The European country of Luxembourg (also called the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg), which shares borders with Belgium, Germany and France, has a population of approximately 62,000 people. As one of the 27 countries that make up the European Union (EU), it could officially become the first in the EU to legalize cannabis cultivation.
The Luxembourg government announced on October 22 that it would be changing its laws on cannabis, with the intention of legalizing cultivation as well as personal consumption. The changes are included in a defense measure (which includes a total of 27 measures targeted at drug-related crime) that is targeting drug crimes in the country, according to Minister of Justice Sam Tanson.
“We thought we had to act, we have an issue with drugs and cannabis is the drug that is most used and is a large part of the illegal market,” Tamson said at a press conference. “We want to start by allowing people to grow it at home. The idea is that a consumer is not in an illegal situation if he consumes cannabis and that we don’t support the whole illegal chain from production to transportation to selling where there is a lot of misery attached. We want to do everything we can to get more and more away from the illegal black market.”
Adults over 18 years old would be allowed to cultivate up to four of their own cannabis plants at home. The location of these plants would be permitted in any residence, both indoors or outdoors, as well as on balconies, terraces and gardens. According to The Guardian, cannabis seeds would also be legal to obtain. Cannabis seeds would eventually be sold in shops, or purchasable online. Luxembourg officials also altered the punishment of possession.
The consumption or possession of cannabis under three grams is now a misdemeanor instead of a criminal offense. Prior to these new changes, a possession fine ranged from €251 to €2,500. “Above three grams, nothing changes, you will be considered a dealer,” Tanson said at the press conference. “Nothing changes for car drivers either: there is still zero tolerance.”
The reasoning behind Luxembourg officials’ decision to embrace cannabis is to curb the growth of illegal sales on the black market. However, this is only the beginning of the country’s path toward legalization. Tanson described the October 22 announcement as “a first step in our project to legalize recreational cannabis.” No announcement was made in regards to an official launch date, since this legislation is not yet set in stone. It must pass through the Chamber of Deputies next. According to translated text from the Luxemburger Wort, a local Luxembourg newspaper, Tanson expects “further measures to be taken by the end of the term, in 2023.”
One of Luxembourg’s three political parties, The Greens, posted a press release expressing the party’s approval of cannabis legislation. “The war on cannabis has failed. The announcements by Justice Minister Sam Tanson represent a fundamental reorientation of Luxembourg’s drug policy,” the press release states. “Finally, the use of cannabis is being regulated and a legal alternative to the black market is being created. This sets the course for a comprehensive regulation of cultivation and distribution. We expressly welcome the fact that the government will continue to push ahead with the coalition agreement project.”
Luxembourg has been previously committed to cannabis legalization in the past, having announced in August 2019 that it wanted to be the first EU country to legalize cannabis production and consumption. At the time, former Luxembourg Health Minister Etienne Schneider cited the failures of prohibition, and called upon other EU countries to loosen their own drug laws in relation to cannabis. Some reports shared that Luxembourg was using Canada’s approach to legalization. Schneider and other officials also toured a Canopy Growth Corporation facility in Smith Falls Canada back in 2018.
Previously, Luxembourg legalized medical cannabis in 2017, with its program having launched in 2018. The country could soon join other countries such as Uruguay, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2013, and Canada, which legalized in 2018, as well as numerous states in the U.S.
Everyone involved in the legal industry in California has seen, while being green with envy, the moves happening up in Canada. Our neighboring country to the north legalized cannabis seemingly ages ago at this point (almost four years?), though their roll-out hasn’t been without its challenges.
While I believe we all celebrate the increased access to the plant we care for so dearly, silly federal restrictions aimed at “protecting the kids” have certainly dampened the celebrations. Though they may have more access on paper, it’s actually been more restrictive to build a brand that resonates up there.
Down here in California, however, despite still facing a federal prohibition that requires all its THC wares to remain within the state, it’s clear that the sky’s the limit when building a brand name here. With many of our elite, commanding, top-dollar the world over, even the government can’t contain the hype that’s built off of what most consider to be the best bud in the world. In fact, many don’t even have to have thorough brand identities to pop—just the right goods.
So what would happen if Canada and California combined forces? Could the prolific BC bud make the same kind of waves down here that it has up north for so long? Could the California market make a Canadian brand pop in a way that resonates internationally? Could a brand that finds success down here ride the wave across the provinces? A new amalgamation of brands is betting on it.
Founded in early 2018, Burb is a British Columbia-based, culture-minded cannabis retailer and merchandiser of quality goods. Led by John Kaye, who serves as the brand’s CEO and Creative Director, the brand was initially founded to support artists and creative movements.
As John tells me, “In a time of corporate cannabis takeover, we set out to build a brand that kept the bridge between cannabis and the arts alive, so we built weed stores that gave us plenty of cash flows to put back into the community.”
Originally born in Minsk, Russia, and having lived in Israel, Vancouver, and Los Angeles, Mr. Kaye is something of an artist himself. Having toured across North America playing in a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll band in his youth, it was the business side of things that interested him the most.
