latest, the third quarter of this year.

Caused By The Bid….and Likely Shorter Term Outcomes

What the events of the last several weeks make clear is that the bid is not only insufficient for demand, but the authorities are officially, if quietly recognizing the same. There are already rumours about the next cultivation tenders in Germany, and there is a high likelihood that other countries (see Poland in particular) may also follow suit shortly.

Further, the difficulties in making sure that not only countries but the companies based in the same remain compliant with EU and further German sanctified EU- GMP processes (for one) is likely to be an issue that continues to bubble. Why? It is a problem already in the broader pharmaceutical market here.

The Plusses and Minuses of The News

The first thing that is also obvious is that even Wayland cannot source the entire German market with the product it has begun to grow here no matter who ends up with the last four cultivation licenses this time around. Further, that the other winning bid firms (Aphria and Aurora as known at this point) without cultivation on the ground, are sourcing from somewhere that is also probably at this point, not even Canada. No matter how much expansion is going on in Canada, in other words, what is now entering the German market may bear a Canadian brand but could just have easily been sourced from almost anywhere in the world.

That also means that enterprising firms (see Australian MCA) can skip the Canadian introduction to the German market and sell directly to local producers before they even have crops on the ground, as well as the burgeoning German cannabis distributors across the country.

For such firms now wanting to enter the market, however, it is not all clear sailing. The events of the last few weeks clearly show that the government is watching, including reading English language industry press, and willing to pursue any firms it deems are breaking the rules on both sides of national borders.

Certification, and most certainly paperwork are the name of the game, as well as greater accuracy in company intentions (even if in the near term).


Disclaimer: Nysk, the Macedonian firm referred to in this story, is a sponsor of the MedPayRx pilot to market program

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German Cultivation Bid Appears To Have Three Finalists

By Marguerite Arnold
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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.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoAurora 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.

aurora logoAt 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.

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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European Moves Signal Green Spring For Cannabis

By Marguerite Arnold
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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.

Germany

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).

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Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

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.

Switzerland

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.

Bern, the capital of Switzerland
Photo: martin_vmorris

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

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.

WHO Makes Noise About Cannabis “Rescheduling”

By Marguerite Arnold
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At this point in the end of prohibition, not even the United Nations (UN) or the World Health Organization (WHO) are immune to the great green wave sweeping the planet. Yet, lest anyone get too optimistic about developments at the nose bleed level of international drug reform, the newest round of headlines regarding “WHO cannabis reform” is hardly cause for celebration.

The Story At The International Level So Far

In documents obtained by Cannabis Industry Journal last fall, it appeared that cannabis reform of the serious kind had caught the eye of senior leaders at the WHO. Further, it also appeared that some kind of decisive action or declaration would be forthcoming by the end of the year.

Yet as reported at the end of January, such decisions appear to be headed for a tortoise speed approvals track. Yes, it appears that CBD will probably be descheduled, and from both the hemp and cannabis perspective. That should be good news to many who are caught in a raft of international standards that are confusing and all over the place on a country-by-country level. However, this will not be much of a boon to the industry in Europe, in particular, where the discussion is less over CBD but the source of it, and how distillates are used. From this perspective, the draft WHO documents will make no difference, except perhaps to speed the acceptance of CBD, and create clearer regulations around it.

On the THC front, the WHO appears to do nothing more than move cannabis squarely into international Schedule I territory. More interesting of course, is the intent of international regulators to keep cannabis very much in uncertain status while moving “pharmacized” versions of the same into Schedule III designation.

What Does The Opinion of The WHO Really Mean?

What this means is also still unclear except that those who want to sell to regulated medical and nonmedical markets have to get their products (whatever those are) registered as medicine or a legitimate consumer product in every jurisdiction and eventually at a regional level (see Europe). That is clearly underway right now by both the big Canadian and emerging Israeli entities in the market as well as savvy European players in both verticals. That said, it is also a game that is about to create a very interesting market for those who are able to produce cheap, but high-grade oils in particular.

What Does This Mean For The Future Of Flower?

