Cannabis On The Rhine: The Berlin ICBC Comes Into Its Own In Sophomore Year


Marguerite Arnold

April 27th, 2018

Policy


It’s not like the first edition of the Berlin International Cannabis Business Conference – or ICBC, helmed by the ever affable, professional and esoteric Alex Rogers and a professional team of organizers, lacked polish, cred or drama. Set against the backdrop of the announcement of Germany’s first legal medical cultivation bid last year, the ICBC conference team launched the event smoothly against a backdrop of enough intrigue to attract Shakespeare’s ghost.

This year, occurring just two weeks after the bid hit the skids in court, the ICBC went into another dimension.  Starting with rumors of the bid’s apparent zombie return in the form of appeals by at least some of the top contenders if not “redo” for the same. Not to mention speculation about when there will be a formal announcement about the next public tender. Not if, but when.

In the meantime, everyone else with product got down to business. If you are a producer or broker of GMP certified, EU acceptable product this year and were not there, you missed a valuable chance to fill need a market which is waking up to cannabinoids of all kinds not to mention legitimate sales channels (starting with pharmacies) that are popping up fast.

The first werbungen (commercials) for non-medical CBD (from German firms) are already on the top radio stations auf Deutsch. The German government is offering tax incentives for growing certain kinds of hemp. German firms in the processing and technical end of the conversation, including the ever-faithful Storz and Bickel (see the legendary Volcano and their newest medical product, the Mighty), have quietly led the industry forward from the unsexy end for decades. Now they are front and center of a revolution that is happening from the pharma end, and with a prosumer market already primed.

Who Was There?

This being Germany, where prostitution is legal and every town with a Hauptbahnhof (central train station) has a red light “district”, there was no shortage of cannabis-related sex aids on display and passed around informally as samples – even at the CBD end. But beyond that, the big boys were also there – the Canadian LPs and the German firms that are their partners, even if not obviously or with booth presence. When you ask them directly, they will all say that they have product.

But those betting that they will not have enough for at least the next 18 months, particularly now with another delay in the bid, whatever it is, plus the Canadian rec market setting sail this summer and ongoing Israel export ban, were also there, and in significant numbers. Exporters from warmer and cheaper labor climes, who are watching the certification game avidly, and building to European spec, were booked solid in back-to-back meetings throughout the conference. Interesting firms hailing from Jamaica and even Central and Latin America were present, collecting cards if not potential customers. One such example? Gaia Health – to paraphrase from their brochure “a federally licensed Columbian cannabis company based in a tariff and tax-free zone.” That is the kind of thing that got attention here, for obvious reasons. So did the team from Nysk Holdings, a Macedonian-American effort that’s got game, a second GMP-certified crop, and an export license from the Macedonian government.

There are also other types of investments opening up already. Think cannabis real estate is just limited to other places? Think again. Vertikal-Plantage is already proposing to convert old buildings into greenhouses with their first project already selected. They are targeting an area called the Ruhrgebeit (Germany’s rust belt or the NordRheinWestphalia region) which is already turning into a hotbed for such kinds of entrepreneurialism. Why? What factories have not been shipped to China are looking for new uses. Unemployment is still running high. And this area is also a scientific and university center now being funded by the German government.

There were also many investors at the conference and of both the German and international kind including from the U.S. and Canada. The news that Trump is now thinking about passing a federal law to preserve the legitimacy of the state cannabis business made the rounds but locals were not impressed. Auf Deutsch, the conversations were pretty much along the lines of “the Americans might have California but we have real medical, federal reform.” Not to mention generated another round of Trump bashing, which is turning out to be German’s favorite sport these days, besides grousing about the weather.

One of the most interesting aspects this time was how many banking types from Frankfurt showed up – not to mention budding cannabis companies with accountants and lawyers already attached – for whatever purpose.  Germany may not be at the level of Canada a couple of years ago, Colorado circa 2014, or California now, but give it a couple of years. The speed of market change here is awesome, and Germans are well aware of, if not driving it and on many levels, helped by an international industry that wants to be part of it all. Not to mention a federal change in the law that also mandates public healthcare coverage.

Cannabis consulting is also starting to be a “thing,” here – but it is an entirely different animal than it is in the United States or even Canada.

And while there was much talk about the second impending go-round on the bid, it was clear that attendees were there to do business and network. And there was indeed, much “bidness” to be had.

For that reason, those who missed it should mark their calendars now for next year – and consider catching up with the ICBC team at their next stop in Vancouver. You will be glad you did.

About Marguerite Arnold



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