After going back to school and getting his diploma, and after a brief gig in finance left him creatively starved, he called his BCIT classmate, Clayton Chessa, with the idea of building a cannabis testing lab.
After a successful exit with their lab, Northern Vine, Kaye saw an opportunity to get back to his roots while supporting a community that was losing its grip in the face of legalization. With Clayton by his side, and with the help of another childhood friend, Steve Dowsley, who had just sold his previous company, the trio started Burb.
“For me, a great brand is defined as a real community. It’s not the logo. It’s not the packaging. It’s on-the-ground relationships—late nights and being in the fucking trenches. You say you’re a ‘lifestyle’ brand? Show me,” John explained.
What started as a Canadian pipe dream, a lifestyle shop and dispensary to lead, as opposed to follow, the culture, evolved into a full-fledged lifestyle brand. Now with five shop licenses, three of which are already operating Burb-branded dispensaries in Vancouver, with three more on the way—including the upcoming first-ever dispensary on a college campus at the University of British Columbia, Burb has rapidly established itself as a formidable player in the legal market up north.
Alongside their cannabis retail business, the team established a media arm to produce content from industry-leading creators likePaper Magazine founder David Hershkovits, and a merchandise line that includes apparel and smoking equipment you’ll actually want to have around.
What’s better, each store aims to provide a unique experience compared to other cannabis retailers. The team is hard at work building their evolution of the retail experience, a creative exploration site, which, while providing retail and merchandise sales on the first two floors, will have two more above, built exclusively for artists, by artists. Featuring specific cultural cornerstones, like music studios, and even potentially basketball courts in the future, it’s clear that pushing things forward was always part of the game plan.
“At Burb, we’re honoring the legacy and designing the future of cannabis culture” Kaye stated matter of factly.
“Creating My Own Destiny”
Although things have been moving quite well up north, the team at Burb couldn’t help thinking there was more room to flex, both creatively and culturally. In an effort to skirt some of the restrictions plaguing them back home, the gang started working towards establishing roots south of their border down here in California.
Having been connected with Los Angeles artist and producer Problem for his ‘4 the Low’ music video shoot, it seemed like the stars had started to align.
“For us, there’s a big crossover to the music space. We were already doing it. When Problem’s team approached us to be in his video with Wiz, we started to consider the bigger opportunity, especially after learning about the cannabis business he was building in Cali.” John continued.
What started as a conversation around product placement in a music video quickly snowballed. Burb was looking to make a play down here, Problem was looking to further dip his feet into the space, and it just so happened that Problem’s wife Daphne knew a woman named Chanel, who had an opp set up with her friend Kelly and her husband, Jason McKnight, who he had already heard was a real OG. The pieces were falling into place on their own.
In that vein, let’s zoom out a second and take a look at the other players here.
Coffee & Kush
Problem, born Jason Martin, had already lived several lives himself by this point. Raised in Compton, he surprisingly never planned to be a rapper, or a cannabis entrepreneur. Problem actually grew up wanting to play basketball. In fact, that’s where his name comes from.
“They used to call me a ‘Problem’ on the court!” he told me.
After realizing that basketball might not go according to plan, music—which at first was purely for fun, and impressing women, of course—became something that took more and more of his time. Eventually, it became the focus.
Now, this isn’t a piece on his storied career as an independent artist, but it’s worth noting that after being monetized by other brands throughout his career, Problem saw an opportunity with his last contracted album to utilize all his efforts to build something for himself and for his community.
Originally conceptualized as a merchandise line, Coffee & Kush has always been more of a lifestyle brand—despite how overused that term has become, this one’s it. The thing is, this wasn’t always his lifestyle, so just how much of a difference that equation makes is all the clearer for him.
You see, Problem didn’t start to consume until he was having his first child. While he has memories of the plant dating back to childhood, having grown up with a mother who was growing and smoking as long as he could remember, he didn’t see the allure when he was young, especially with an eye on the NBA. However, it was ironically his mother who eventually got him to give it a shot.
“My mom was the one who was like, ‘You need to smoke. You’re taking on a whole lot at a very young age.” He explained, “So I tried it, and it became part of my lifestyle, in my day to day. All that shit I’ve seen since the early 80s, so to me, weed has never been wrong, I just didn’t want to do the shit my mom did,” he continued. “But the system was running me through it … Then it all happened at the same time. I’m smoking, doin’ music. Smoking, doing music.”
“Let Me Pimp Me For A Second”
Having found success with his music career, Problem began to set new sights for himself. Understanding how his creative content could be used to propel products, the rapper set his sights on diversifying his offering.
“It just came to me: Coffee & Kush. This is what I’m rapping about all day, because this is what I’m doing all day. What I’m using to finish this album.” Problem explained.
“It was really just a unique way to brand the music. Then I figured, so many companies have used me to sell their products, if I’m going to start talking about Coffee & Kush all the time, I need to have my own products. I use my own content to push my own products, not the other way around.”
Before even exploring the cannabis route, Problem had two products almost immediately ready to launch alongside the project: Coffee & Kush mugs (with a bowl fashioned into the mug so you can smoke while you drink), and Green Hour Coffee (sold exclusively through Harun Coffee in LA).
