The Canadian cannabis community has just gotten a new member. Tree of Knowledge, Inc. just became Canada’s newest public cannabis company. The company is also planning on raising $10 million in private placement capital. According to the company’s most current pitch deck, the planned use of proceeds includes $6.5 million for new capex expenditures in Canada and Macedonia plus new product development. The rest is slated for patient and doctor outreach including via social media, new hires and working capital.
Who Is Tree of Knowledge Inc.?
Founded originally in Washington State in 2015, today TOK has a global market presence with CBD products on three continents and is already positioning itself to run with the big boys on the international scene, just on its CBD footprint. In the online marketplace, they are doing business as EVR CBD. That includes state markets in the United States, Europe, South America, Australia and China.
The company also has a distinguished board that includes doctors to former professional sports stars. As of April, the company engaged in a reverse merger with Courtland Capital, a Nevada subsidiary company.
And as of July 2018, the company purchased 5% of NYSK Holdings – a rapidly establishing Macedonian start-up with an eye to the European market – starting with Germany.
Who Is NYSK Holdings?
NYSK Holdings is absolutely on an upward trajectory. The company, founded by Americans with strong ties to the home country along with local partners, broke ground in Skopje, Macedonia last year.
Company principals have been exploring entry into the European market ever since (Macedonia may be in the Balkans, but it is technically not part of the EU). Significantly, this also means that producers there are used to meeting European specs for import purposes, if not hopeful EU inclusion.
Like other EU partners in the west however, (notably Spain and Portugal) labour rates are also much lower than in Germany. This creates a new avenue into the EU and the German market, which is now going to be an import-dominant one until 2020.
What is even more interesting about NYSK? They produce GMP-certified product – both THC and CBD. They have been looking for partners for most of this year. They also had a booth at the ICBC in Berlin, an experience that they found highly satisfactory.
Their strategic importance to TOK is also large. NYSK brings, for the first time, THC products and high-tech processing capacity adjacent to the European Union to a firm with a global footprint.
They might, in other words, have been Europe’s most under-priced production facility. Don’t expect that to last long.
What Is Interesting About The Move
One glance at TOK’s founders, board, andadvisors is enough to establish that this is a company of mostly older Gen X and younger Boomer heavy hitters from other industries who are pooling resources and knowledge to step into a global medical cannabis space. Smartly.
For example, the focus on dosing control, trials and an operational, GMP-certified production facility in Macedonia, plus their Canadian footprint, makes TOK and their partners well suited for “European invasion.” So does their first product – a CBD-based sleep aid.
This creates, in other words, a company with Canadian and Macedonian production, American entry and global reach, including into countries other cannabis companies have so far not breached (see China), with an interesting, low-cost, lower risk entry profile. Their expanded market entry is also occurring right at a time when Europe, including the about to be Brexited UK, is now moving forward on medical reform sans very much local production.
Perhaps this comes from the experience of the principals. TOK Cofounder Michael Caridi started his involvement in the cannabis industry in Washington State in 2014 after a successful real estate and promotions career on the East Coast (New York) and experience in ex-im. However, Caridi rapidly grew disillusioned with the state’s focus if not an obsessionon a more recreational space than medical users. He and Brian Main, now president of US operations, founded TOK a year later. Current CEO, John-Paul Gaillard, has a history that includes the creator of the Marlboro Classics brand and a stint as the CEO of Nestle Nespresso who put the idea on the map if not kitchen counters globally.
No newbies here when it comes to global market strategies, penetration and experience.
According to Kermit the Frog, it’s never easy being green. It is also tough to be “first” in the cannabis biz. Anywhere.
One of the most remarkable features of the first years of state-level legalization in the U.S. was the sheer number of mistakes by the authorities in issuing licenses and bids for state-sanctioned cultivation and dispensation once the voters had forced legalization. There were several state-level “redos” and lots of legal mumbo jumbo thrown around as the green-rush kicked off at the state level.The real news? There is going to be a completely new one.
Fast-forward a couple of years and it is clear this is not just an issue of the confused state of legalization in the U.S.
Canada too, on a federal recreational level, has moved forward in fits and starts. And even though a fall start date to the market has now been enshrined into law, the continued moving target of the same has been a topic of fraught conversations and bargaining ever since the country decided to move ahead with full Monty recreational.
Across the pond, things are not going smoothly on the cannabis front. In the first week of July, the much stalled medical cultivation bid in Germany finally came to a limpid end. It remains to see if there will be any legal “bangs” as it whimpers away.
The real news? There is going to be a completely new one.
According to documents obtained by Cannabis Industry Journal, the Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte (or BfArM) issued letters to original bid respondents in the first week of July. The letters appear to have been sent to all parties who originally applied to the first bid – far from the final top runners.