On the medical front, Germany became the third country in the world to consider reimbursing flower via national healthcare. Of the three who have tried it to date so far (and it is unclear what Poland will do at this point longer term), Israel is inching away and Holland nixed the entire cannabis covered by insurance conversation at the same time Germany took it on. Where that plays out across Europe will be interesting, especially as the cost of production and end retail cost continues to drop. And doctor education includes information about “whole plant” vs. pre-prescribed “dosing” where the patient has no control. The reality in the room in Europe right now is that this drug is being used to treat people with drug resistant conditions. Dosing dramas in other words, will be in the room here for some time to come as they have in no other jurisdiction.

european union statesBeyond dosing and control issues that have as much to do with doctors as overall reform, flower is still controversial for other reasons. One, it is currently still being imported into Europe from highly remote and expensive import destinations. That will probably change this year because of both the cultivation bid and Israel’s aggressive move into the middle of the fray as well as widely expected ex-im changes that will allow imports from countries throughout Europe. However, in the meantime, this is one of the reasons that flower is so unpopular right now at the policy and insurance level. The other is that pharmacists in Germany are allowed to treat the flower as a drug that must be processed. In this case, that means that they are adding a significant surcharge, per gram, to flower because they grind it before they give it to patients.

How long this loophole will exist is unclear. However, what is also very clear is that oils in particular, will play a larger and larger role in most medical markets. Read, in other words, “pharmaceutical products.”

For this reason, the WHO recommendations, for one, are actually responding to unfolding realities on the ground, not leading or setting them.

Setting A Longer-Term Date For Widespread Recreational Reform

This conservative stance from the WHO also means, however, that in the longer run, individual country “recreational reform” particularly in places like Europe, will be on a slower than so far expected track. There are no countries in the EU who are willing to step too far ahead of the UN in general. That includes Luxembourg, which so far has made the boldest predictions about its intentions on the recreational front of any EU member. However, what this also may signal is that the UN will follow the lead set by Luxembourg. Even so, this legitimately puts a marker in the ground that at least Europe’s recreational picture is at least five years off.

In the meantime, the WHO recommendations begin to set international precedent and potentially the beginnings of guidelines around a global trade that has already challenged the UN to change its own regulations. In turn, expect these regulations to guide and help set national policy outside a few outliers (see Canada, Uruguay and potentially New Zealand) globally.

Bottom line, in other words? The latest news from the UN is not “bad” but clearly seems to say that cannabis reform is a battle that is still years in the making. That said, from the glass is half full perspective, it appears, finally, there might be the beginning of a light at the end of the international tunnel of prohibition.

Canadian Companies Continue European Cannabis Moves

By Marguerite Arnold
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There is a lot of European news afoot from the big public Canadian companies between all the headlines about Israel. Namely, established cannabis companies in the market already continue to shore up their presence across multiple member EU states.

What is at stake? Establishing some kind of European foothold in an environment where licensing and production costs will not bust the bank- and what will be the first government-set, pre-negotiated bulk price for medical cannabis flower. For all the high-flying news of even hundred million-dollar (or euro) investments, right now the biggest hunt is on for ways to trigger sales figures that continue to grow steadily in the customer column.

There is also a dawning realization that prices are going to start stabilizing if not falling after the German government finalizes its selection of bid winners.european union states

As a result of all of this, to compete against each other and streamline distribution and supply chain costs, the larger Canadian companies in the market are clearly angling to set up efficient distribution networks- even if that means buying pieces of them one country and property at a time.

How well that will work in the longer run remains to be seen- but it is a play that is starting to show up in other European developments (from the Israeli side). That said, the latest news of the big guys in the field make sense within this context, if none other.

Canopy Growth Announces UK and Polish Moves

Spectrum Cannabis, the European-based medical brand of Canopy Growth chalked two more achievements off its Euro “to do list” in January. At the beginning of the month, Spectrum announced it was preparing to enter the UK market via the creation of a joint venture with Beckley Canopy Foundation, Spectrum Biomedical.