It wasn’t until his friend Mike Asseraf suggested a preroll line that things really started to take off. After putting the pieces together for the Burb video, Problem remembered a story his wife had told him about Kelly’s husband …
Becoming A Pharmacist
Of all the players in this new squad, likely the most deserving of his spot is legacy operator Jason McKnight. Born in Los Angeles, and having moved to Northern California at a young age, Jason has been proliferating the plant since 1996—long before the glamorous industry we all hear about today.
Although he didn’t begin to build his own cultivations until 2001, much like Problem, Jason became familiar with the plant at a very young age. Living with family members who dealt as their primary source of income, cannabis was originally just a way for him to make ends meet.
“It was a survival tool.” Jason explains. “I wanted to make some money. It was a hustle, I didn’t even smoke weed at first. I didn’t want to do drugs. I had seen drugs destroy lives. I was going to play football.”
“But it became something that I loved,” he continues. “I remember the day I smoked … Football doesn’t always pan out. So I was stressed out; I was by myself, and I smoked some weed. My life changed, instantly. It was the medicine I needed in life to really calm me down. And then that became something that I loved.”
His love, plus his fortunate position of being in the right place at the right time, lit the fire.
“I was someone that was from Northern California at a time when there wasn’t good weed in LA. I already knew everybody from Football, but then I became the plug!” Jason recounted excitedly. “I was always wanting to try to advance myself in life, whether through cannabis or hard work. Whatever it is, I’m gonna work hard at it, but I just felt like cannabis was the thing, the future.”
A feeling that he doubled down on when a friend approached him with a $6,400 pound of OG, and he realized that the need for indoor cultivation would skyrocket.
“2001 is when I got my first plants … I was self-taught at that point because indoor cultivation, that wasn’t information that people shared. It was very hush-hush. I perfected it, learning the hard way, going through the ups and downs. It wasn’t always a success.”
“But back then, if you had five, or man, 10 pounds of [indoor] product, buyers would go crazy. There was not enough flower.”
It was at a High Times Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino, ironically the event where Problem performed, that Jason realized he needed to begin branding his work, and Green Label RX was born.
The Dues Paid for Green Label
Despite following the rules set forth by the state at that time, scaling up proved to be a devastating blow for McKnight. After obtaining a delivery license with his wife Kelly, he was raided by the LA County Sheriff Narcos on January 19, 2016.
Having seized his products and property, the state even took his three children. It was clear, despite being only months from adult-use legalization in the state, that the government was trying to make an example out of the trailblazers of this burgeoning industry. However, despite the setbacks, the McKnights didn’t quit.
Though it took four-and-a-half years, the McKnights fought the case tirelessly. After 11 months, their children were returned—which they were told was a fast turn around. (As an aside, it’s worth noting that their now four children are all flourishing in their home, with both of their parents).
That was only the beginning of the battle, though. Upon the return of their children, prosecutors charged Jason and his wife with 30-plus felonies and used a swath of low brow tactics to try and break up their family and make an example out of them. While this also isn’t a piece on the disturbing realities of the criminal justice system in America, it’s worth looking up for yourself.
Again, though, the McKnights didn’t quit. Since Proposition 64 had passed during this process, Jason and his wife began to apply for licenses to become legal cannabis operators while on trial. Although it certainly seems like the whole case should have been thrown out after the state legalized the very products they were selling, that didn’t happen, and the McKnights ended up losing their case.
It was while he was in jail, waiting for sentencing, that Jason found out he was awarded his license—ironically because of the case he had just faced. Jason, with the help of his wife Kelly, built the foundation for his new legal business while locked up for participating in the legacy industry.
Flash forward to today, and it’s a much different picture for the McKnights. Jason is now running multiple facilities, growing some of the best cannabis in the state, and is partnered with some of the most amazing brands and breeders in the world. In his eyes, he went from his absolute rock bottom, to as high as he could imagine, in just a few years. He had already been whitelabelling for others when some Canadians, and Problem approached him to talk, so the deal just made sense.
“You Gotta Become the Avengers to Go Against the World”
“When you know somebody has been through something, you can kind of talk to them in a different kind of way, so I just said I think we can do something really special,” Problem recalled of his first conversation with Jason.
With Burb understanding retail logistics and branding in a way their new partners couldn’t fathom, Green Label’s legacy cultivation skills earned on the back of trial and error, and the creative and marketing engine that is Problem and his team, the synergy between the three groups was almost instantaneously realized.
Although they’re quick to point out that there isn’t one parent company running the whole show, this partnership represents their collective understanding that there’s room for everyone to eat, and everyone to grow.
“It’d be impossible to push that through one brand, in one bag, the way I was thinking about it,” Problem noted.
“And that’s kind of the social equity thing, like you have two groups that come together. You have one person that, obviously he’s gone through the system, whether it’s a conviction or whatever, an arrest that’s cannabis related, and then you have another group that’s supposed to bring the financing, or someone that knows how to run a business. That’s the main thing they’re trying to add. We already got that,” Jason explained.