The translation, from German reads:
“We hereby inform you that we have withdrawn the above-mentioned award procedure…and intend to initiate a new award in a timely manner.”
The letter cited the legal decision of March 28 this year by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court as the reason the agency cannot award the contract. Specifically, because of “necessary changes to the tender documents…inparticular with regard to time, we have decided to cancel the procedure altogether and initiate a new award procedure.”
Per the letter, the new procedure will be published in the Official Journal of the EU. No date was mentioned.
An Expensive Surprise and a Global Response
Conventional wisdom in the industry about the fate of the first bid has been mixed since last September when the first hint of lawsuits against the procedure began to circulate. Highly placed sources within the industry have long had their doubts about the bid’s survivability, although nobody will talk on the record. The bid process is supposed to be secret.However, it is clear that another bid will be issued
Furthermore, for the last 9 months, BfArM has maintained that the agency would go full-steam ahead with the original tender. None of the major firms contacted by CIJ about this notification would confirm that they had received a similar letter, nor would they comment.
However, it is clear that another bid will be issued. Further, this time, it is also obvious to the extent that it was not before, the applicants will indeed hail from all points of the globe. On top of that, those who are qualified to respond and who missed it last time are unlikely to sit the bid out this time around.
It remains unclear of course, what the response of the finalists to the first bid will be. Including, theoretically,legal action forpotential damages. BfArM was, technically, held at fault by the court. This means that all the companies who made it to the previous “final round” have now suffered at a minimum, an expensive time delay where other outlays of cash were also required. That includes the leasing and retrofitting of high security real estate, but of course,is not limited to the same. If any of these firms do not obtain the bid in the second go around, will they sue?
At press time, there were no cannabis industry companies willing to comment on the matter as this is still a “secret” process – even if it now apparently has come to an end for this round.
Who Is Likely To Be a Major Contender This Time?
German firms who were sleeping the last time this opportunity arose (or brushed it off as a “stigmatized” opportunity) are not likely to sit the second tender offer out. Especially given advancements in legalization if not the industry both in Europe and globally in the period of time the bid has stalled.
Add to that Canadians, Dutch, Israeli and Uruguayan firms, and the mix of applicants this time is likely to be the who’s who of the global cannabis industry. Americans are still not qualified to participate (with experience at least). Why? No federal reform.Domestic cannabis will not be harvested in Germany until at least 2020.
It is also likely to be even more expensive. Not to mention require easy and quick access to European-based or at least easily confirmable pools of cash. It is conceivable that successful applications this time around will not only have to prove that they have a track record in a federally legal jurisdiction but will also have to be able to quickly access as much as 100 million euros. And there are not many cannabis companies, yet, who can do that, outside of the presumed top 10 finalists to the bid.
Will Bid Respondents Be Limited To “Just” the Cannabis Industry?
It is, however, absolutely possible that this time around the bid could include a more established pharmaceutical player or two who realizes that the medical market here has absolutely proved itself. Within the space of a year, according to the most recent “market report” on the industry (from the perspective of one of the country’s largest statutory insurance companies – Techniker Krankenkasse), there are now just over 15,000 patients.
Cannabis, in other words, is no longer an “orphan drug.” It is also still, however, considered a narcotic. For that reason, seasoned European and German players may upset the market even more with an entry via this tender bid.
Here is what is certain for now. Domestic cannabis will not be harvested in Germany until at least 2020. And until that time, it will be a growing, but import-based market.
C-45 – or the Cannabis Act, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate by a vote of 52-29. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has subsequently announced that the legislation will pass into law on October 17. The intent behind the legalization effort was to cripple organized crime and protect minors.
Only one other country in the world has taken such a dramatic step – Uruguay.
The Medical Discussion Is Just Getting Underway
While legalization advocates and the increasingly corporate industry have everything to celebrate, this does not necessarily change the other conversation on the ground – in fact it only strengthens it.
Clearly this is a blow against prohibition still in force just south of the border in the U.S. This move alone is also likely to drive the debate in an environment where California and other states are clearly thumbing their noses at the federal government and proceeding apace with its own (and largest) U.S.-based marketplace.
However, there is another topic floating around this conversation. If cannabis is “harmless” enough for recreational use, its use for medical purposes has become the third rail that is now driving the conversation in other places – most certainly Europe.In the meantime, Canadian firms are in an unparalleled position to enter global markets (as they have already begun to do) and set the tone and debate.
