German Bundestag Pressures Health Department for Cannabis Reform

In a rapid turn of events, the German Bundestag’s budget committee has placed pressure on the German Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach, to present a bill for recreational cannabis reform this year for passage by the end of 2022. 

If he fails, he will lose part of his ministerial budget.

The committee, now in negotiations over all parts of the government’s annual spend, decided to temporarily suspend public relations funds for the Department of Health if the recreational cannabis bill is not passed this year. Lauterbach had just announced his intention to introduce such a bill by summer rather than autumn. It is unclear which decision actually came first, but at this point, it is obvious that the Traffic Light Coalition has decided to prioritize a truly burning issue.

Regardless, this is a major move both nationally and globally when it comes to the legalization of cannabis. It is almost unprecedented as a pressure tactic in German politics (which are genteel by U.S. standards). Furthermore, despite all the bureaucratic delay on just about everything here, it is also very clear that when they want to, the German government can move quite quickly.

The American Congress (particularly the Senate side of the Hill) should take note.

It is not like holding major issues hostage over budget agreements is an unknown tactic in Washington. It’s just nobody has been desperate enough, or incentivized enough, to use it for cannabis reform before.

The Germans are Coming

The amount of excitement on the German side of the discussion is absolutely building, daily. Deals are being made, even in the preliminary handshake form and plans are going ahead for all kinds of projects.

The fact that recreational reform is now essentially on the legislative docket begins to also firm up realistic estimates of market start. It is unlikely that anyone will allow the market to begin before the last two quarters of 2023. More likely, market start will be scheduled for the first or second quarter of 2024. Decriminalization, however, may happen a bit faster than this.

There are, of course, many considerations to all of this—not the least of which is administration and paperwork creation (hopefully this time via efficient, non-crashing digitized processes) for getting a move on.

The fact that this is coming now is also very interesting, considering that digitalization of German healthcare is also one of the issues Lauterbach has also been tasked to advance. This alone is an onerous discussion for a system which still routinely utilizes fax machines. Using cannabis as a way to speed up the digitalization of the healthcare system that touches it is a smart move. Even smarter if, again as part of this package of reforms, it relieves a burden on insurance companies on the reimbursement front.

German healthcare is going through a massive budget crisis right now. Recreational cannabis reform would certainly begin to ease a bottleneck of issues. Starting with tax income. Of course, as many in the Bundestag know, the continued criminalization of people known as legitimate cannabis patients who the system cannot process and treat fast enough is also an increasingly lightning rod kind of issue. Waiting times for a new appointment for either a neurologist or orthopaedist are at minimum, three to five months, even in large cities like Frankfurt right now. Whether such doctors decide to prescribe cannabis, or the patient’s insurer will cover it, are two different questions.

Recreational cannabis reform will go a long way to relieving some of the pressure, bureaucratically, politically, and administratively. Not to mention financially.

The Significance

The fact that Germany seems to be fast-tracking cannabis reform, and further under such circumstances will hopefully be a wake-up call to the rest of the world. Starting of course, with the United States.

Beyond this the impact will be felt almost instantly across Europe. Of course, there will be more conservative states which slow down reform. Newly re-elected Emmanuel Macron swore that he would not legalize recreational use while in office. Then again, the savvy French leader is a politician who recognizes which way the wind is blowing. And on this one, it has a nice, European-wide unifying effect.

Portugal, Luxembourg, and potentially Spain may also move quickly now to start to create export crops and products for a very lucrative and hungry market. Greece is having a field day.

What will be allowed to travel where is going to be an interesting discussion, as will the ability of what grade of cannabis will be allowed to cross borders. The first recreational market may in fact happen with German grown cannabis first. That would set up the current medical cultivation bid holders with a huge (and unfair) advantage. It would also potentially give Cansativa an unbelievably unfair edge (if not addressed pronto)—namely they currently hold the monopoly distribution position, granted by BfArM, for all German cannabis of medical grade at least, grown in Germany.

That is going to have to be addressed, pronto. Otherwise, there will be marches in the streets. Given the pressure and thus speed Lauterbach is now under (and given who has the lion’s share of access to his ears on this issue) it is very likely that a lot of issues (and people) will be thrown under the bus for the benefit of the rich, white, men’s club now attempting to exert their brand of control over the conversation even now.

The other discussion that is also coming fast is home grow. 

No matter the particulars (for example, keeping all foreign GACP high THC cannabis out of Germany for a certain period of time), or what is likely to unfold, reform is clearly coming, and fast, to Germany.