“This right here is a different crew of guys. I see what everybody else is doing. I get excited just watching how things get rolled out. But this—this is not built in fluff. This is built in a very very true story, and that, that’s what’s going to attract people to us. And then when you get here, the weed is so fucking fire that you’re going to stay,” Problem joked.
“We are not growers ourselves; we always come from the consumer mindset, and we know what we like. We partner with the best—we’re curators first and foremost. When I came down here, and I saw what was happening, I was convinced. This is an incredible team,” John noted.
“We’re basically bringing the future here. These guys, Burb—they’re living in the future. So you’ve got to exchange information. It’s not about who gets what, it’s about the minds melding,“ Problem continued.
“I’m looking at this like, if Martin Holdings is Interscope Records. I know what it’s like when you get a Kendrick Lamar. You can leverage everything. So what if you get a Kendrick AND Drake? Oh wow, they (consumers) are going to buy everything.”
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
So what did this new crew claiming Compton, NorCal, and BC turn out? So far this alliance of brands has seen a handful of their ideations enter the market, and thanks to Jason’s cultivation skill, they’re all smoking proper.
First, there was the California launch of Burb’s cannabis products at Hall of Flowers, including cultivars Butter Tarts and Beaver Tail. Then there was Green Label’s own branded eighths, as well as their new hemp blunt line, which also powers Burb’s Beaver Tail Blunts (which include a plastic beaver tail mouthpiece).
This was followed by Problem’s Coffee and Kush cannabis line, which was released exclusively through Wonderbrett in Black, and Cappuccino, and Mocha varietals. It’s clear the squad has hit the ground running in just a few short months working together.
With plenty of other projects on the horizon, including Benny’s prerolls, Roots Genetics (which will serve as Jason’s breeding and development company), as well as Burb retail stores within California’s state limits, I expect we’ll all be seeing and hearing more from the weed avengers soon.
“I’m pinching myself because, this is it. This is the dream.” Jason concludes. “I’m so excited for these next few years in the cannabis space, just to grow, and to try and achieve even higher goals. Whatever it is, I just want to always have a blunt in my hand like this.”
A man who imported one kilogram of cannabis (about 2.2 pounds) from Malaysia into Singapore in 2018 is set to hang after his appeal against the conviction and sentence was dismissed by the Apex Court on Tuesday, October 12.
Channel News Asia reports that Singaporean Omar Yacob Bamadhaj, 41, was sentenced to death in February after being convicted of one count of importing cannabis into Singapore. Bamadhaj was caught smuggling three bundles containing at least one kilogram of cannabis.
The country’s zero-tolerance policy for drugs has led to the hangings of hundreds of people, including dozens of foreigners.
During a routine border checkpoint at Woodlands Checkpoint late in the night on July 12, 2018, police discovered the bundles Bamadhaj was carrying. His father drove the vehicle, but was found to be unaware of the cannabis bundles.
The Alleged Crime
Bamadhaj agreed to smuggle the cannabis—a Class A drug in Singapore—two days earlier on July 10, 2018 and collected three bundles wrapped in newspapers a day later near a mosque. Bamadhaj allegedly obtained the packages from two friends, Din and Latif. Bamadhaj first said that he agreed to deliver the packages and then said he did not know what they contained.
When asked why there were differences in his accounts, Bamadhaj reportedly replied, “I said that because I was not at the right state of mind. I was feeling high from the stick I had smoked with Din. High to me is like being semi-conscious.”
On Tuesday, Bamadhaj’s lawyer Hassan Esa Almenoar said there was reasonable doubt as to whether Bamadhaj imported the drugs knowingly or not, and said it was “difficult to conclude that he planned all this”.
Bamadhaj argued that the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers had coerced him into admitting to the crime, threatening him, saying, “If you refuse to admit to this, I will throw both you and your father to be hanged.”
Tourists who smoke pot may be in for a bit of culture clash if they choose to visit Singapore—a famously intolerant country with penalties for drugs reaching up to death by hanging. Singapore applies corporal and capital punishments to foreigners—going beyond what other drug-free countries do.
Some countries in Asia are exceptionally intolerant when it comes to drugs. In 2014, Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee did six months of hard time in jail after being busted with 100 grams of cannabis in China. But Singapore’s punishments for drugs make China’s punishments look like a cake walk.
Singapore also does hesitate to punish foreigners if they are caught with drugs, unlike other drug-free nations such as Saudi Arabia or China. In those countries, a foreigner caught with drugs would most likely be deported instead.
Singapore doesn’t even need evidence of drug possession to jail a foreigner. Singapore might be the world’s only country that will require drug tests to foreign nationals and then arrest anyone who fails the test.
These are curious days in Europe on the recreational cannabis question. On one hand, the stated intentions of both Portugal and Luxembourg to establish recreational markets as early as next year and certainly by 2023 has been on the drawing board for the past three years. On the other, as the clock ticks down to the final quarter of 2021, politicians in both countries are suddenly pushing the pause if not long-term delay button.
