Lorna Rothery spoke to Rainer Krüger from the recently formed European Cannabis Association about how the organisation is supporting the development of a stable medical cannabis value chain in Europe.
While an increasing number of countries are starting to acknowledge the benefits of medicinal cannabis, and allow for the cultivation of the plant as a result, research and data validating its benefits remain heavily fragmented. This, in turn, has made the medical cannabis market and varying regulatory processes difficult to navigate. Committed to addressing the many challenges relating to the development of standards for the production of medicinal cannabis, the newly formed European Cannabis Association wants to support this emerging market by connecting with and guiding key stakeholders in the industry. To discuss how the ECA seeks to improve the regulatory landscape of medical cannabis in Europe, Lorna Rothery spoke to board member, Rainer Krüger.
How did the European Cannabis Association come to be formed and what are its key aims?
We founded the European Cannabis Association (ECA) to develop European standards and proposals for the harmonisation of requirements and specifications. All three founding partners have been working in the regulated industry for decades and know the challenges that come with establishing new products and regulatory processes.
At the core of ECA’s activities is the optimisation of quality, regulatory and business processes. We see ourselves as the link between all companies involved in the manufacturing process. Accordingly, we cover the entire value chain with our topics.
What are some of the main issues currently facing the European medical cannabis market and patients trying to access medical cannabis in Europe?
On the one hand, there are very heterogeneous and complex regulatory processes and on the other hand, there are also non-transparent supply chains that offer the consumer/patient poor transparency.
We have a lot of companies that want to go to market with their goods without knowing what the market/patients really need. This means that on the one hand we have a lot of biomass (goods) in the market, but on the other hand we cannot meet the targeted demand for established products.
Also, access to medical cannabis in Europe is still provided with very high administrative hurdles for patients.
I see quality as the biggest challenge for medical cannabis in Europe. We still have a huge deficit in the area of quality. This includes product quality, process quality, organisational quality and the lack of scientific companies working on medical cannabis in Europe. The understanding to build reproducible and robust manufacturing processes and supply chains is not yet as entrenched as it should be. Furthermore, physician and patient support were neglected in the early years.
The data to provide relevant and targeted information to doctors and pharmacists usually starts much too late.
How can stakeholders work together to improve the regulatory landscape of medical cannabis in Europe?
We need to optimise the processes, and the data situation and talk more openly about risks. This means that clearer communication must be established in order to talk more clearly about patient risks and also business risks. Within the ECA, we have working groups in which exactly these topics are dealt with and the results lead to white papers or a quality guide.
From the point of view of many entrepreneurs, I can understand that you want to produce and achieve success stories, but what we see now after the first few years is that many business processes are not so simple and we are still at the beginning of a young industry.
Is current European policy entirely beneficial for research and innovation in medical cannabis? What policy changes would improve the situation for scientists?
We work very intensively with many researchers in Europe and recognise here a clear deficit of the policy.
We can see, as in other areas, that European policy is simply dealing with itself and this situation is also reflected in the national policies of the individual EU Member States.
Cannabis/hemp offers an incredible potential to establish cradle-to-cradle processes. This means that we can create several value chains from the plant that support each other as a whole and thus the topic of sustainability can be realised impressively.
There should be more investment in the research of renewable raw materials, phytopharmaceuticals and biofuels by the European Union and the Member States. Furthermore, this development would have to be combined with digitalisation processes to make the data usable for many.
Should policymakers be better educated on the scientific background of the medical applications of cannabis? How could this be achieved?
Absolutely! More exchange must be generated, and on different levels. The weak exchange is also a real risk that possible potentials and innovations are not recognised by politics and thus are not supported in a targeted manner.
I am in exchange with members of the German Bundestag and the European Parliament; all scientific publications that we produce are also always sent to these channels.
Are there any other notable developments or issues you would like to highlight?
We are seeing a clear change in the business. This means that a lot of our work in ECA but also in other business associations is starting to bear fruit. We are proud of this and it motivates us to continue working on this challenge.
We are also pleased to see that other organisations are joining forces with us to work together on optimisation processes.
We still have a long way to go and we need to work consistently on these challenges.
ECA Founding Member
European Cannabis Association