How it will be appropriated, tweaked, and amended is anyone’s guess. But the levers are now clearly moving, with a very incentivizing twist, to make Germany, the largest economy in Europe, into one of the most important cannabis markets in the world.

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Hemp Paper Could Be the Future of Printing

A joint project to produce tree-free letterpress paper suitable for commercial printing has delivered one of the first commercially viable hemp papers on the planet. The project was conceived by Maren Krings, a photographer and environmental activist who was writing a book on industrial hemp. Her research led her to a German paper manufacturer called Hahnemühle. 

The development of the hemp paper now on offer to others as well as the success of the project are mentioned in her new book, H is for Hemp, along with other adventures Maren undertook as she wrote the book in a five-year journey around the world.

The book is intended as a reference guide for those interested in the history of industrial hemp as well as its modern uses.

Hahnemühle is now offering its new hemp paper for both offset and high-speed inkject printing and as a viable alternative to the more expensive tree-based products still used widely in the book publishing industry.

They are not the only manufacturer, even in Germany, offering industrial grade hemp paper. At least one other company, Gmund, makes a similar paper product, although they have so far not promoted their wares with quite the same finesse.

The Benefits of Hemp Paper

While the world continues on a steady path to digitalization, paper is still a widely used commodity—and far from “just” book publishing. Compared to wood, hemp has fiber which is four to five times longer. This results in paper which is much stronger than that made from trees. However, the paper industry has traditionally used machines and tools to turn wood pulp into paper which do not work as well with hemp fiber.

For this reason, and because industrial hemp is still a crop in its infancy, hemp paper is still more expensive than wood-based products. That said, one field of hemp produces four to five times as much paper as a forest of the same size. Indeed, hemp produces more biomass than any other domestic crop.

Beyond this, hemp uses fewer herbicides since it eliminates weeds on its own.

Only the male hemp plant is used for paper-making. This is because the female plant is used for consumption and extraction.

A New Focus on Industrial Hemp

As laws in Europe become more homogenized, there is increasing interest in making products out of hemp that stretch far beyond paper. This includes everything from fuel to clothing, bioplastics to insulation.

One of the most compelling reasons for turning to the plant for these uses—beyond food and medication—is that industrial hemp offers multiple benefits over more “traditional” materials, including not only being less polluting, but also more environmentally friendly.

Hemp uses less water than other crops. It can even be used specifically to clean up both air and soil pollution beyond the products that can be produced from the same. One hectare of hemp sequesters between 9-15 metric tons of CO2—which is similar to the amount sequestered by a young forest of the same size. Hemp, of course, grows far faster. In fact, hemp grows about as fast as bamboo, making it among the fastest growing crops on the planet.

With a world now struggling with finding new sources of energy, there are likely to be many more products made out of hemp, and further on an industrial scale to begin to compete in price with more conventional products.

In recent years, according to data from the European Commission, hemp cultivation has significantly increased over the last eight or nine years. Indeed, the area used to cultivate the plant has grown from 19,970 hectares in 2015 to 34,960 in 2019. France is the largest producer in the EU, accounting for more than 70% of all hemp cultivated in the region. Netherlands comes in second with 10%. Austria follows up in third with 4%.

There is a single lobbying group for the region on an EU level called the European Industrial Hemp Association, or EIHA, located in Brussels.

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It’s Official: New Ruling German Coalition to Legalize Recreational Cannabis Use

Even the most die-hard “medical only” German voices within the cannabis industry have been posting the news all over their social media including LinkedIn for the past week, even before the news was official. But as of Wednesday, that has changed, officially. The new so-called “Traffic Light Coalition” will indeed be legalizing recreational use cannabis with a bill to do so introduced in the German Bundestag next year.

For those who have fought for the same, in the trenches, for years if not decades, it is an exciting moment. It is also electrifying the industry, which now has over 100 medical cannabis specialty distribution licenses, a growing patient base (estimated 100,000 at this point), and a topic that just will not quit. Particularly as the Swiss (in part, a German language country) are doing the same thing. This is particularly momentous given the timing. Germany might even beat Luxembourg into the recreational discussion within the European Union.

That said, no matter how exciting, the devil, as always, is in the details. How much, what exactly, and how it will be implemented is all still up in the air. Cannabis is still not actually decriminalized, and there are all sorts of strange pieces of case law and to be changed statutes still very much in the room.

