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Cannabis Europa 2024 – Day 2

The sunny second day of Cannabis Europa 2024 followed a lively evening at the inaugural Business of Cannabis Awards, where Curaleaf, Hannah Deacon, Cannavigia, Medicann and Cannareporter, among many others, were recognised for their contributions to the industry. 

Sessions for the second day shifted focus towards the involvement of Big Pharma in the cannabis industry, as well as looking more deeply at the industry from a patient perspective. 

Big Pharma

In the first session, Prohibition Partners’ Stephen Murphy hosted a one-on-one discussion with Zeil’s President & CEO, Arthur de Cordova, on the implications of the rescheduling of cannabis, both in the US and in Germany.

Mr Cordova suggested that for those North American companies, particularly ones in Canada which have ‘had the foresight to get EU GMP’ certification, allowing them to export in to the European market, Europe has ‘been a lifeline’.

Despite this, he said that it is not an easy process for companies to break into the market from overseas, adding that it takes ‘investment, time and planning’.

One element that was not so widely discussed in regards to US rescheduling, is the upcoming entrance of another major player into the fray, the US Food & Drug Administration.

“When (US) rescheduling comes in, the playing field will be levelled across all states. Yes, you’ll have tax relief, but companies are also going to have the FDA at their door eventually. They’ll standardise and harmonise the entire industry.”

This, he continued, could help finally open the door to Big Pharma, which needs a ‘predictable and steady market’ to even consider entering in any meaningful capacity.

Later that day, Brains Bioceuticals’ President Terry O’Regan held a keynote speech on his company’s various projects and how they’re looking to integrate a pharmaceutical mindset into their business.

This preceded a panel discussion looking exclusively at bringing the pharmaceutical industry in to cannabis.

Referencing the panels title, ‘A Sleeping Giant’, Managing Director of InSciTe Consulting, Alexandru Zabara said he thought the industry was no longer sleeping, and had been slowly waking up to the opportunities in cannabis for some time.

However, he said that cannabis had turned the usual method of drug discovery ‘on its head’, meaning it represents new territory for many companies.

“You don’t start with 500 molecules. You already know the molecules and you’re trying to find therapeutic integration with the human endocannabinoid system, which is still being researched by top academic institutions.”

Furthermore, cannabis’ historical use makes it impossible to patent any of these molecules, meaning the path to commercial viability is once again made more difficult.

“You can think about formulations and finished drug formats, you can always patent those, bringing another layer of protection and desrisking the process for pharmaceutical companies.

“You can also look at combination therapies. You can think about combining cannabinoids for a specific purpose and patent that… Sleep disorders and anxiety would be leading candidates for new cannabis pharma drugs.”

Turning to why the pharmaceutical industry has only dipped its toe in cannabis so far, Mr O’Regan suggested the industry had ‘shot itself in the foot’ so far by conducting studies which were not up to pharmaceutical standards.

That said, he believed an ‘element of sophistication’ was beginning to emerge as the industry started to understand which molecules work for different conditions, like CBD for neurology.

“Let me start by being controversial, I think for so long we’ve tried to find a shortcut to bringing products to market. I think it’s set us back five years, we could have already been much further down the line bringing products to market. The process is long and expensive, but it has to be done. Start with cheaper studies, but do it properly, get a lot of good information right up front.

“I also think there is a real opportunity to piggyback on the science that has already been conducted by companies like GW Pharmaceuticals… There is a desperation in the pharma industry to fill up their pipelines, so the opportunity is there, but they are being cautious.”

Celadon Pharmaceuticals’ Stuart Cornwell also suggested that bringing in investment from other industries like Big Tobacco might be ‘an interesting proposition’, as similarly to Big Pharma they had lots of experience and deep pockets to conduct clinical trials.

Public Health and the cannabis industry

This sentiment was strongly rejected by Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, who warned against bringing Big Tobacco into cannabis.