Here, full legalization is absolutely off the table as policymakers and scientists begin to seriously contemplate integration of cannabinoids into comprehensive health systems. This week’s dramatic announcement in the UK to that effect, which came the same day as the Canadian vote, is one indication of that. Germany’s own cautious foray into medical use is another. The change in the law last year mandating public health insurance coverage of the same has created a population of 15,000 patients in the last year with many more lining up to obtain it. This population of patients will reliably use more cannabis every month than even the most dedicated recreational consumer.
What Comes Next?
Four and a half years after Colorado took the plunge, the world of cannabis acceptance has clearly changed – and for good.
But what is the next step? Clearly the pressure is now on in the U.S. to consider rescheduling to at least a Schedule II if not Schedule III drug. Marinol, the synthetic version of the drug, became a Schedule III drug in 2010. Epidiolex, GW Pharma’s drug derived from cannabis, just received FDA approval too. GW Pharma is the only British company allowed to develop cannabinoid medications. Let’s see how long that flag flies in the new commonwealth, with Canada fast behind the UK now as the two compete for the title of largest canna exporter. Globally.
The drug war, in other words, is finally coming to close for cannabisHowever full legalization – even in the United States and most certainly in Europe – is at least several years away.
In the meantime, Canadian firms are in an unparalleled position to enter global markets (as they have already begun to do) and set the tone and debate. How they will position themselves – as medical pharmaceutical or recreational companies – is another discussion that is still unfolding. Particularly because cannabis is a hybrid substance. And further, it is not entirely understood (nor has of course it been studied) where cannabis stops becoming a drug. If a consumer uses CBD, for example, as part of a wellness routine but also heads off a more serious condition, is the use of the plant “medical” or “recreational?”
These are all questions now on the table. But at least they are.
The drug war, in other words, is finally coming to close for cannabis. But the horizons beyond that, widely unexplored, promise blue ocean opportunities for decades to come. And not “just” in recreational use, but in the amazing worlds of science, technology and medicine that now lie within reach.
Techniker Krankenkassen (or TK as it is also frequently referred to) is one of Germany’s largest public or so-called “statutory” health insurance companies. It is companies like TK that provide health insurance to 90% of the German population.
TK is also on the front lines of the medical cannabis discussion. In fact, TK, along with other public health insurers AOK and Barmer, have processed the most cannabis prescriptions of all insurers so far in the first year after the law change. There are now approximately 15,000 patients who have received both a proper prescription and insurance approval coverage. That number is also up 5,000 since the beginning of just this year.
In a fascinating first look at the emerging medical market in Germany, TK, in association with the University of Bremen, has produced essentially the first accessible report on approvals, and patient demographics for this highly stigmatized drug.
Because it is in German, but also contains information critical to English-speaking audiences in countries where the medical issue is being approached more haphazardly (see the U.S. and Canada), Cannabis Industry Journal is providing a brief summary of the most important takeaways from TK’s Cannabis Report.
Most Patients Are Women
This is not exactly surprising in a system where symptomology rather than ability to pay is the driver of authorizations and care. This is also exactly the opposite trend when it comes to gender at least, that emerged in Colorado on the path to medical legalization circa 2010-2014. While chronic pain is still the most common reason for dispensation, the drug is going mostly to women, not men, in their forties, fifties and sixties.
Even Chronically Ill Patients Are Still not Getting Covered
This data is super interesting on the ground for both advocates and those who are now pushing forward on “doctor education” efforts that are springing up everywhere. The only condition for which cannabis was approved 100% was for patients suffering from terminal cancer pain from tumours. In other words, they were also either in hospice or hospital where this kind of drug can be expedited and approved quickly. Other conditions for which the drug was approved were both at far lower rates than might have been expected (see only a 70% approval rate for Epilepsy and a 33% approval rate for Depression).
Expect approval rates to change, particularly for established conditions where the drug clearly helps patients, even if there are still questions about dosing and which form of cannabis works best, along with improved research, data and even patient on boarding.
Also expect interesting data to come out of this market for patients with ADHD (or ADHS).
Imported Cannabis Is Very Expensive
TK and other public health insurers are also on the front lines of another issue not seen in any other legalizing cannabis country at the moment. An eye-wateringly high cost per patient. The biggest reason? Most of the medical cannabis in the market is being imported. This will change when more cannabis begins to enter the market from other EU countries (see Spain, the Baltics and Greece) and, yes, no matter how many elements of the German government are still fighting this one when it begins to be cultivated auf Deutschland.
Most German Patients Are Still Only Getting Dronabinol
If there was one thing that foreign investors should take a look at, it is this. One year after legalization, just over 1/3 of those who actually qualify for “medical cannabis” are in fact getting whole plant medication or a derivative (like Sativex).
This means only one thing. The market is continuing to grow exponentially over at least the next five to ten years.