What Is Known So Far

The reason this is such a big deal is that the announcement comes as the three parties who won the most votes in the federal election in September have sealed the deal to work together with a common plank that includes cannabis reform (along with phasing out coal by 2030 while also having at least 15 million electric cars on the road). After that, it is just a matter of crafting the legislation and introducing it into the German parliament. Unlike the U.S., where there have been multiple, unsuccessful attempts to pass a federal legalization bill, this one is almost guaranteed to pass. The Germans are funny like that.

Here is what is actually official. In a statement released by the SDP, Greens and FDP, this is what the coalition plans to do. “We are introducing the controlled supply of cannabis to adults for consumption in licensed stores. This controls the quality [of marijuana], prevents the transfer of contaminated substances and guarantees the protection of minors.”

The government will review the experiment in four years to determine the impact (including economically and socially). That said, there is little chance such a forward step would be rolled back.

Issues And Problems Along the Way

It is not like this is going to be smooth sailing. There are a few major issues to address. Chief among those is how to amend the country’s federal narcotics law. Cannabis, including CBD, is considered a narcotic. This is already out of step with EU policy on the same (with a pending lawsuit to change that). Regardless, add THC to the mix, and there is going to be some fancy footwork and legal eagling to make the change happen not only in the new legislation, but that which governs and regulates the medical variety.

German Impact

There is little doubt that Germany’s move to recreational cannabis will forward the debate across Europe—and potentially in the same timeframe as it has impacted the medical conversation. Just four years ago, the concept of using medical cannabis even for pain relief was a very strange, often socially unacceptable topic. Today, there are about 100,000 German patients.

The Germans may not have arrived yet, but they are certainly on the way.

This is absolutely a Colorado if not Canadian tipping point. However, it may also be one that is not just about Germany, or even Europe, but an international and global one.

Coming as it is on the international news of Mexico implementing recreational reform by year’s end and Italians potentially having the ability to vote on legalizing personal possession and home grow as of next spring, not to mention both Luxembourg and Switzerland definitely moving ahead with their own recreational markets, it is clear that full and final cannabis reform is now a mainstream topic and goal on a federal level of many countries.

This will also, undoubtedly spur on the debate in the U.S. If Germany can do this, less than four years after federal legalization of its medical market, what is the U.S. waiting for? Or for that matter China? In the latter case, with a corporate real estate market melting down, perhaps finally, and on a global scale, cannabis will be considered a great if not green and global investment.

In the meantime, the last days of Prohibition have clearly arrived and on a global level.

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Few Medical Cannabis Licenses in Portugal Have Been Awarded

Ever since Tilray decamped for Portugal during the early days of the German cannabis cultivation bid circa 2017, the country has been touted as “the place” within the European Union (EU) for the German distributors to source their product.

That said, the actual progress of the industry has been a little slower than that—in part because of the length of time it takes for legislative change to happen. Indeed, it was not until April 15 of this year that Ministerial Order No. 83/2021 was finally published. According to local legal practitioners, at least, this order also has clarified a great many practical aspects of the application process. This includes reference prices.

Looking at the progress of cultivation licenses, however, and the proof is in the pudding. To date, there have been 114 applications for the cultivation of cannabis to the National Medicines Agency (Infarmed). Of these, just 23 are “under analysis,” 11 are awaiting a response from the cultivators, and 61 are waiting to be inspected (a major issue facing almost every budding cannabis cultivator thanks to COVID.)

Here are a few more dampening statistics. Of the 19 currently operational cannabis cultivation facilities, only three can manufacture medical grade extracts and products. One of these is in business solely for the purposes of providing “quality control.” The remaining facilities are in business to cultivate the plant as a “raw material,” or, of great interest of course to every German distributor looking for new sources of EU cultivated product, “active substances.”

What, exactly, is going on?

EU GMP Is Not an Easy Certification

Despite its reputation to the contrary, including the now pending legislative move to formally legalize adult-use cannabis, the medical authorities here are very strict. They must be. They are the country’s version of the Federal Drug Administration (or FDA).

Indeed, it was only this February that Tilray announced that it had received the first and only market authorization for medical cannabis products in Portugal. This means that everyone else is cultivating for export to other countries (notably Germany). Many German distributors (for starters) are currently importing raw flower (or flos) as “Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients” or APIs. There is clearly a market for the same.

Getting a medical license also takes capital. And it is also very clear that Portugal is also not the only game in town. Greek, Macedonian and, as of this year, African cannabis is also starting to enter the room.