“The tobacco industry at every point has fought attempts to regulate. We have to learn from the mistakes of tobacco and alcohol, which have ‘perverse’ advertising policies… We need to prevent corporate companies capturing the policy making process and influencing it in ways that undermine public health, social justice and racial justice.”

He added that it was much harder to reverse engineer public health policies once a market has been established, as seen in tobacco, and that this needs to be a cornerstone of policy from day one, citing the numerous attempts to do so in state markets throughout the US.

If they can do it in the US where there are fundamental ideological hostilities to government intervention in markets, it can be done in Europe. In New Jersey, 70% of the tax revenue from cannabis is redirected into social programmes. Imagine if that was the case in other industries.”

Despite this potential, the panel also warned of the ‘fundamental tension’ between public health and corporate interests, which will innevitably steer the industry towards growing consumption and sales.

Katrina Ffrench, the Director of UNJUST, suggested this tension was also apparent among communities most heavily impacted by prohibition.

“In one sentence, you have businesses making money out of something, as well as people being put in prison for it.

“We need to consider how we can bring in these marginalised communities and those that have suffered more due to prohibition. If they are not included in your vision for the industry, you need to rethink your vision.”

A separate session focused on medical cannabis patients in the current climate, with long-time cannabis activist and Director of Maple Tree Consultants, ‘Hannah Deacon’, stating that despite the progress we’ve seen for adult patients, access was still very difficult for children.

Ms Deacon backed up previous sentiment that the adult-use market needed to be distinctly dissacociated from medical.

“Patients deserve clinical oversight, and we must remember that doctors are the main players in the medical market, we only have 150 prescribing doctors. We cannot forget these people that need prescriptions whatever, regardless of whether an adult-use market exists.

“As patients, advocates and business people, we all want more doctors to understand cannabis. I don’t think all doctors need to prescribe cannabis, but I think all of them need to understand the endocannabinoid system.”

Czech Progress

In one of the many market focused sessions of the conference, a panel of the leading players and politicians in the promising Czech cannabis market took to the stage to discuss its progress.

Jindřich Vobořil, the country’s National Drug Coordinator and architect of the upcoming cannabis bill, laid out the dual bills currently making their way through the legislative process.

“We passed a programme that says we will regulate addictive products according to their risks… At the moment you either have food, or banned substances. We’ve created a new category.

“We’ve also submitted a bill with three key areas of access. One of these is a regulated commercial market, but we are in complicated discussions to push this through, particularly with regard to EU laws.”

With this in mind, he explained that his team believes the proposed regulation of cannabis for adult-use purposes was ‘strict enough to be inkeeping with European treaties’.

“There is no official statement in European law that says it is not possible. I believe we should go to the European Commission Court and challenge this law. I want to say openly that we should challenge the whole idea that prohibition in itself is wrong; it doesn’t serve the state.”

The panel cited the fact that the Czech Republic recently became the first EU member state to raise its THC limit for hemp to 1%, a move which was largely due to former politician and Chairman of Safe Cannabis Association Czechia, Tomas Vymazmal, who was also on the panel.

“The Czech republic was in the same position when it changed the THC limits with the European Commission. We had pushback, but we got it through. If you don’t try you will not know,” Mr Voboril added.

Pavel Kubu, CIO at Healchain, also mentioned some legislative changes in Germany which could impact other European markets like the Czech Republic.

“There is another parallel process happening in Germany. From July Germany passed a law which means pharmacies will have to keep at least six months of medications in stock.

“There’s strong expectation that medication supply shortages will look even more prevalent in minor markets by Czech Republic, because, of course, the distributors will focus on the market where they’re having more business.”

To conclude, Editor in Chief of Green Publishing and nominee for Journalist of the Year at the Business of Cannabis Awards, Lukas Hurt, called on the audience to help the Czech Republic in its campaign, referencing his campaign group Rational Regulation (RARE) of which all the panelists are part of.

“There is much work to be done, and we need your help. These things cost money and take time, and our opponents have deep pockets. Real change in the Czech Republic will help us all.”

Catch up on Day 1 of Cannabis Europa 2024 here. 

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