By Roland Sebestyén
As the negotiations after the federal election are ongoing, we still don’t know who will succeed Angela Merkel, the outgoing German chancellor. In the last 17 years, Germany has introduced some changes that helped patients who needed medical cannabis. However, Europe, as a whole, is still miles behind North America. What’s going on in Germany right now, and what could the solution be? Is a legal recreational market a possibility? How could a new scheme, the so-called “Fast Track Acess” be a game changer? We asked Cantourage CEO, Philip Schetter.
Canex: A few weeks ago, you launched a new platform, Fast Track Access, to the European medical cannabis market. The announcement was everywhere; the cannabis media picked it up straight away. Why was it such a huge deal, and how is it going now?
Philip Schetter: I think it is going pretty well; we are happy with how things are going at the moment. We have just launched our new product, and it is already sold out in the pharmacies, so it seems the doctors and the patients are satisfied as well. In the German market, partly because only a few established players were selling their products without real competition, there was not a lot of innovation in the last few years. We are here to change this. In theory, any cannabis grower is now able to sell their products to any medical cannabis market in Europe via our platform. The idea is that we would like the growers to focus on what they do best – growing cannabis – and we take care of the rest. So basically we partner up with growers and wholesalers. Instead of fighting on a tiny market, we work together.
What do you think the platform means for German and European medical cannabis patients?
We hope to play a role in increasing the product offering. We have got 14 partners under contract now – each partner will provide 3-5 products to the EU medical markets via our platform. It gives the patients more options to choose from, and hopefully, it would create a more efficient market as well.
Where do you think the European medical cannabis market is compared to, for example, North America? Do you think Europe is catching up?
Obviously, the United States and Canada are ahead as they are the pioneers. The European market is developing and growing but maybe not as fast as some people or investors hoped. Germany was somewhat of a trailblazer when it changed its laws in 2017 and made medical cannabis accessible to more patients – also, we have seen some countries (Poland, the UK, Malta) easing their policies so more patients can get access to the medicine they need and more doctors started to prescribe medical cannabis as they realised it can actually help people to manage their pain. I think Europe is moving in the right direction. Hopefully, more countries will have an honest discussion on medical cannabis.
(Cantourage founder Dr Florian Holzapfel and CEO Philip Schetter.)
How’s this discussion going in Germany? Is there a stigma around cannabis?
I think it is getting better eventually. Yes, the stigma is real, but it is fading. Medical cannabis has become somewhat mainstream, so as more patients use the products, more talk about it and share their experiences with others. The majority is now in favour of medical cannabis in Germany.
What about recreational cannabis? Could it be legalised in the next few years?
That’s a good question. It depends on the political landscape. Almost all of the parties are in favour of legalisation to some degree – even the Christian Democrats are showing some signs of at least talking about it. The thing is that the new government may choose other issues – figuring out actually achieve the objectives defined in the Paris Agreement, for example – first, so even if cannabis is on the table, it is hard to say when they would legalise recreational use. Either way, I am quite optimistic, and I think something will happen in the next one to two years.
Angela Merkel has left the office after 17 years. How do you rate her job? Did she do enough for the German cannabis market and all those patients in need of medical cannabis over the last two decades?
During her time as Chancellor, the law changed so more patients are able to get access to medical cannabis now. Because of this, the patients will not have to exhaust all other options; they can get medical cannabis. They can also go to their GPs and openly talk about medical cannabis as a valid option. It is really important in the fight against the stigma around cannabis use. The fact that Europe is still lagging behind the U.S or Canada can’t be blamed on Angela Merkel or her governments over the last 17 years.
(Photo: The Reichstag, the historic building in Berlin which houses the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament.)
Was cannabis a hot topic during the election campaign?
It was in the public discussion. Millions of people who were following the campaign on primetime TV, for example, were able to see politicians talking about legalising recreational cannabis use in the country. It was not the hottest topic, but it was certainly there!
Do you think legalising the recreational market will be a priority for the next government?
I don’t know. If we do it, then the only way is to approach the question with care – safety must be the top priority. Let’s say they choose to go with full legalisation, and coffee shops and dispensaries pop up everywhere. If this happens, I think they should use the existing pharmacies first and educate people on recreational use. Also, we must make sure that we keep the high standard we are used to in the medical cannabis industry.