Luxembourg has the longest track record outside of Holland as a country committed to a recreational market, theoretically by 2023. That said, it is suddenly being reported as of the last week of September that the ruling coalition here is now also considering the delay of the same, citing concerns about the legality of the same given current policies at the EU level. This is a little strange given the fact that the Dutch seem to have no issue with the EU policies as they go about implementing a national recreational infrastructure for the first time. Regardless it also points to a need for at least a fig leaf of legitimacy at a regional level so far missing from the discussion.
Beyond the stalling now seen in Luxembourg, for those who were hoping that at least one country in the EU will commit to a recreational market before the end of the year, Portugal had remained a beacon of hope. Portugal has long had one of the most tolerant drug policies generally because of a reaction against the policies of the late dictator Antonio Salazar which ended four years after his death in 1974.
However, the parliament in Portugal has dragged its feet this year and as of last week, began delaying discussion on a bill, which was supposed to go into effect late this year or early next.
Indeed, the timing of both decisions may have everything to do with the German elections in however backward a manner. Namely, that other countries in the EU on the verge of real reform are now stalling to see what Germany will do.
It appears that as of now, Holland remains the only country in Europe with a recreational market that is now federally regulated, and Switzerland the only sure-fire bet to go forward on a rec trial as of next year.
What Gives in Portugal and Beyond?
There are all sorts of rumors flying about why the sudden slowdown of politicians to engage on the recreational reform question especially given the results of the German election. Beyond this, the Luxembourg discussion is particularly intriguing given the fact that Canopy Growth, according to local media, has just inked a deal to sell medical cannabis to the Luxembourgian government at 100 euros a flower gram. To put this in perspective, the German bid set the price of the same at 2.20 euros a gram as of 2017, dropping to 1.87 with volume sales.
The fact that officials in Luxembourg seem unaware of the same is one problem no matter how closely they have studied the Canadian market. The second of course is that this is highway robbery of a kind not even seen so far in the rest of Europe (even as the German market was opening). The closest comparison in fact to this kind of pricing is only seen in the liquid Dronabinol market in Germany (where prices are still at a shockingly high 100 euros a liquid gram wholesale).
The fact that this outrageous sale is occurring almost simultaneously with the news of a now slowed down schedule for a rec market on the timeline since the last national election is just one more reminder of how political the discussions about forward progress are—and how much the larger public Canadian companies still shape debate if not the speed of progress here.
Indeed, the slower the pace of change, the more of these kind of short term, arbitraged commodity medical plays will occur.
Will Germany Really Drive Rec Reform in Europe?
There are all sorts of speculations afoot these days about not only the shape of the coalition that will guide Germany through the next four years, but the pace of cannabis reform here. If the statements coming out of Berlin are to be believed right now, cannabis reform, even if only decriminalization, but probably something more than that (like rec trials) is clearly on the agenda. This is because it is a clear win politically for all those in the new coalition, whatever that is likely to be.
However, Germany is not necessarily the only if not most powerful driver here. The Dutch are proceeding with the region’s first completely federally regulated recreational market. And of course, just across the border with Germany, Switzerland, while not in the EU, is not likely to slow down with its own plans to launch trials next year.
This alone, beyond the elections will certainly allow local advocates in at least Germany and potentially Austria, both in the DACH trading alliance, to face up to the fact that the momentum may be slightly slowed, but there is no stopping the great green train.
The idea of recreational reform has hit Europe, and while it may hit legal objections at every level (see not only the political yellow lights of late but the decision of the court in Strasbourg against Albert Tió), the horse has left the barn.
In a move that is further expected to shore up new calls for comprehensive cannabis reform at a European level, Czech President Miloš Zeman signed a law in the last week of September that allows industrial hemp grown in the country to have a THC level of 1.0 percent.
This exceeds the current limit set by the European Parliament last fall as a regional guide (up from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent), but that change will not take effect at the EU level until 2023.
Regardless, such a change comes at a very interesting time for the entire cannabis, if not hemp, discussion across Europe. Other provisions in the new Czech law are also going to shake up the discussion when it comes to access to cannabinoid drugs. Licensed, private groups will be allowed to manufacture medical cannabis products.
This in turn will potentially affect not only the Czech Republic, but every country across the EU now in search of lower priced cannabis products (starting but not limited to flos and extract). Indeed, with this move, the CR may well position itself as the main competitor to North Macedonia in terms of pricing—and certainly whatever is on the way in Portugal. It will also create an alternative and much lower cost labour market than Denmark.
For countries starting with Poland, this may also be a boon to the entire discussion of access where patients just cannot access medicine they can afford.
Medical cannabis cultivation has been legal in the country since 2013, but only a few, larger-scale growers have so far been licensed. Czechs are also allowed to grow up to five plants at home—it is technically decriminalized even though it can be punished with a fine—but many are hoping that the Pirate Party, currently polling third in the run up to the country’s national election in October, will be able to not only win but, as promised, embrace a sea of change in the country’s cannabis policy.
Whether the Pirates win is one thing. Regardless of more changes in the country’s cannabis policy after the election, the Czech Republic is again taking a first stand on a major issue in the industry that is bound to stimulate if not encourage more reform elsewhere.