In Poland, the company also announced the successful shipment of its high-THC whole flower “Red No.2.” The Polish government began allowing sales late last year.

Neither development however should be a surprise to those watching the strategy of either Canopy or for that matter several other public Canadian cannabis companies. Aurora, for example, announced its first successful shipment into the country on the same day that the Polish government changed the law. On the British side, the combined forces of changing the regulatory scheduling of cannabis and allowing the drug to be dispensed by prescription have certainly changed the game on some levels. Brexit is about to play havoc with most imported products, and cannabis is no exception to this.Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

In this sense, the challenges facing both British and Polish patients right now are also fairly analogous. Importing is the only way to get the drug to patients, and the cost of import is also prohibitively high for most. Then of course, there is actual approval beyond that, which is also a problem everywhere cannabis has become legal.

While both developments of course, are good news for the company, this does not mean that the initial going will be easy or smooth for any company, including one as skilled at strategic market entry in core countries across the continent for the last several years as Spectrum has reliably proven to be.

Green Organic Dutchman Gets Cultivation License In Denmark

TGOD has now gone where other Canadian Euro cannabis players have gone before– namely it has joined the national trial program and several other Canadian cannabis companies before it (see Spectrum Cannabis for one) in Denmark.

Why are so many public cannabis companies attracted to the tiny country? The first is that the country, like Switzerland, in fact, is not as bound by EU rules as say, Germany and France. It can “experiment” in ways that are notably different from its neighbors.

As a result of this and a change in the law that began a multiyear trial to experiment with regulation and medical efficacy, cultivation licenses are also easier to obtain than in other places. There are also other plusses to establishing a presence in the country if not the continent including a strong social care system, and a research environment that promises to produce great results on the medical efficacy discussion continent wide.

Marguerite Arnold

A Busy 4th Quarter Heralds An Amazing Cannabis Year Globally

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

In retrospect, when the cannabis history books are written, 2018 may come to represent as much of a watershed year as 2014. Much has happened this year, culminating in a situation, much like at the end of the first year of modernization, where great victories have been achieved. But a long road to true acceptance and even basic and much broader medical use still beckons. Even if the new center left ruling coalition party in Luxembourg has just announced that recreational cannabis reform is on its agenda for the next five years.

This is a quick and by no means a full review of both fourth quarter activity globally, and how that ties into gains for the year.

Canada Legalizes Rec Sales

Beyond all the other banner headlines, October 17 will go down in history as the day that Canada switched the game.

Will 1017 replace 420? Not likely. But it is significant nonetheless.

What does this mean for the rest of the industry (besides international border checks and lifetime bans for Canadian executives and presumably others traveling into the U.S. to cannabis industry conferences at present)? For starters, a well-capitalized, public industry which is building infrastructure domestically and overseas like it is going out of style.

This is important for several reasons, starting with the fact that the big Canadian LPs are clearly not counting on supplying Europe from Canada for much longer. Why? The big European grows that were set up last year are starting to come online.

So Does California…

And other significant U.S. states (see Massachusetts this month and Michigan) are following suit. However the big issue, as clearly seen at least from Canada and Europe, is there is no federal reform in sight. That opens up a raft of big complications that so far, most U.S. firms have not been able to broach. That said, this situation is starting to change this fall, with two U.S. firms entering both Greece and Denmark, but in general, a big issue. Canadian firms are still trying to figure out how to both utilize the public markets in the U.S. without getting caught in detention when crossing the border.the U.S. is continuing to be a popular place to go public for Canadian firms

Regardless, the U.S. is continuing to be a popular place to go public for Canadian firms, who are also looking for access to global capital markets and institutional capital. Right now, Frankfurt is off limits for many of them. See the Deutsche Börse. That said, with the rules already changing in Luxembourg, one firm has already set its sights for going public in Frankfurt next spring.

The German Situation

Like it or not, the situation in Germany is key to the entire EU and increasingly a global enchilada, and no matter where companies are basing their cultivation sites at this point, there are two big gems in the European cannabis crown. Deutschland is the first one because of the size of the economy, the intact nature of public healthcare and the fact that the German government decided to mandate that sick people could get medical cannabis reimbursed by their public health insurer.