With the summer season (and recreational reform) fast approaching and the continued growth of the European medical market, Canadian LP Aurora has continued to power forward with another corporate acquisition. This time, the firm is medical cannabis firm MedReleaf (TSE:LEAF). The price? $3.2 billion in stock.
Aurora shareholders will now own 61% of MedReleaf.
The firm has also, of course, solidified its place as a global leader in the cannabis space with production capacity of over 570,000 kilos of cannabis a year.This purchase will absolutely ensure that the company is in a strong position
According to a statement by chief executive Terry Booth, “Our complementary assets, strategic synergies and strong market positioning will provide us with critical mass and an excellent product portfolio in preparation for the adult consumer use market in Canada.”
It also does a bit more than that.
With the German cultivation bid in what appears to be at least a three to six month delay, exports, including from Canada, are the only real way into Europe’s largest cannabis market. And Aurora, with it’s on the ground partner, Pedianos, isright in the middle of it. This purchase will absolutely ensure that the company is in a strong position as the next level of cannabis reform begins to unfold particularly in Europe.
Cannabis Is SO Expensive!
In fact, per this report just produced by one of the leading German public health insurers, Aurora, via Pedianos, and MedCann (the company that became both Spektrum Cannabis and bought out by Canopy Canada), appear to be the two Canadian LPs supplying the vast majority of all reimbursed medical cannabis to German patients. Further the vast majority of product is still coming from Canada – not the satellite grow or production facilities now being built in Portugal (Tilray), Denmark (Aurora and Canopy), Spain (Canopy) or anywhere else in Europe where legal cultivations are being established.
However, this also makes for an expensive product here in Germany, land of the generic drug (and where most of them can be bought by consumers, with a prescription, at a regular pharmacy for about $12). In fact, this report was produced in part to underscore the still-evolving medical position on the use of medical cannabis and its efficacy. This highlights how much Germany’s import policy is now costing even public insurers.
What is even more intriguing about the TK report is that the Germans are clearly moving into new research territory. Sure AIDS, chronic pain and muscle spasms (in particular MS) are conditions for which the drug is increasingly being prescribed, but so is ADD. And research studies are now mushrooming around the country.
The Germans have engaged on the medical cannabis efficacy question. And while it is still unclear what doses and of what kind of cannabinoid, have yet to be standardized into protocols, such conversations are well on their way.
And Aurora is also, of course, right in the middle of them.
Another Aurora Acquisition
Given the importance and size of the German market, in particular, it is also no surprise to see another strategic Aurora acquisition coming less than a week after the announcement of this report in Berlin. Specifically, Aurora has also just sunk another 1 million in an investment in CTT– an Ontario-based firm leading the development of thin film wafers that can provide dose specific, smoke free delivery of medical cannabinoids.
The Teutonic cannabis market is clearly in the company’s sights. Not to mention absolutely driving investment and positioning strategy both at home and abroad.
It is old news that Canadian companies are entering the European market. And it is also no stop-the-presses flash that Germany is a big prize in all of this. But there are other Euro markets to watch right now. Switzerland is one of them.
Look for the Canadian influx here too.
One of the more interesting entrants this month? Green Relief – a Canadian LP with a really unique twist. They are the only company in the world to produce cannabis oil from flower grown with aquaponics. This unique method creates unbelievably “clean” cannabis with no pesticides – and no residue of them.
It also sets the company up for a really unique market opportunity on the ground outside Canada. Especially as they have now just announced a partnership with two Swiss companies– Ai Fame GmbH and Ai Lab Swiss AG. Both companies have been leading European pharmaceutical companies since the turn of the century. The idea is to leverage all three company’s intellectual capital with Green Relief’s additional and first international investment with an eye to the entire European cannabis market. Ai Fame specializes in cultivation, manufacturing, sales and distribution to both the food and medical sectors. Ai Lab Swiss AG operates as a laboratory and testing facility.Less than three weeks before Green Relief publicized their European announcement, there were also strategic developments afoot at home.
From this unique perch in the Swiss canton of St Gallen, the three companies are setting up to conquer Europe.
Why Is Switzerland So Strategic?
Switzerland has been on the legalization track since 2011. As of this date, the Swiss government began allowing adults to buy and use CBD-only cannabis. Shops were allowed to obtain licenses. A trickle of sales began. However, rather suddenly, as reform hit Europe, the craze took off. Last year, for the first time, the industry generated a significant amount of revenue (close to $100 million). That is $25 million for the government via taxes- just on CBD sales. Even more intriguing for those looking for market opportunity across borders? Less than a week ago, the German-based budget discount store Lidl just announced they were carrying smokeable CBD – in Swiss grocery stores. The leap across the border is imminent.
