Germany – the EU’s most populous state with 82 million people – is about to offer cannabis on medical insurance. When that happens, demand will soar.
Germany’s lower house of parliament passed a bill legalizing the production, sale and use of medical marijuana on January 19th, 2017.
The bill is restricted to the sale and use of cannabis to patients, and there is no provision for home growing. This means that all cannabis (sold legally) in Germany will come via a doctor’s prescription and from a pharmacy – just like any other prescription drug.
This ensures that the cannabis distributed is of a consistent quality and, most importantly, a consistent strength. It doesn’t ensure that it is especially interesting for cannabis connoisseurs or recreational users in terms of look, taste, smell or effects.
But thanks to the German bill, cannabis will be available through health insurance plans, which is a good thing as currently what is available in the pharmacy is a lot more expensive than what you can buy on the streets.
“Those who are severely ill need to get the best possible treatment and that includes health insurance funds paying for cannabis as a medicine for those who are chronically ill if they can’t be effectively treated any other way,” said Health Minister Hermann Groehe to Reuters.
Beginning last year, Germany has been distributing cannabis flowers through pharmacies on a case per case basis. This created a sizeable market of a few thousand patients that – due to the fact that Germany does not currently allow the cultivation of cannabis – is met through imports from (legal) cannabis producing countries, such as the Netherlands and Canada.
This is going to change. Companies are already rapidly putting together blueprints and applications to legally cultivate cannabis in Germany. Some of these companies are already importing and building up their distribution contacts and networks. As soon as they have the green light to cultivate, they will be building local facilities to meet the increasing demand.
Just how big this demand will be is currently based on estimates. Germany is a cannabis-friendly country, with 23.1% of the adult population having consumed cannabis. That’s nearly 19 million people, which given cannabis’ illegality at the time of the survey will include both medical and recreational users. To put things in perspective, Germany’s population is more than double that of California, with 82 million versus 39 million inhabitants.
Let’s say a conservative estimate of people enrolled on Germany’s medical cannabis programme will be a cool one million.
If an average patient consumes 1 gram per day – which is low or high, depending on your ailment – that would mean each patient would require 365 grams per year. Multiply that by a million and we are talking 365 metric tons – or 804,687,322 pounds. That’s a lot of pot and it’s going to take a lot of cultivation space to produce.
Who’s going to grow it?
As there is no entrance into the market for home growers or caregivers like in many U.S. states, this is going to have to be produced by companies running facilities with good agricultural practice (GAP), good distribution practice (GDP) and good manufacturing processes (GMP). You don’t get to distribute any drug in a pharmacy without such high quality control – especially in Germany.
As you can imagine, this is creating a feeding frenzy for big actors in the cannabis industry. In April, they will be convening in Berlin for the first European-based International Cannabis Business Conference. Local players with cultivation licenses will be seeking capital to meet the exacting requirements that only Germany can define. International money men will be homing in on those that can give them a great return on investment in this soon-to-be exceedingly lucrative market.
The result will be that patients in Germany will have safe access to cannabis-related medicines.
Every time a patient visits the pharmacy, they know that what they are going to get will be more or less the same as what they had the previous time. Their cannabis will be grown without human intervention in automated cultivation rooms. Biological engineers will be monitoring the grow installation and laboratories will test the end product to ensure that the cannabinoid profiles will remain consistent from batch to batch.
Once complete, the buds will be irradiated of soil microorganisms and they will be packaged and stored in perfect conditions until it is handed to the patient in a white paper bag and a smile from their local pharmacist.
All cannabis culture has been methodically stripped out of the cannabis that will be distributed.
As a hobby home grower and recreational user – self-medicating in the absence of legislation that will allow me to get a prescription – I find this a rather sad ending to the calls for legalisation from millions of Europeans over the last 50 years. I have to admit, for many patients getting true medicinal grade cannabis free from pests, diseases or any adulterants is a good thing; growing cannabis to this level of consistency at home is virtually impossible. I’m not discounting it for recreational use, but in the way we class “medicine” in modern society it is not something that we produce in our homes – that’s called a “remedy”. Collectively and with empirical data to back it up we have agreed that medicine should be sterile. Cannabis from your greenhouse is far from sterile.
This arrangement will line the pockets of big investors and local entrepreneurs, but will also provide safe medicine to those who need it most. People who would never dream of growing their own or sourcing through a network of growers will be able to benefit from a medicine that has no adverse side effects.
The genie will be well and truly out of the bottle. More people in society will come to accept cannabis and see that the negative propaganda of the past was based on lies.
Increased cultivation, distribution and monitoring of patients will provide data that will have positive results. Science will finally be able to study cannabis, cannabinoids, terpenes and all the other components that make up the cannabis plant. This will lead to more breakthroughs and medical applications.
Germany is the largest population in Europe, and once they show that this can work, other countries will inevitably follow their lead.
However, for many activists this is not the end game; cannabis through pharmacies is just phase one. Ultimately, Germany will legalize cannabis for recreational use. That’s how it works, just look at the pattern in the U.S. and Canada. First, you legalize for medical use, then you decriminalize for recreational use, then you get full on legal cannabis to anyone who is old enough to buy it.
When that day comes there won’t just be one million medical patients; the full 23.1% of the German population that tried it will be able to consume without the guilt or anxiety that prohibition creates. This demand could only be met from decentralised local producers. This is where the connoisseurs will benefit. I dream of the day when, instead of dropping in my local wine shop, I stop by my local cannabis dispensary to see what delights they have on offer. It’s some way off at the moment, but my money’s on this becoming a reality in the not-too-distant future.