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

Ironies abound, however. In the last quarter, it is clear from the actions of the Deutsche Börse that Frankfurt is not a popular place to go public (Aurora went public on the NYSE instead in late October).

The cultivation bid was supposed to come due, but it is now likely that even the December deadline might get pushed back again, interminably at least until April when the most recent lawsuit against the entire process is due to be argued.

In the meantime, there is a lot of activity in the German market even if it does not make the news. Distribution licenses are being granted all over the country (skip Berlin as there are already too many pending). And established distributors themselves, particularly specialty distributors, are increasingly finding themselves the target of foreign buyout inquiries.

There are also increasing rumours that the German government may change its import rules to allow firms outside of Canada and Holland to import into the country.

The German market, in other words, continues to cook, but most of it is under the surface a year and a half after legalization, to figure things out.

The UK

Next to October 17, the other date of note this fall of course was November 1. The Limeys may not have figured out Brexit (yet). But cannabis for medical use somehow made it through the national political fray this summer. Hospitalized children are compelling.

UKflagNow the question is how do other patients obtain the same? The NHS is in dire straits. Patients must still find a way to import the drug (and pay for it). And with newly imposed ex-im complications coming Britain’s way soon, there is a big question as to where and how exactly, patients are supposed to import (and from where). All looming and unanswered questions at the moment.

But hey, British doctors can now write prescriptions for cannabis.

Greece and Malta

Greece and Malta are both making waves across Europe right now. Why?

The licensing process that has continued into the fall is clearly opening up inexpensive cultivation in interesting places. Greece is growing. Malta, an island nation that is strategically placed to rival Greece for Mediterranean exports across Europe is still formalizing the licensing process, but don’t expect that to last for long.

Look for some smart so and so to figure out how to beat Brexit and import from Malta through Ireland. It’s coming. And odds are, it’s going to be Malta, if not the Isle of Mann that is going to clinch this intriguing if not historical cultivation and trade route.

Poland

Just as October came to a close, the Polish government announced the beginning of medical imports. Aurora, which went public the same week in New York, also announced its first shipment to the country – to a hospital complex.

Let the ex-im and distribution games begin!

It is widely expected that the Polish market will follow in German footsteps. Including putting its cannabis cultivation bid online whenever the Polish government decides to cultivate medical supplies domestically. The country just finalized its online tender bid system in general.

Does anyone know the expression for “pending cannabis bid lawsuit in Warsaw” in Polish?

Notable Mentions

While it gets little press outside the country, the Danish four year experiment is reaching the end of its first year. While this market was first pioneered by Canopy/Spectrum, it was rapidly followed by both Canadian LPs and others entering the market. Latest entrant this quarter? A tantalizingly American-British conglomerate called Indiva Ltd. as of November 21.

Italy is also starting to establish a presence in interesting ways as multiple firms begin to establish cultivation there.

There are also increasing rumours and reports that Israel might finally be able to start exporting next year. That will also disrupt the current ecosystem.

And most of all, beyond a country-by-country advance, the World Health Organization meeting in early November and in the early part of December is likely to keep the pressure on at a global level for rescheduling and descheduling the cannabis plant.

This in turn, is likely to set the stage as well as the timeline for rec use in Luxembourg. Look for developments soon.

A busy time indeed. Not to mention a quarter to end a very intriguing year, and certainly destined to sow returns for years to come, globally.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

Focus on Canopy Growth: International Pioneer On A Global Mission

By Marguerite Arnold
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Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

Read the glossy website or encounter their expensive marketing materials and lush swag at any upscale international cannabis business conference these days and you get a certain kind of impression. The new, modernist, chic European HQ in central Frankfurt, for example, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and breath-taking view of the city, river and mountains, continues to give that perspective far from home.The company has been at the forefront of the Canadian cannabis industry since 2013 and has subsequently weathered several mergers, buyouts and creative partnerships of all kinds.