That has opened up other conversations, including the “legalize everything” push that makes an awful lot of sense to the ever tax-aware Swiss. This is a push afoot just about everywhere across the continent, including, of course, just across the border in Germany.
The cities of Zurich and the cantons of both Winterthur and St Gallen (home of the Swiss companies behind the new venture with Green Relief) have already indicated that they will not pursue possession fines for those busted with 10 grams or less– no matter what kind and even of the THC variety.
Read between the lines, and it is clear that the cannabinoid conversation locally has begun to attract the Canadians. And not just because of the many opportunities of the Swiss CBD market – but the huge medical and THC German and European opportunities now opening beyond that.
No matter which way Green Relief and their new partners slice it, they are now in the game – and across Europe – with a unique new play and product, and further one set to enter both the medical THC and “consumer,” albeit still CBD, market now burgeoning.
A Cross Market Play
Here is the truly interesting part about this new announcement. Less than three weeks before Green Relief publicized their European announcement, there were also strategic developments afoot at home. Cannabis Growth Opportunity Corporation also just announced an investment in Green Relief. The share purchase agreement netted Green Relief $750,000 in both cash and common shares.
With this, Green Relief seems to have set sail on its European expansion. Look for more interesting turns to this developing saga soon!
In the United States, the idea of transporting cannabidiol (CBD), let alone medical cannabis across state lines is still verboten. As a result, a patchwork of very different state industries has sprung up across the map, with different regulatory mandates everywhere. While it is very clear that California will set the tone for the rest of the United States in the future, that is not a simple conversation. Even in-state and in the present.
In the meantime, of course, federal reform has yet to come. And everywhere else, there is a very different environment developing.
In Canada, “territorial” reform does mean there will be different quality or other regulatory guidelines depending on where you are. The main difference between the territories appears to be at point of retail – at least for now. Notably, recreational dispensaries in the East will be controlled by the government in an ABC package store model. That will not be the case across all provinces however. Look for legal challenges as the rec market gets underway.
In Europe, the conversation is already different – and based on the realities of geopolitics. Europe is a conglomeration of federally governed nation-states rather than more locally administered territories, supposedly under federal leadership and control (as in the US). That said, there is common EU law that also governs forward reform everywhere now, just as it hindered national drug reform until a few years ago on the cannabis front.
However, now, because European countries are also moving towards reform but doing so in very different ways in an environment with open borders, the market here is developing into one of the most potentially fertile (and experienced) ex-im markets for the cannabis plant anywhere. On both the consumer and medical fronts, even though these labels mean different things here than they do elsewhere.
Medical reform in Europe basically opens the conversation to a regulated transfer of both non and fully loaded narcotic product across sovereign national borders. This is already happening even between nation-states where medical (read THC infused) cannabis is not federally legal yet, but it is has been accepted (even as a highly restricted drug). This means that Europe has already begun to see transfer of both consumer and medical product between states. In the former case, this is also regulated under food and cosmetic safety laws.
Cannabis in this environment is “just another drug.”While a lot of this so far has been via the strategic rollout of the big Canadian LPs as they attempt to carve up European cannabis territory dominance and distribution like a game of Risk, it is not limited to the same.
Pharmaceutical distributors across Europe are hip to the fact, now, that the continent’s largest drug market (Germany) has changed the law to cover cannabis under insurance and track its issuance by legal prescription. So is everyone in the non-medical CBD game.
As a result, even mainstream distributors are flocking to the game in a big way. Cannabis in this environment is “just another drug.” If not, even more significantly, a consumer product.
The race for Europe is on. And further, in a way that is not being seen anywhere else in the world right now. And not just in pharmacies. When Ritter Sport begins to add cannabis to its famous chocolate (even if for now “just” CBD) for this year’s 4/20 auf Deutschland, you know there is something fundamental and mainstream going on. Lidl – a German discount grocery chain that stretches across Europe, has just introduced CBD-based cannabis edibles – in Switzerland.
As a result of this swift maturation, it is also creating from the beginning a highly professional industry that is essentially just adding cannabis to a list of pharmaceutical products already on a list. Or even just other grocery (or cosmetic) items.
In general, and even including CBD, these are also products that are produced somewhere in Europe. As of this year, however, that will include more THC from Portugal, Spain and most certainly Eastern Europe. It will also mean hemp producers from across the continent suddenly have a new market. In many different countries.
This means that the industry itself is far more sophisticated and indeed used to the language and procedures of not only big Euro pharma, but also mainstreamed distribution (straight to pharmacy and even supermarket chains).
