Germany: The Essential Requirements on Trading Medical Cannabis under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
Dentons Germany’s Peter Homberg outlines the key requirements that companies need to fulfil in order to import medical cannabis into Germany and how attitudes and legislation on the topic are shifting across Europe.
In order to import medicinal cannabis from another country to Germany, like many other countries, the essential factor is that such medicinal cannabis has to be cultivated in a country compliant with Art. 23 and 28 para. 1 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
The European medicinal cannabis market is constantly changing these days. A number of new competitors are entering the market presenting business ideas of exporting medicinal cannabis from all over the world like Israel, Columbia, Malta, Macedonia or Australia to name just a few. Germany is Europe’s biggest medicinal cannabis market and therefore in the centre of attention of many in the business. But what exactly is the key requirement for importing medicinal cannabis to Germany?
In order to import medicinal cannabis from another country to Germany, like many other countries, the essential factor is that such medicinal cannabis has to be cultivated in a country compliant with Art. 23 and 28 para. 1 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Accordingly, the respective exporter must carry out the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes under state control and offer cannabis of medicinal quality. This means that the exporting country has to establish a government agency whose task is to license and monitor the cultivation and supply of cannabis. In Germany, this is the Cannabis Agency at the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. This agency has the task to designate areas in which cultivation of medicinal cannabis shall be permitted, to give licenses to authorized cultivators and to purchase and take physical possession of the crops.
According to a statement by the Federal Institute of Drugs and Medical Devices of May 2019, imports to Germany are so far only being carried out from Canada and the Netherlands. Israel is said to fulfil the conditions as well. In January 2019, the Israeli government also admitted medical cannabis for export, but there are still a few hurdles in the way for exports from Israel.
For international trade in medical cannabis, the 1961 Convention stipulates further that every single import and export requires a license and that the export license may only be granted if the law of the recipient country permits the import and use of cannabis for medical purposes. In addition, the respective permits may only be granted within the framework of the recipient country’s forecasts of its needs.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent expert body established by the 1961 Single Convention, issues yearly estimates for each country’s demand in medicinal cannabis. In Germany, the estimated demand is around 15 tons for 2019. The trend is definitely rising. To stick with the German example, the cultivation of cannabis is also possible since the tendering procedure has ended this year and three companies have been awarded the cultivation licenses. The tender covers a total of 10,400 kg of cannabis, spread over four years with 2,600 Kg each year. The first harvest of medicinal cannabis from cultivation in Germany could take place in 2020. The rest of the demand is covered by imports. For the direct care of patients through pharmacies in Germany, a total of around 1200 kg of cannabis flowers was imported in 2017 and approx. 3000 kg in 2018, marking a significant undersupply of the market. As of May 2019, there were a total of 19 companies holding a permit to import medical cannabis to Germany.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently carried out an in-depth review of cannabis and cannabis products in which the positive and negative effects of these substances have been scientifically investigated. As a result, the WHO has formulated recommendations for a change in the classification of cannabis, which would also lead to a change in the respective control regime. The decision of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs has so far been postponed.
It is to be expected that in the near future more and more countries will legislate on cannabis for medical use. Part of this development is also the European Parliament resolution of February 2019 on the use of cannabis in medicine. It states that there is evidence that cannabis can have a therapeutic effect. The Parliament, however, stressed the importance of making a clear distinction between cannabis-based medicinal products and other forms of cannabis treatment and called for further scientific research in the therapeutic effects of cannabis.