But what’s of great interest about Canopy is that its highly slick corporate image is backed up by a solid performance elsewhere to date– and on a number of important, and globally impactful levels. Further, the company’s willingness to think strategically, globally, and take calculated, well-timed risks at the same time proves to be effective.

The Canadian Beginnings

The company has been at the forefront of the Canadian cannabis industry since 2013 and has subsequently weathered several mergers, buyouts and creative partnerships of all kinds. In the process it has also made financial history in the cannabis industry, becoming the first publicly listed cannabis company in the world a year after its founding.

Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logoSo much of its iconic corporate history is in fact, ironically fading in the rapid birth of the full on recreational market at home. However, here is the elevator pitch. Born as Tweed, in 2013, in an abandoned former Hershey chocolate plant and the recipient of one of Canada’s first medical cultivation licenses, the company rapidly expanded with increased market access that reform brought. Inevitably, its success also spawned one of its closest competitors (Cannabis Wheaton Income Corp) after co-founder Chuck Rifici was ousted by a unanimous vote of the Canopy board.

In 2018, Canopy Growth still maintains its reputation as the first Canadian cannabis unicorn, even though its stock price is just half that of close competitor, Tilray.

In Canada, the company has long expanded adroitly beyond its central HQ with strategic partnerships and buyouts that range the gamut of grow and branding opportunities that are becoming increasingly as mainstream as, well, beer. These days, Canopy is well-poised to take advantage of the shifting Canadian regulatory landscape on several fronts.

The first is undeniably medical. The company has made patient access a cornerstone of its continuing market development strategy. In fact, current CEO and original cofounder, Bruce Linton, has recently told the press that in his view the medical market globally is the company’s first and most profitable focus.

No matter how many beer companies come calling. And that is also one of the company’s more notable, if not newsworthy accomplishments.

International Aspirations

However it is on the international side that the company has really distinguished itself. That starts with the early (relatively speaking) and active interest in what was going on far from Canadian shores. Initially in Europe (but not limited to it). And even more centrally, how and where the company expanded its global medical reach.Canopy has spread its influence widely throughout Europe already

That started, from the Canopy perspective, with the decision to buy the small German GmbH called MedCann (now Spectrum Cannabis, the global medical brand of Canopy). Located just south of Frankfurt, an international but small team of globally experienced entrepreneurs managed to obtain the first import license for medical flower from Canada into Germany in the summer of 2016. Guided by the industry knowledge and business savvy if not entrepreneurial zeal that so often leads to naught, Pierre Debs and team faced a market still sceptical of medicinal cannabis domestically, and the burden of being “first.” Canopy was not yet in Europe, but they had more ready access to the market and capital. The Canopy buyout of MedCann was accomplished on December 12, 2016, six months before the first iteration of the German cultivation bid was announced. Canopy later announced that it had become one of the top ten finalists in the first iteration of the now restarted German cultivation bid.

Beyond Germany however, this unique team with deep local and global knowledge also began an immediate expansion policy in Europe and beyond that is still unfolding. Apparently in similar strategy adopted at home in the Canadian provinces, Canopy has spread its influence widely throughout Europe already. With an enormous supply contract from Spain’s Alcaliber and operations in Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy and a few more (still currently unnamed) operations rolling out any day, the company is clearly building a solid, strategically dispersed infrastructure that reaches far beyond Europe, with global impact and influence.

Exhibit A? In April of this year, the company launched Spectrum Australia with support from the Victorian government.

Controversies

The biggest controversy facing the company so far, albeit indirectly, involves pesticides. This issue occurred during the acquisition of an outside company called Mettrum. In other words, Canopy inherited the production liabilities of a purchased company. The acquisition, however, which passed the buck to Canopy to fix, was actually an opportunity for Canopy to implement its own high internal production and quality controls throughout Mettrum facilities.

This was not inexpensive or of small impact (it affected 21,000 medical users). In addition to taking a leadership role in addressing their acquisition’s production issues, CEO Linton publicly apologized to affected patients.

The company has also been on the forefront of the banking and financing regulatory problems that have plagued the industry (so far successfully).