It also means, however, understanding the shifting regulations. In general, the focus on ex-im across Europe is also beginning to standardize an industry that has been left out of the global game, on purpose, for the last 100 years. Medical cannabis, grown in Spain under the aegis of Alcaliber (a major existing opioid producer) can enter Germany thanks to the existing partnership with Spektrum and Canopy, who have a medical import license and source cannabis from several parts of Europe at this point. It also means that regular hemp producers, if they can establish the right brand and entry points, have a new opportunity that exists far outside of Switzerland, to create cross-European presence.
And all of this industry regulation is also setting a timeline, if not deadline, on other kinds of reform not seen elsewhere, anywhere, yet.
According to a press release, the Steep Hill team announced they are expanding internationally in a big way on Monday. Steep Hill, a well-known cannabis lab-testing and research company with roots in California, announced plans for licensing agreements in Mexico, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The Canadian branch of the company, Steep Hill Canada, will lead the expansion efforts into Mexico and the six European Union countries. According to Martin Shefsky, chief executive officer of Steep Hill Worldwide, they are actively looking for other operating partners in new areas as well. “I’m extremely pleased at the opportunity to partner with Steep Hill to bring safe cannabis and scientific integrity to emerging international markets,” says Shefsky. “I anticipate that before long, full legalization will be implemented throughout the European Union and our presence will enable growers, producers, processors, and retailers – to offer standardized tested cannabis for patients and consumers across the European Union, while also enabling us to create a platform to share scientific and technology developments throughout the global cannabis market.”
In 2016, Steep Hill announced new licensing agreements to expand into Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. In August of 2017, they expanded to Hawaii and several months later announced their expansion into Oregon. “It is an exciting time for us and our investors, as we pursue this first-mover advantage in anticipation of new global cannabis import-export markets,” says Jmîchaeĺe Keller, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Steep Hill, Inc.
“In unregulated markets, we want to be on the ground supporting the legalization and regulatory process, helping regulators avoid making the mistakes that other jurisdictions have made in the past,” Keller says. “We believe that our role as the industry standard, allows us to leverage our world-class scientific knowledge and state of the art technology to help regulators provide confidence in the marketplace that the cannabis patients consume, is both safe and effective. We look forward to collaborating closely with Martin and his group to strive for this gold standard, across all international borders.”
The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin is now officially over. The speeches have been made, the parties have been attended. The hard-working crew behind it all has wrapped up, checked out and is off to Vancouver. And most of all, the marathon of meetings and deal discussions that were the mark of this budding and certainly by now established market are done. Even if there are still details to be ironed out in all the new business in the coming months.
As always, the dilemma for conference attendees was how to spend the limited time in this concentrated cannabis gathering. With all of the networking and excitement, people still wanted to hear the experts who spoke on topics ranging from cannabis financing to actually doing business in Germany to new medical advances. Traffic in the expo section was also heavy, as attendees visited the wide range of vendors. Producers and distributors of both plant and derived product were present, along with vape companies brave enough to compete with Storz and Bickel on their own turf, various tech solutions and of course, international consultants.
As the dust clears and the contracts get signed, what are the takeaways from the second edition of the ICBC in Berlin?
Germany Is Going Green
The simplest takeaway? The ICBC Berlin is not a market to be missed in the future for the global cannabis executive. Even if you are an American firm (and for the most part still largely excluded from a rapidly expanding worldwide trade that is establishing itself now with authority), you need to be here. The contacts you make are global, and you do not want to be left out. For foreign investors interested in this market, it is a must. For everyone else, this is a meet and greet, not to mention education, barnone. The German medical and even prosumer CBD market is attracting the world.
Yes, there have been ups and downs even in the last three weeks that include the crashing of the German bid along with news stateside that the Trump Administration is going to hang Jeff Sessions out to dry for Russia with his latest “Make American States Great For Cannabis Again” contortion.
But here on the other side of the Atlantic, it is clear that the federal cannabinoid horse has left the barn. There are now rumorsfloating that the bid is not yet entirely dead (now apparently in a legal purgatory of appeals and even potentially “bid amendments”) that nobody is willing to go on record to discuss. Beyond that, however, as was clear from the frenzied deal-makingon the floor and off it at the ICBC, the market is open, distributors are finding new channels to move product, and patients demanding access are not leaving the streets.
Far from it. In fact, the budding nascent umbrella national non-profit campaign designed to open access for patients and educate doctors, The German Patients Roundtable, had a huge second meeting during the conference, with both German and international attendees from countries including Israel and South Africa.
The CBD and THC genie cannot be stuffed back into the local bottle. And everyone knows it. This is federal medical reform, and even better, covered under German national public health insurance. Despite the hiccups and challenges that still remain, this is open blue water for a medical market that has never existed anywhere to date.