Further, while there is a great deal of enthusiasm, generally, about the coming cannabis revolution on the recreational side, the medical game remains, as always, a difficult nut to crack, even after the capital has been raised. This is not always a popular task to take, but it is clear that when the dust clears, Infarmed is not interested in being just a pass-through agency.

According to Rob Smallman, a highly experienced Canadian cultivator who has been involved in multiple European projects, including in Portugal, “experience and a focus on the actual business in the room is a far better strategy than just satisfying investors.”

Michael Sassano, CEO and founder of SOMAI Pharmaceuticals as well as the recent recipient of an innovative product grant by the Portugal 2020 committee, concurs. “Cannabis entrepreneurs need to know exactly what they are doing to succeed and receive full certification,” he said. “Medical cannabis growing, and manufacturing requires more than just a lot of capital. It requires deep knowledge of regulations and GMP standards plus serious knowledge of the cannabis plant to surpass timely building, operational, and international sales goals.”

Portugal 2020 is a partnership agreement between Portugal and the European Commission to fund policy goals of interest to both member states and the EU as a whole.

Domestically, however, there is another catch. In a land known rather infamously if not accurately as “anything goes,” on the “illicit drug” front, cannabis as medicine is just as foreign here as it is everywhere else. Not to mention, just like everywhere else, medical cannabis is very expensive. The monthly price tag of about $600 is out of reach to most, if not many.

What Impact Does Pending Recreational Reform Mean for Portugal?

There are several answers to this question. The first and most obvious one is “nothing” since Infarmed only regulates a medical market, not a broader consumer one (more like BfArM in Germany than the FDA in the United States).

However, this is also not the only answer. Forward reform of Portugal’s legislative approach to recreational reform has repeatedly stalled, even as both Switzerland (outside of the EU) and Luxembourg (within it) have progressed.

There is of course this twist. Just like the Czech Republic (and Switzerland) have now started to discuss (and Holland has been in the midst of the same since 2017 when Dutch insurers stopped covering the drug the same month the German Bundestag or Parliament, voted to cover it under Deutsch public health insurance), the entire discussion of “medical” cannabis is coming under scrutiny. Particularly for domestic use, rather than foreign export.

This is a simmering issue. But it is bound to stay in the room, particularly given the advance of overall cannabis reform across Europe.

In the meantime, it is clear that Portugal is proving to be a stringent port of call for all things medically cannabis related—and far from just a pass-through cultivation or extraction state.

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How Will the German Elections Impact the Recreational Cannabis Market?

The German national election is over, and the results are in. The Cliff’s Notes version of the same is that there has been an upset in the German electoral map in a way that is still reverberating in political circles as coalition talks about which parties will form the new government get underway. 

There are a few issues that most of those parties, which saw the greatest gains this time around all agree on. And the good news for the industry, patients and those who want a recreational market is that this inevitably spells more cannabis reform.

It is for precisely this reason that the German cannabis question is currently all abuzz in the industry domestically because everyone knows that the status quo will not stand. The medical industry has been hamstrung by quality and production issues. Beyond this, there are numerous burdensome insurance requirements and the general refusal of doctors to engage with the same—just on a financial level—let alone matters of efficacy.  

Then, of course, there is the famed German common sense that has begun to filter through the debate, starting with the fact that there have been a few too many high-profile flubs of late—including one of the largest German grocery chains (and one of the top grocery retailers in the world) being raided in August, by the police. All developments are signs that the status quo will not stand much longer. 

There is already a lawsuit now pending, and from the business community, about the classification of CBD—and the need to remove it from the German Narcotics Act to bring this into line with the decision on a European level last year that this cannabinoid is not a narcotic.

However at this juncture, change beyond just CBD is also clearly on the cards.

According to Christian Lindner, the FDP’s power broker, known for his election slogan of wie est ist, darf es nicht bleiben (things cannot stay the way they are), the legalization of cannabis is the issue that will bring the new ruling coalition together.

What is Likely to Happen in the German Market

While any speculation about who will make up the ruling coalition, much less specific policies likely to come of the same at this point is just that, there are a few trends, if not statements, that are likely to drive a coalition of several parties on broad issues. 

Given this as well as suitably vague comments from those doing the brokering, it is also likely that the SPD, which won just under 26 percent of the vote, will partner in a coalition government with both the FDP (economic liberal party) which also gained significantly in the elections (11.5 percent) and the Greens (14.8 percent). 