Given the renewed call for “recreational trials” that are beginning to sprout up around Europe (and will be given even more of a push by the recent German elections last weekend), it is also not out of the question to see a similar trial in the CR in the next couple of years.
The Export Discussion
Currently, the medical cannabis produced in the country is for domestic consumption. This is a unique situation in Europe, since most of the cultivation underway post 2017 has been largely for export (and to Germany). As a result, within the country, medical cannabis does not have to meet a GMP certification, making it much less expensive to cultivate than in other parts of the EU.
The dispensation of medical cannabis has grown exponentially over the last several years. Last year, patients were given close to 70 kgs—a dramatic increase over 2019 where the official dispensation figures showed just 17 kgs were distributed.
The Czech GMP discussion is also one of the most intriguing in the EU. As it stands, unless the cannabis it cultivates domestically is GMP rated, farmers will not be able to export it to other European medical markets. However, there is likely to be a massive uptick in domestic production and medical consumption.
As a result of this, the CR may become one of the countries in the EU, like Portugal, where the entire “GMP vs GACP” discussion, and even for medical cannabis, is re-examined. This in turn, particularly set against a rising tide of calls for, at minimum, recreational trials in multiple countries, may confuse the issue even further rather than clarifying it.
So far, this certification has been the highest barrier companies have had to cross and face—starting with raising the financing to cultivate or extract at this level in the first place.
With an exclusively medical market in the region, nobody challenged the same—at least directly—although all the larger Canadian companies in the room have repeatedly stubbed their toes on this issue.
Now, with recreational trials also looming, the certification question that has seemed to be so uniform may also be challenged—albeit on a country-by-country basis.
Reform and of the most interesting, varied and potentially market moving kind, has absolutely landed in the EU, if not Europe, this summer—and the new developments in the Czech Republic will undoubtedly ripple far beyond the country’s borders as the discussion begins to broaden if not finally flower and bloom.
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.
A recent report from New Frontier Data explores the rapid growth of both medical and recreational cannabis sales in its “Global Cannabis Report: Growth & Trends Through 2025” report. The report is a comprehensive look at what to expect in the global cannabis industry over the next few years, while analyzing the current and future trends in the global markets of North America, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Oceania, Asia and Africa.
“When we released our first Global Cannabis Industry Report in 2019, it was clear that cannabis legalization would prove to be one of the most consequential socioeconomic movements of our time,” she wrote. “In just two years’ time, the number of countries having legalized some form of cannabis has increased from 50 to 70, and there are now 10 countries legalizing adult use, almost a twofold increase from 2019. As legal markets across the globe continue to evolve, we have found that regulatory structures and societal norms vary greatly, and each country, region and market require a nuanced approach to quantifying, qualifying and understanding them.”
The report states that in 2020, regulated markets sold $23.7 billion in high-THC cannabis product (which is 10 times the sales numbers of any other regulated markets in the world), and the combined total of medical and recreational cannabis sales in the U.S. was $20.3 billion. In comparison, Canada saw approximately $2 billion in high-THC cannabis products sold in 2020. The constant rise of cannabis in both the U.S. and Canada could lead to sales increasing to $51 billion by 2025.
Outside of North America, though, sales of high-THC products were lower overall, but still on the rise. Germany is home to Europe’s largest medical cannabis program to date, and in 2020, the country collected $206 million. That includes a collective number of both medical cannabis patients who use their insurance for a reimbursement program, as well as those who sought out cannabis products in other ways.
Like the U.S., cannabis is not federally legal in Spain, but the individual provinces in the country do have various regulations on cannabis sales. In 2019, cannabis clubs in the country reached $431 million, which makes Spain a contender for becoming one of the largest industries in the world, behind the U.S. and Canada.
On September 23, a webinar entitled “Exploring the Global Cannabis Economy: Trends, Projections & Opportunities” was held, featuring a handful of prominent speakers discussing the global cannabis industry’s future.
Another speaker, Tim O’Neill, VP of international markets for SōRSE Technology, pointed out that adhering to a specific market’s regulations on cannabis is becoming more difficult, saying that “either you can sell there, or you cannot.” He also mentioned that for investors seeking profit, there is opportunity in Chinese and Indian markets.
According to Mikhail Sagal, founder and president of TSRgrow, the success of non-US cannabis industries will rely on quick establishment of a regulatory framework. Those countries “will all have to change and become more standardized and acceptable,” he said, and added that companies “will have to change and be able to adapt in changing systems.”
New Frontier Data describes the expectation of Managing Director of FTI Consulting, Lincoln Eckhardt, as hoping for the best but expecting the worst. He shared the history of the vaping crisis in 2020 and how addressing the issue directly was the best course of action.
“Would that have been the answer a year or 18 months ago?,” Eckhardt asked. “Look at separate medical markets—[while] Oklahoma has very few rules, when Alabama comes online, it will be incredibly restrictive,’ so stakeholders must ascertain its risk assessment and corporate investment in terms of what it decides to be worth offering.”
A recording of the two-hour webinar can be found here, which contains a variety of new cannabis industry data and topics regarding the global industry.