Anyone with a GMP facility, Euro cleared export rights and crop or product ready to ship will be welcome here in a market that at this point, cannot get enough plant or oil. Edibles are still a to-come discussion.
To the extent that this is also negative, it is very clear that the market is still highly inefficient. Producers who do have productare not being found by those on the ground who want to sell it to patients. That will also begin to change. But for now, many on the ground are playing a digitalized Rolodex game of “who do you know” that still consists of personal emails between conference-met colleagues if not LinkedIn contacts and impromptu (and freebie) favors. Those who hope to gain an income merely by connecting the source of product and outlets the old fashioned way are also about to be left in the dust by a market that will not be held back and activist businesses who are eyeing both the United States and Canada right now (if not Israel and Australia), and translating all of that into both euros and German.
It is also very clear that the savvy Germans who were largely left out of the bid proceedings last time do not mean to sit this party out – and are angling to get into the game however they can. This is taking some interesting forms, but processing and testing are going to be huge issues of the market here for a long time to come. And so is home-grown, high-quality CBD. The German government is even offering tax credits for growing certain kinds of hempright now. Sound familiar Kentucky?
Trends and Takeaways
It is not just the Canadians who are going to get market share. The Canadian LPs are still in a good position to dominate the early market but it is clear that there is still room for others to enter. Whether the government allows an appeal of the court’s decision to hold up, there is a quick bid “redo” for the top 10 finalists, or a second bid, the market has now arrived and is in its second year.
CBD is going to be an important path to other kinds of provision and cultivation. Despite the widespread misconceptions about Germany being a “CBD only” market (it is not), it is clear that a consumer CBD only strategy will be an interesting path into the market here but not one for the faint of heart. The Canadian companies in particular are beginning to move into the realm of big pharma (their market caps certainly are). But it is also clear that more local competition is hip to the same. And as a result, even this part of the market will be a highly competitive one.
German firms are first at this gate, beyond the big Canadian LPs, but they are not the only ones now in the market. See Dutch, Austrian and Swiss firms, many with pharmaceutical company credits and market entry already under their belt. Not to mention producers from both Greece and the Baltics. Everyone on the import side is eyeing the opening market and stalled bid as a fantastic opportunity. Look for products from these locales as testing and certification protocols become more effective.
Central to all of these developments? The conference is theplacefor the global cannabis industry to meet and get to know one another, put together by Alex Rogers and a seasoned, international team behind the ICBC.
In a move that seems to shed more doubt than certainty on domestic cannabis cultivation and the date that it will start auf Deutschland, the Higher Regional Court (or OLG) in Dusseldorf formally stopped the pending bid procedure for the first crop on March 28th. BfArM, the federal agency in charge of regulating all narcotic drugs, initiated that procurement bid. The tender bid was launched after the German Parliament and federal legislators changed the law last year to mandate that cannabis be available via prescription, and further that public health insurers were required to cover it.
That bid announcement was supposed to come as early as last September. Criticisms about the process and requirements began immediately thereafter. For starters, the bid’s requirements excluded all German-only respondents to the bid and left both Canadian and Israeli firms in the front positions to obtain these valuable licenses. However, there were other gripes, including the fact that the amount of cannabis requested (about 6.6 tonnes) was far too low to even begin to meet real demand. Namely, there are easily 1 million German patients who could qualify for the drug.
In the space of the last year, in fact, the number of “official” German cannabinoid patients has shot up from 1,000 to about 15,000. That said, the top three covering insurers also report a mere 64% approval rate. This means that there are more doctors writing prescriptions than insurers are covering.
That, at least for patients and their advocates is a bit of good news despite the blow that any delay in domestic production has created. Doctor resistance to prescribing cannabinoids even when there are no other alternatives has been used as an excuse in many media reports for the speed of market development. That clearly is not true. The attitude on the ground in Deutschland is rapidly changing.
That bid announcement was supposed to come as early as last September. At that point, however,the agency was then forced to extend the response date, which it did, but apparently not for long enough.
Throughout the fall, it was impossible to understand, from any direction, what was going on. Four lawsuits against the bid were launched around September, each with differing complaints that ranged from criticizing the agency for the lack of extension and response time to monopolistic business practices.
The OLG dismissed all but the criticism about the extension.what this decision has done most clearly is slowed down the production of domestically grown medical cannabinoids
The one clear thing to come out of Düsseldorf? BfArM has been banned from awarding its contract to anyone to produce medical cannabis in Germany starting in 2019. The first letters to bid finalists announcing the bid had been canceledbegan arriving the day after the court’s decision.
