The stakes are high when it comes to cannabis in Germany.
The use of medical marijuana was legalized last year, scores of companies are lining up to grow it and parliament is now discussing whether it should be decriminalized for everyone.
A cannabis storage facility in Bad Bramstedt, north of the port city of Hamburg, has security measures that would be adequate to protect even the country’s gold reserves.
“We are meeting the high standards stipulated,” says Hendrik Knopp, managing director of the Nuuvera Deutschland company that sells medicinal cannabis products.
The conditions include an alarm system connected with a police station, a certain wall thickness, and motion and vibration detectors.
Why all the stringent security? Knopp’s company delivers cannabis for medicinal purposes. In April, the federal agency for medicines and medicinal products (BfArM) is to decide which companies may grow cannabis in Germany. The agency would then pass on the cannabis to pharmacies.
“For Germany, making cannabis available to patients is something new,” Knopp says. He declines to discuss the current procedures about cannabis cultivation, other than to say “it is good that the cannabis agency is working with German thoroughness.” Given the stringent conditions, adventurers seeking to make fast money will be kept out.
Nuuvera takes on deliveries of cannabis oil and capsules from its Canadian partner. “From a medical point of view the advantage is that this makes establishing the dosages easier than with cannabis flowers,” Knopp says.
“We’re making medical products, not joints.”
The demand for cannabis prescriptions in Germany has for long been under estimated. Cannabis can help patients with chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, AIDS-induced lack of appetite, cancer, Alzheimer’s, nerve conditions, and nausea as a result of chemotherapy.
Knopp said the cannabis agency originally estimated a figure of 5,000 patients being prescribed.
“In the meantime more than 14,000 patients have submitted applications,” he said. This means that the volume of cannabis so far approved by the agency can scarcely meet the need. A supply problem may also quickly emerge because demand is rising in many countries.
At BfArM, officials are tight-lipped about the current bid tender process for choosing cannabis growers. “The goal is, starting in 2019, to secure the supply for patients with pharmaceutical-quality cannabis cultivated in Germany,” a spokesman says.
Word is out that more than 100 firms have applied, while complaints against the bidding process are still going on. Some 10 firms are to make the final short-list in the bid for licenses to produce a total of 6,600 kilogrammes of cannabis over a four-year period. The potential profit margin could be large – projected production costs are a few euros per gramme, while the price at the pharmacy could go beyond 20 euros (25 dollars).
Beyond the issue of cultivation, the broader question that political parties are discussing is whether freeing cannabis for medical purposes is paving the way to make it available to everyone.
The Free Democrats (FDP), far-left Die Linke and environmentalist Greens parties believe that such a move should have already taken place.
On Thursday, a variety of motions are to be debated for the first time in parliament. This will be followed by further discussion in experts’ committees. The Greens are all set to go with a comprehensive cannabis bill. The FDP is advocating model projects for legalisation, while Die Linke wants to put a stop to banning possession of tiny amounts of the drug.
“This is an offer to the other parties to see whether we can at least reach a minimum consensus,” said Jan Korte, head of the Die Linke faction in parliament.
The German Cannabis Association is hoping that the opposition to cannabis for recreational enjoyment and to the decriminalization of consumption will be eroded further.
“It will be seen that not everyone who consumes cannabis winds up in the gutter,” says association director Georg Wurth.
Most recently, he noted, it was the Federation of German Crime Officials (BDK) that caused a sensation when it spoke in favour of legalisation. To date, the authorities had not approved any of the applications submitted by several cities for model projects for the controlled sale of cannabis, Wurth said.
On the other side, addiction therapists are sceptical about legalisation, just as is Marlene Mortler, the federal commissioner for drugs. Both cite the country’s health protection laws and the dangers posed by smoking cannabis.
Nuuvera director Knopp himself favours model projects for the controlled sale of cannabis for private consumption and for shutting down the illegal supply channels.
“Politicians should summon the courage to try it,” he says.
However, given the expectations that demand for medicinal cannabis will rise further, Knopp has just one caveat about legalisation: “This should not come at the expense of supplying patients.”