Germany is on track to become one of the world’s largest medical marijuana markets this year as insured patient numbers soar, MMJ imports rise and the country prepares for domestic cultivation.
Some executives also expect recreational legalization to happen “in the foreseeable future.”
Germany’s rapid growth is expected to continue independent of the country’s plan to produce its own cannabis, with imports likely necessary to meet medical demand for several years to come, according to analysts.
For now, business opportunities exist for select international players – think Canadian MMJ cultivators – to fill Germany’s growing supply shortfall.
That’s because MMJ sales are conducted exclusively through pharmacies.
Looking ahead, however, more opportunities will likely arise as the domestic industry develops and the ancillary sector emerges to serve growers and other MMJ businesses.
Deepak Anand, vice president of government relations for Vancouver, British Columbia-based consultancy Cannabis Compliance, said it’s inevitable Germany will soon become the top market in the world for medical cannabis.
“There’s so much more profit to be made in Germany than even in Canada,” he said.
“Germany is also a gateway to the EU, and that’s the massive opportunity, in my mind.”
The German medical marijuana industry has a big advantage:
MMJ is within reach of 70 million residents under Germany’s statutory health insurance system, meaning patients are free to shop around for a medical plan that suits their needs, some of which include MMJ coverage.
Early data from three of the country’s largest insurance companies show demand is surging.
The number of patients applying for reimbursement for their cannabis treatment with these companies grew from 500 in early 2017 to more than 13,000 by the end of the year.
“That is the tip of the iceberg, because this is only from a few of the insurance companies,” said Peter Homberg, partner and head of the German Life Sciences Practice at Dentons law firm.
Patients are not required to register with the government, so no federal patient counts are available.
“I believe it will be much larger in the future, and it may already be much larger by now,” said Homberg, who advises clients on Germany’s MMJ regulations.
The latest: domestic cultivation
The application process to select companies to cultivate marijuana in Germany started last year, but ongoing litigation by unsuccessful applicants has prolonged the process.
Only companies with a proven production history were advanced. That excluded all German companies since, before this process, production was illegal.
Three litigation matters have yet to conclude.
Another round of documentation has been provided to remaining applicants and is expected to be returned by the end of March.
Final decisions are expected in April.
“The length of the process is caused by the fact that this is the first public tender for growing cannabis in Germany by the new Cannabis Agency,” Homberg said. “And as such, we are not surprised on the legal side that this tender has had some time setbacks.”
The Cannabis Agency is responsible for quality control and regulation of cultivation and distribution.
But resolution of the licensing issue won’t resolve all of the industry’s issues.
“The current quantities which the government is tendering out, from my point of view, will not meet the total market demand for medical cannabis in Germany,” Homberg said.
“The question is whether the (agency’s) quantities … will ever meet the growing market needs for medical cannabis in Germany.”
Risk and reward
Homberg sees more reward than risk in Germany.
“I don’t see any risks. There are definitely more opportunities,” he said. “As long as companies are very experienced in growing cannabis under GMP production requirements, they do not face much risk.”
Good manufacturing practice (GMP) is an internationally recognized quality standard.
Canopy Growth is one of the international companies that already has a presence in Germany.
“Germany seems to be on route to be the major medical cannabis market for the foreseeable future,” said Pierre Debs, Canopy’s managing director of Europe South and subsidiary Spectrum Cannabis. “That’s mirrored in the enthusiasm with which many companies are trying to get into Germany.”
Canopy delivers product to about 1,000 pharmacies in Germany and expects to double or triple that by the end of 2018.
The potential reward has prompted international companies to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in Germany or nearby countries, including:
- Alberta-based Aurora formed a joint venture in Denmark to create “Europe’s largest” medical cannabis producer.
- Tilray is spending 20 million euros ($24 million) to build a production facility in Portugal to serve the EU.
- Cronos is planning to grow medical marijuana in Israel, with most production slated for export.
Canadian medical marijuana will ultimately be available in most of Germany’s 20,200 pharmacies.
Work in progress
Insiders say Germany still has some work to do before it becomes a well-greased and optimal medical cannabis market from a regulatory perspective.
“It’s unfolding before our eyes, but it’s not finished,” Debs said.
Germany has three basic sets of laws governing the industry: general pharmaceutical, narcotics and regulation of how pharmacies behave.
Debs said those areas are in the process of being streamlined when it comes to medical cannabis.
But while legalization enjoys support from the pro-business Free Democratic and the Green parties, a new coalition government led by Christian Democratic Union remains opposed.
Still, the Germany-born CEO of cannabis producer Sundial Growers, Torsten Kuenzlen, said he expects the country to legalize cannabis “in the foreseeable future.
“And by extension of that, so will all of Europe.”
The former Coke and Coors executive took the reins of Alberta-based Sundial last week.
“It’s gaining momentum and critical mass,” Kuenzlen said.
“When the floodgates open, it’s going to move quickly.”
Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]
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