Reading Between the Lines
There have been rumors since last fall that the bid would end up in such waters. However,all the major producers widely suspected to have applied for the bid also began announcing themselves as finalists in press releases. For this reason, the official line from everyone that the bid was still, in fact, on track.
Nobody could understand why anyone would want or even be able to halt the production of direly needed, locally sourced, high-gradecannabis. That includes BfArM, which made an impassioned response, via their attorney to the OLG in Dusseldorf. Attorney Heike Dahs warned the court that any interruption of the bid was “very bad for the care of patients.” He was similarly pessimistic about the ability to begin production domestically by the previously set 2019 deadline.
In fact, what this decision has done most clearly is slowed down the production of domestically grown medical cannabinoids (although potentially not by much) while giving officials at BfArM a rather nasty black eye that might yet lead to further legal action.
It also means that there will be another bid process. In the meantime, the ex-im market is, if anything, taking off.
This is a Shock And Opportunity – but not a Surprise
No matter the opinionated emails and IM’ing going on in several languages all over the world right now about the implications legally in the future, the major producers are all taking this in stride. And appear to be well positioned to respond.
According to Dr. Pierre Debs, the managing director of Spektrum Cannabis (the global medical brand of Canopy and based just south of Frankfurt), who responded to CannabisIndustryJournal a day after the court decision, the company is not affected by this development. “Spektrum has a steady and constant supply and we do not anticipate any problems supplying patients through their pharmacies,” he says. Debs received the first German medical import license to bring Canadian cannabis into the country a mere two years ago and has continued to carve a leading path in the discussion across Europe. “In addition to our supply from Canopy Growth Corp, our partnership supply agreement with Alcaliber in Spain will see Spektrum importing sun-grown medical cannabis products starting towards the end of the summer,” says Debs.
But it is not just the big guys in the mix anymore. And there are many who see opportunityto a situation, which is frustrating.“As the second-largest country by population in Europe and a leader within the EU, the German market represents a new frontier for the cannabis industry in general in the region,” says Zlatko Keskovski, chief executive officer of NYSK Holdings, a Macedonian firm now in its second harvest of GMP-certified cannabis and holding EU export rights.
For such firms, even though NYSK is a surprise entrant to the conversation this year and outside the EU, the current situation represents an unbelievable chance to enter a market literally starving for qualifiedproduct. The firm is currently looking for German distributors who cannot access medical grade cannabinoids via other routes including attending the ICBC in Berlin in April. “This year’s ICBC looks to be a seminal moment for NYSK,” says Keskovski. “We have taken the appropriate steps to ensure our high-quality standards have led to products that our customers, and eventually patients, can rely on. We look forward to the chance to showcase our achievements that we’ve worked so hard for. The ICBC will also present us with the opportunity to meet with potential distributors and future partners.”
German Patients are Going to be on the Front Lines of This Discussion
The difficulties that German patients have already faced in obtaining a drug that is now legal in their own country for medical use (and even for recreational purposes across an open border in Holland) are legion. While to a certain extent, German patients are in the same boat as patients elsewhere and their problems, in fact, there are still huge access issues that remain. For starters, the drug is much more expensive here, so those without health insurance approval face bills of about $3,000 per month. Why the eye-watering price? All medical grade cannabis is still imported, although increasingly this is now just via other EU countries, not just from Canada.
“One of the reasons we organized the national German Patient Roundtable is to give patients a voice in all of this supply and demand discussion and to help BfArM and others formulate workable solutions for all,” responded Philip Cenedella IV when reached for a response by CIJ. Cenedella, an American expat and the organizer of the Roundtable, a nationally focussed, umbrella group that is kicking off its campaign this year, spoke for many who are far from court and boardrooms where the decisions are being made.
“While there are very talented firms who will now take up this discussion with the government and reissue a response for the tender, what we continue to see on the ground is that patients simply do not have the access granted them in the law which was passed over a year ago,” Cenedella says, with more than a note of frustration. “We again are calling on all government officials, industry executives and patient advocates to band together to immediately establish workable protocols that directly help the patients.”
Indeed, despite the frustration and delay, if not new costs and opportunities that this decision creates, one thing is very clear on the ground here. The current status quo is unacceptable. That alone should also put pressure on the powers that be to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. And via several routes, including widening import quotas or even issuing new licenses as a new solution to domestic cultivation is implemented.
“Patients are not being served and do not have access to a medicine that has been proven to improve lives,” says Cenedella. “Our simple request is for BfArM to finally invite patients into their discussions, to work with patients to formulate workable cultivation and distribution solutions, and we humbly request that this happen now before they go down another dead-end road, ending in another court defeat, and resulting in even more delays to the patients that are still lacking the care afforded them by the German Federal Court’s decision of 2017.”
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