November 15th was an interesting day in the European cannabis space. Not only did the German cultivation bid go into another delay, but the first U.S. company finally cracked the European Union market. Columbia Care LLC, a top medical cannabis company based in the U.S. announced that its license had been approved by Malta Enterprise. This is the country’s economic development agency. Columbia Care will be able to import, expert, cultivate, process and distribute medical cannabis throughout Europe as a result.
This is a significant development for Columbia Care. However, it also underscores the biggest issue facing American cannabis firms. Thanks to existing regulations, including the lack of rescheduling in the U.S. but also tied to production issues, it is impossible currently to export U.S. grown crops.
What Columbia Care has pioneered in other words is a strategy that well-funded U.S. cannapreneurs will be sure to follow.
How successful they will be is another story. Europe is proving to be a tough nut to crack – even for well-funded Canadian LPs. Malta is clearly a strategic linchpin in the development of a robust and price sensitive EU medical market. Columbia Care is not the first company to also see that. Just the first American firm to have succeeded in obtaining a license.
Tactically, in other words, they have just become the first firm to be able to access federal medical cannabis programs outside the United States. How that will play into not only strategy but market penetration is another question.
Europe Is Not Like Anywhere Else
As cannapreneurs come to face to face with both the “exotic food” and medical market issues in Europe, one thing is absolutely clear. Europe and even more so, Germany, is different. It is not just the language but the culture that exists around healthcare. This means that the government is set up to protect people. It also means the introduction of new drugs and foods will be slower than elsewhere because the preliminary driver behind European regulations is to err on the side of caution and keep the population safe.
Furthermore, as much as insurers (in particular), as well as doctors, are still reluctant to prescribe and reimburse the drug, there is a great deal of both education and normalization that still needs to occur.
So while there are, indeed, many rosy scenarios for Europe, and Columbia Care certainly is at the forefront of the undoubted now advancing American wave, not all is smooth sailing just yet.
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