Editor’s Note: This piece is an excerpt from Marguerite Arnold’s Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu. Click here to buy the book.
From February 2019, THC was certainly not seen in the leisure sector in Switzerland or in large parts of Europe. Even in Holland the coffee shops along with the supply chain were more strictly regulated for them. In Spain, cannabis clubs thrived in a gray area. With these two very narrow exceptions, the largest and most valuable part of the cannabis market (medicine and THC) has also had similar problems. And these did not happen in Spain, Holland or even Switzerland, but across the border in Germany.
In fact, the real news on the industrial side in Europe, as in recent years, was not the CBD consumer market, however fascinating and potentially valuable in the foreseeable future, but the medical and “other” market. Cannabinoid universe that contained THC. And the actual triggering event for the start of the European Reform March was certainly influenced by what happened in both the United States and Canada as well as in Israel. Where it landed first and most definitely wasn’t Holland, around 2014, or soon after even Switzerland or Spain, but Germany.
Green II: Spread like kudzu
The Canadian market undoubtedly also gave impetus to European reform when German lawmakers changed medical cannabis laws in 2017. But even this was a cannabis industry that focused on foreign markets that they probably knew were developing (if no direct hand there, even in Berlin, bidding time comes).
Why did Germany – certainly in contrast to its certainly more “liberal” DACH trading partner Switzerland – suddenly appear as the “next” hot thing for Canadian cannabis companies in the summer of 2016?
The answer is partly political, certainly economic, and absolutely strategic.
In contrast to Switzerland, Germany is in the EU and is a G7 country.6 By 2016 it was certainly much closer to the legalization of cannabis, which was approved by the federal government and reimbursed by the insurer. This was because sick patients by that point had successfully sued the government for access (including home additions). And the government wanted another option, citing concerns about the black market and unregulated cannabis production (see Canada).
Not to mention that one market, certainly in 2016, helped with a little CETA-inspired “juice”.
The international trade treaty between Canada and the EU (if not the other major treaty, the Pharmaceutical-Facing Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) with the US) has been in the background throughout the cannabis discussion during the expansion of Canada’s industry across Europe. At this writing, it is still unclear whether the coexistence of CETA and the start of the Canadian cannabis trade had anything to do with the extension of the process of German cultivation supply – but given the political orientation of the plant, this was more than a reasonable assumption at the time do.
At least since the start of the real German cannabis market in 2016 (i.e. the start of an import market not only from Holland but also from Canada) and Europe beyond, Canadian companies have so far played an oversized role (starting with bankrolling operations in the first place). The growth of the Canadian market as well as the developments within the Canadian market have absolutely triggered the change, if not the beginning of the changeover within Europe, starting with Germany of all places.
Marguerite Arnold, CIJ writer and author of Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu
But why Germany? And why has the industry and other Euro hotspots grown together outside of their borders since then?
There are several explanations for this.
One thing is absolutely timing and strategic positioning.
Germany had begun the slow process of treating the medical cannabis problem on a federal basis since 2015, which was heavily influenced not only by events at events abroad in Canada and the United States, but also in Israel. There was also pressure at home to deal with the problem. Though very uncomfortable, and at least in the eyes of the majority of centrist lawmakers, as far away as possible.
Patient lawsuits against insurers began to turn in favor of patients. Technically, between the turn of the century and 2016, patients were able to buy cannabis in pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription in Germany. But it was extremely expensive and, moreover, a cumbersome process. In fact, by 2017, only 800 patients had managed to find doctors willing to prescribe the drug and could afford the $ 1,500 a month to pay for it.
Everyone else found their supplies, though no one was willing to admit it, in the gray (nonprofit patient collective) or black (street and largely criminally affiliated) market.
Günther Weiglein, a patient from Würzburg, a small town in Bavaria, has changed that.
In 2015, he won his lawsuit against his insurer, claiming that although he qualified as a patient, he could not afford the cannabis for sale in pharmacies. This gave him and some patients the temporary right to breed themselves (with permission).
Weiglein is the epitome of the German “Jedermann”. Blond, stocky, and in his fifties, he’s been in chronic pain since a devastating motorcycle accident more than two decades ago. He has also committed himself to the cannabis cause with a dedication and purposefulness that sets him apart from most other patient activists (in Germany or elsewhere). He is very independent. And don’t be afraid to express your wish for a “freedom” that hasn’t come yet.
However, in 2015 there seemed to be several interesting options.
Indeed, at the time, it actually seemed possible that Germany seemed ready to lean towards Canada – namely, that the growth of patient homes would be enshrined as some sort of constitutional law.
It didn’t turn out that way, however. Desperate to contain the Europe-wide black market, which in these waters is much more directly linked to the terrorism of religious extremists and mafia, and to avoid a situation in which Berlin became the next Amsterdam, the German Bundestag decided on a strange compromise.
On one level, it seems so predictably neat and German. If cannabis is a drug, Germans should have access to that drug through state health insurance.
In fact, however, the process was a process that has been tortured and has continued since, not to mention the difficulties facing almost everyone involved in the market. From patient to producer.
“In practice, it hasn’t developed quite as smoothly so far.”Here’s why. The government decided that with the passage of a new law that went into effect in March 2017, the federal government would regulate the industry through BfArM, the German equivalent of the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and issue formal state cultivation licenses.
This also makes sense from a regulatory point of view. Cannabis can be used as a medicine. Even if its definition as a “narcotic” – also on the medical side – leaves a lot to be desired.
This is especially true for the CBD part of the equation. It is especially relevant for those who regularly use THC not only for chronic pain but also as an antispasmodic or anti-inflammatory agent.
However, unlike Canada, the federal government has also decided to revoke the grower license for patients while insurers have to pay the cost of the drug if it is prescribed by a doctor. In practice, there is also a special sales market that is still developing.
In theory everything is very nice. In this abstract world, these rules make sense for a pharmacized plant, if not beyond. This is the path that all other drugs in Germany take to get onto the market if they are not prescribed.
In practice it has not developed quite as smoothly so far. While understandable for many reasons, from containing the black market to setting standards, this rapid shift from patient or collective cultivation of cannabis creates an obligation for patients to interact with a doctor and pharmacy (beyond the insurer) Having no other alternative also has its own serious problems. For everyone along the supply chain. But most serious and problematic for patients and doctors.
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