On a global scale, New Frontier Data states that the main force behind legalization efforts is thanks to medical cannabis initiatives. However, each country is approaching the concept differently. Many countries in Europe have embraced the pharmaceutical route, which allows patients to pick up their cannabis medicine through a pharmacy.
In Latin American countries with legal sales, success has been found in programs through private clinics and physicians who are available to prescribe cannabis. Medical cannabis patient numbers continue to rise around the world due to easier access to medicine. In 2020, an estimated 4.4 million people were registered as active medical cannabis patients throughout the world. Furthermore, an additional two million patients are expected to register for medical cannabis over the next five years, which could reach 6.5 million people by 2025.
Recreational cannabis sales are expected to double that of medical cannabis sales by 2025 as well. On the recreational front, only 10 countries have legalized recreational cannabis, with six approving the sale of high-THC products.
Many of these regions are only beginning to implement their programs. In the Netherlands and Spain, a model of “decriminalized club/social-use” model, whereas South Africa and Jamaica have approved limited access for religious groups. Uruguay on the other hand has fully legalized recreational cannabis, and as a result, has sold more than 1,700 kilograms of high-THC product.
Finland may not be first on anyone’s list when it comes to being an epicenter of cannabis reform, but even this Scandinavian country is now considering the same.
The Green political party of Finland, the Green League, is championing a policy of legalization and regulation of a nascent domestic cannabis market. While the move has no official basis on a legislative level, it marks the first time a political party in the Finnish parliament has called for the legalization of cannabis.
Given the fact that there appears to be only narrow support at the federal level at the moment, it is unlikely that the measure will move forward (for now).
Cannabis in Finland
This region of the world is perhaps best known to outsiders as having lots of snow and occasionally cool, do it your-selfish furniture. Beyond this, however, cannabis reform has moved glacially, even at the pace seen in Europe, and many are growing impatient for prohibition to end.
The prohibition of cannabis in Finland specifically harks back to the mid-1960s although this being one of the most liberal parts of Europe, the criminalization of personal use has always been highly controversial. The national government achieved this goal however by 1972.
Fast forward to this century. In 2008, the Finnish government approved the use of medical cannabis flower (imported from Holland). As of 2017, Finland’s Supreme Court ruled that a sentence for an aggravated drug offense could be reduced, depending on the nature of the offender’s role in the same and the amount of illegal drugs involved.
In 2018, a national survey indicated that just 18 percent of Fins believed that adult use should be legal. In 2019, a citizen’s initiative to decriminalize gained 50,000 signatures to force the Parliament to consider it (it did not pass).
Finland’s Narcotics Act states that the use or possession of any illicit drug (including cannabis) is a criminal offense. Punishments can range, depending on the amount involved, from a fine to six months in prison.
CBD, however, is legal, and limited amounts of hemp are grown in the country.
The Legal Status of Cannabis in Scandinavia
The fact that the issue of cannabis reform appears to be moving, no matter how glacially in Finland, is a good sign for this part of Europe.
Scandinavia, generally, has tough laws about cannabis use. Sweden allows only the medical use of cannabinoid-based drugs. In Iceland, in stark contrast, the entire cannabinoid discussion, even for medical use, is off the table. Norway has liberalized its cannabis laws (back in 2018) allowing for small amounts of possession in the country. The one exception is Denmark, which began a four-year medical trial in 2018 and is further considering a recreational trial in the near future. The country has one of the larger cultivation programs in Europe with over 40 licenses granted.
Given that agriculture only represents just over two percent of Finnish GDP, it is unlikely that a large cultivation industry will develop here. But imports, just like in Germany, and of the medical kind, could begin to show up here, particularly from neighboring Denmark.
Regardless, some kind of cannabis reform is clearly on the political agenda now—and that is a positive development, generally. There is also, at this point, no part of Europe where at least medical cannabis reform has been considered. Moving forward, beyond this, however, is going to be the next big hurdle, just about everywhere, including in Scandinavia.
It remains to be seen what will happen, but it’s clear that a change is coming to Europe when it comes to legal cannabis.
Switzerland has finally announced its highly anticipated three-and-a-half-year pilot scheme to implement the development of a recreational cannabis trial (and industry). This is a direct result of legislative changes made in Swiss law about the same last year.
The trial will allow Swiss cities to set up their own cannabis markets, and further, conduct their own studies on the effect of such trial cannabis markets—as well as the impact on the citizenry on the use of the drug.
The Zurich trial, called “Zuri Can” will begin in the fall of next year and include different products with varying levels of THC and CBD content. The municipal trial will be supervised by the psychiatric hospital of the University of Zurich.
Local manufacturers must obtain a production permit from the Federal Office of Public Health to ensure quality standards.
Beyond being one of the most avidly watched experiments right now, this is also a large turnaround by the Swiss people and legislature in a relatively short period of time (and one that both tracks and lags North American reform by about seven years). In 2008, almost two-thirds of the Swiss voting public decided against decriminalization of cannabis for personal use.
What is Good (And Bad) About the Approach
At this point, as the recreational reform discussion has stalled in the DACH region (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) beyond the rest of Europe, any federally regulated recreational trial in any of these countries should be considered a mark of progress.