Regardless of what happens specifically, all parties with the exception of the extreme right wing Alternativ für Deutschland or AfD (which lost votes nationally this time) have a much more progressive outlook about cannabis than the CDU. This means, generally, it is also safe to assume at minimum that decriminalization is on the agenda for sure within the next several years, and potentially recreational cannabis trials too (see Switzerland if not Luxembourg not to mention developments in Portugal and Holland at minimum). 

The second discussion is going to be a much harder fought battle at least politically, but it is also clear that it cannot be avoided completely anymore.

Things Cannot Stay the Same

This election is, absolutely, one of the most momentous in Germany, if not Europe, since the end of WWII. That is how long the CDU has been the ruling party here—and its defeat, even if by a whisker, as well as patterns of defections of voters to other parties tells its own story to those with an interest in German if not European politics more generally.

When it comes to cannabis specifically, it is clear that Germans generally, are fed up with the ridiculous nature of the mish mash of cannabis regulations that currently cause problems for everyone. Even GMP distributors have been raided. For the burgeoning CBD specialty market, a visit from the fuzz is almost a rite of passage. On the patient side of the conversation, jail terms for patients is not a conversation that wins points with many in the political class. 

Beyond this, it is also clear that Europe, if not the EU, is moving slowly to a more serious conversation about cannabis reform and of a kind that is a bit more momentous than just decrim.

The Swiss recreational trial is going to have an impact on the willingness of the German industry to push some kind of reform forward that might, depending on how active the advocacy and business community is, result in some kind of recreational trial in the nation’s largest cities. 

Germany is also no longer in a cannabis vacuum in Europe (not that it ever really was). Just across another border, Holland is getting a national market going within Europe. And no matter what the news coming out of Luxembourg of late (namely that they may delay their recreational trial because of a potential influx of cannatourists from neighbouring countries including Germany), this is not going to be delayed forever. 

While it is not likely that Luxembourg will delay their market until Germany moves on a recreational trial, what is entirely possible is that a softening of cannabis policy here will also allow other European countries to move forward with other kinds of change now clearly in the cards.

Beyond these developments as well as what is currently afoot in Switzerland, the news that the Czech Republic is reconsidering its discussion with cannabis (including allowing up to one percent THC in its hemp crops) has basically created a situation where the Germans are literally surrounded if not outnumbered by Europeans now agreeing to treat cannabis with low or no THC like any other plant, and cannabis with higher levels more like alcohol than a narcotic drug. 

The conversation just within the DACH trade alliance (Switzerland, Austria, and Germany) is also likely to be an interesting one.

Regardless, given the current untenable market conditions for most, the huge costs of a solely pharmaceutically inclined cultivation, production and distribution market, pent-up forces which have continued to push for reform, will be able to move the needle forward more than incrementally over the next few years.

How far, exactly, however, this is likely to go and how quickly is another question altogether.

Regardless, change is clearly in the offing—and further as a political issue with little negative impact and a whole lot of upside—namely creating a big “issue” that the majority of parties now likely to drive the political agenda can agree on.

One thing is for certain. Further reform of a federal kind in the U.S. will absolutely impact the conversation. And in the meantime, the European states are lining up to begin experimenting with full reform in a way that is starting to look very familiar to Americans with experience in both markets. 

The national change of power in Deutschland is only going to support such moves in this direction—both nationally and across the region. 

The post How Will the German Elections Impact the Recreational Cannabis Market? appeared first on High Times.

Friday, July 19, 2019 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Friday, July 19, 2019 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// Washington state offers up cannabis traceability ‘workaround’ in wake of software release problems (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Oklahoma medical cannabis businesses prepare for ‘necessary’ rules that will up compliance costs (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Michigan cuts marijuana licensing fees in 19 cities impacted by drug war (Crain’s Detroit Business (AP))

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// More Than 100 Marijuana Businesses Urge Congress To Include Social Equity In Legalization (Marijuana Moment)

// Boston’s first recreational marijuana store receives preliminary license, could open within months (Boston Globe)

// Imports of medical marijuana into Germany surge in second quarter (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Texas leaders: Hemp law did not decriminalize marijuana (Texas Tribune)

// Fight Over HUD Housing Eviction Over Medical Pot Tossed (Courthouse News)

// Who’s really behind Toronto’s chain of illegal pot shops that won’t quit? (CBC News)

// Homeland Security Chief Won’t Say Whether Families Should Be Separated Over Marijuana (Marijuana Moment)

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