Europe’s First Recreational Cannabis Pilot Study To Be Delayed After Product ‘Narrowly Failed To Meet Quality Standards’

EUROPE’s inaugural THC recreational cannabis trial, due to launch this week, is set to be delayed by ‘weeks or a few months’. 

Statements from both the Basel-Stadt Health Department and Pure Production AG, the company supplying the cannabis for the trial, have both said that sales ‘cannot start on Thursday, September 15’. 

According to the city’s Health Department, the cannabis products set to be sold to customers across the Swiss city of Basel ‘narrowly failed to meet a quality standard stipulated in the Ordinance on Pilot Trials under the Narcotics Act’. 

Pure said this ‘shows that the high requirements for quality assurance are purposeful’, and that this demonstrated their effectiveness in ensuring ‘only flawless products are sold and reach the consumer’. 

Weed Care Study

‘Weed Care’ was scheduled to be launched in Switzerland’s third most populous city on Thursday, after being approved by the Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH) on April 19. 

The study, which will see the Basel-Stadt Health Department, the University Psychiatric Clinics Basel, the University of Basel, and Pure Production work in collaboration alongside a number of other stakeholders, will mark the first time in history that a high-THC cannabis will be sold to consumers legally for recreational purposes in Europe. 

Due to run until March 2025, it is also expected to be the first of around a dozen similar pilot studies due to be launched in Switzerland over the coming months. 

It is understood that while participants will no longer be able to purchase cannabis from a select group of pharmacies from September 15, ‘inclusion interviews with study physicians will take place as planned’ on the day. 

As yet, no date has been given as to when the study will be able to return in full, however the health department stated that a ‘new sales start date will be communicated in due course’. 

“The cannabis products are now being analysed again by an independent body, which is why the start of sales has been delayed. At the same time, alternative solutions are being examined,” Regine Steinauer, Head of Addiction Department, Basel-Stadt Health Department said in a statement. 

They added that since applications for Basel residents opened on August 18, it has received 700 applications, nearly double the 370 participants it plans to study. 

Why the Delay?

According to Pure, who are set to provide the four different flower products and two different hash products with varying degrees of THC for the study, sales have been delayed due to the detection of ‘minor traces of plant protection agent’ in the raw material set to be used. 

Analysis of a base material for the cannabis products, conducted by an external laboratory at the behest of Pure, found that the affected plants contained 0.1-0.2 parts per million (ppm) of fluopyram, a pesticide ‘not approved for organic cultivation’. 

All six of these products will be available for participants to purchase legally during the pilot – Credit Pure Holdings AG

The source of the contamination is understood to be the greenhouse soil used to grow the plants, which ‘years before Pure commenced operations’ had been exposed to the pesticide. 

These levels of fluopyram would reportedly fall well within the limits of conventional food consumption, with the limit values for strawberries and lettuce being 2ppm and 15ppm respectively. 

Despite this, Pure said that the ‘use of the 3000 study plants for the production of cannabis products for the Basel city pilot projects will be waived for the time being’. 

Organic Cultivation 

When legislation laying out a legal framework enabling the controlled sale of recreational cannabis for research purposes was passed last May, it was decided that the cultivation of cannabis to be used in these trials must be done so via ‘according to the organic ordinance from 1997’. 

While this method is much more energy efficient than indoor cultivation, which uses a significant amount of power, it inevitably leads to a greater number of variables impacting the quality of the crop, including everything from the weather to the soil in which it’s grown. 

Lino Cereghetti, COO of Pure Production told BusinessCann: “I am not saying it is not possible to run this project organic, this contamination happened due to a chain of unfortunate circumstances and I assure you that fully compliant products under this regulation will follow, but this might have not been the last time that the practical implementation will  reveal weaknesses in the current regulation. 

“This is the first time that cannabis containing THC has been legally grown on a large scale in Switzerland and that this theoretical ordinance has been implemented in practice and now we see where there is potential for improvement, for example reasonable thresholds.

“The aim of these pilot projects is to gain real-life experience and to see what regulation works and makes sense and where we have over-regulated. It is precisely to learn these lessons that we are conducting these projects. Whether the ‘organic regulation’ is really the best guideline to prevail for regulated recreational cannabis in the future, I dare to doubt, but for now we are stuck with it.”a

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