Sadly, however, there are still some odd elements to all of this that smack of lingering stigma, starting with having the recreational trial in the country’s largest city supervised by any Psych Department. The second odd twist to this is that the trial only seeks “experienced users” to participate.
What exactly an “experienced” user is defined by will be determined by hair tests—namely, one must prove that one has consumed enough cannabis for the proof to show up not just in urine or even blood tests.
Beyond this definition, however, the study goals are clear: to understand the dynamics of a legitimate market and how to set up the same to combat the illicit one. The idea, of course, in four years, is ostensibly to transition to a federally licensed, national recreational market—the second in Europe after Holland at the current schedule.
Beyond Zurich, other experiments are planned for the largest Swiss cities including Basel, Bern, Biel and Geneva.
While of course official estimates are just that (and for all the obvious reasons), there are currently an estimated 200,000 people who consume cannabis or cannabis products on an ongoing basis.
Organic in Switzerland
There is another twist to all this that could prove to be a game changer in the way that cannabis is grown (and even for medical purposes) across Europe. Namely, the only cannabis to be allowed in the trial must be grown both domestically and organically.
This means that the Swiss are potentially setting another precedent that could well ripple across Europe if not the entire cultivation industry. So far, there has been terrific debate about how both medical and recreational cannabis should be cultivated.
The debate so far—mainly whether cannabis grown indoors but under high GACP standards (namely national if not regional standards for all foodstuffs) could, in some circumstances, be certified as EU-GMP (or pharmaceutical grade) through the processing, extracting and packaging process. The requirement that cannabis be an organic crop in Switzerland begins to better define the process generally—and, in fact, could well become a regional standard for all cannabis grown throughout the EU. See Portugal and Spain, for starters, where this debate has begun to rage, triggered by the German medical import market.
If such a regulatory schemata were widely copied from Switzerland, this, in turn, would help regulate nascent domestic markets across the continent and create a path to both the pharmaceutical and recreational markets that starts with a single certification.
This also could be used to lower (significantly) the expense of medical cannabis production, not to mention lower the carbon footprint of the same.
In its own way, the strategic Swiss may, as a result, leave their own mark on an industry that, far from Swiss borders, needs better guidance about how to cultivate and process in the future.
Italian advocate group Referendum Cannabis announced that it has collected 500,000 signatures in one week for its proposed ballot measure, which would decriminalize cannabis cultivation and consumption, as well as other psychoactive substances.
Advocates in charge of Referendum Cannabis announced on Facebook on September 18 that they have collected 500,000 signatures in just one week. It’s also the minimum number of signatures required to qualify for a nationwide ballot voting measure set for Spring 2022.
According to the group, Referendum Cannabis will continue to collect more signatures, according to this Facebook translation. “In less than a week we’ve gathered more than half a million signatures for the #ReferendumCannabis, a stunning outcome that was possible thanks to the efforts of thousands of activists. But to send a clear message to the politics that is already undermining the importance of this result, we want to undermine the parliament with a green tide! Also to be sure to reach the goal and vote in the spring next spring it’s essential to reach 600,000 signatures.”
This success was partially made possible because of a new law that was passed in July, which legitimized the use of collecting signatures digitally. Prior to this, signatures had to be collected in person. According to the Agenzia Giornialistica Italia, advocates of Referendum Cannabis are proud to see how successful the campaign has been with the allowance of digital signatures. “An extraordinary but not surprising result: an intervention on the topic of Cannabis was needed for some time and with the digital signature in a few days the issue exploded,” the advocates told Agenzia Giornialistica Italia, according to a translation.
“This referendum is the first Italian signature collection held entirely online on the referendumcannabis.itsite. The speed of the mobilization confirms the desire for change on cannabis but also for participation in decisions on matters that affect personally. Now, however, we need to collect a further 15 percent more signatures to be sure of being able to deliver the referendum to the Supreme Court on September 30.”
If the referendum becomes law, it would decriminalize cannabis cultivation and would “eliminate the prison sentence for any illegal conduct relating to cannabis, with the exception of the association aimed at illicit trafficking pursuant to art,” the Referendum Cannabis’ website states. It would remove the ban on driving a moped for three years if an individual has been found in possession or consumption of drugs, as it would “eliminate the sanction of the suspension of the driving license and of the certificate of suitability to drive mopeds currently intended for all conducts aimed at the personal use of any narcotic or psychotropic substance…”
Italian Group Also Pushes to Legalize Psilocybin
It would also allow Italian residents to use other psychoactive substances, specifically psilocybin. “It is also worth remembering that with the exception of cannabis inflorescences (and mushrooms), all other narcotic substances necessarily require subsequent steps for the substance to be consumed, activities which continue to be punished in Article 73.” However, the group does not specific which psychoactive substances would be allowed.
A few of the most prominent supporters of Referendum Cannabis include the Luca Coscioni Association, Meglio Legale, Forum Droghe, Società della Ragione, “Antigone and by the Italian + Europa, Possible and Radical parties.” The referendum will still need to be approved by the Supreme Court of Cassation and Constitutional Court of Italy in order to proceed as a ballot measure next year.