On March 14, the International Cannabis Business Conference held its first program in Barcelona, in conjunction with the long-standing Spannabis show and an opening at the Hemp Marihuana & Hash Museum.
The day began with panels on international investing, with U.S., Canadian and companies from elsewhere looking to get at the European market (with its 750 million potential consumers) and European entrepreneurs hoping to protect some of their own market share, despite legal obstacles.
Comparing the situation to U.S. states’ laws, speakers noted that while the EU has cannabis regulations, each of the 27 member countries have their own differing rules. It was joked, “In the U.S. you have METRC track and trace, but not the metric system.”
At an international panel on cannabis social clubs, it was revealed that there are an estimated 2000 to 2500 social clubs operating in Spain, all of them in quasi-legal status. David Madilyan of the HQ Club explained that one must be recommended for membership by another member at his “tight knit” club, which sponsors music, art and sports events. Other clubs seemed more open, and the taxi driver who took me to the event showed me his club key and offered to sponsor me for a club membership, including purchasing cannabis on my behalf. Only 6 percent of social club members identify as medical users, so that when an American CBD oil maker asked how she might do business with the clubs, she was told she was in the wrong arena.
Commercial cultivation, transport and sale of cannabis remain illegal in Spain. But clubs claim a constitutional right to consume together in private, a necessary precaution because one can get slapped with a hefty fine for smoking it in public. Social clubs operate under “tolerance and civil disobedience” and are not permitted to have food, because restaurants where one can’t smoke don’t want competition. One way Spanish clubs have managed to get around this: selling a packet of medicated ketchup for your non-medicated fries.
“Dr.” Dina of Los Angeles (who explained she was “board-supervised by Snoop Dogg”) reported that social clubs similar to those in Amsterdam and Spain are just now opening in California, with West Hollywood recently licensing eight such clubs.
Madrid-based medical marijuana advocate Carola Pérez lamented that the room seemed to clear out for a panel on legalizing medical marijuana in Spain, since it wasn’t focused on making money. It was estimated that there are 900 thousand monthly cannabis users in Spain, 10 percent of them medical. Yet the country currently has no medical marijuana program, and research into cannabis has been impeded there, despite important early studies out of Spain on the use of cannabis to shrink brain tumors.
Only one company is authorized to grow medical marijuana in Spain, but only for export. And only a few research cultivation licenses have recently been granted of the 178 that have been requested since 2011.Perez’s group has held physicians’ conferences in Madrid and Barcelona, and hshe said that after the coming elections, “we will have to sit down and devise a strategy.” She reminded the group that “in 1967 we had a dictatorship in Spain. We have a democratic tradition that is strong but precarious.” She and others called for money and support from the business community to help Spain achieve legalization. Nic Easley of 3C Consulting summed it all up when he said, to audience applause: “Be warriors. Use your business acumen; don’t wait five years until Pfizer et al own it all. You must work for legalization.”
On the International Regulatory Overview panel, Northern California–based attorney Omar Figueroa spoke of a “hemp renaissance across the country with the passage of the US farm bill.” He predicted an explosion in hemp cultivation not that hemp products can be produced in US, including hemp-derived CBD. He said he envisions CBD suntan lotion, chocolate bars and other products developing soon. Attorney John Conroy of Canada similarly predicted CBD products for pets and others.
Jamie Pearson, COO of Bhang and one of the few women who spoke at the event, spoke of the company’s CBD flower product enhanced with terpenes, sourced from Kentucky where CBD is rich in terpenes, unlike the allowable hermaphrodite strains in Europe. Marcus “Bubbleman” Richardson of Embark Health in Canada spoke skeptically of “reverse-engineered terpenes” and pointed out that cannabis in all of its complexity has around 180 terpenes, while labs test for only 12 – 60. He also noted that since hemp is phytoremediative, it draws out toxins from soil used on other crops like tobacco. He explained that this means when concentrates are made, the toxins are concentrated also.
Zeta Ceti of California-based Green Rush Consulting moderated an interesting panel on strategic partnerships, during which Eric Siereveld of the seed company Dutch Passion spoke of, “an abundance of strange birds with an abundance of money” to sum up the current cannabis industry landscape. “You need a brand, not just stuff in a jar,” he quipped. Clint Younge of the LOST Organization said that some of the big brands in California are working with microbusinesses and craft growers, if those pioneers “want to pivot” into the regulated world.
The day ended with an interview by Steve Bloom of Freedom Leaf with Damian Marley, who performed at a late-night afterparty. In the meantime, many attended the opening of the “We Are Mary Jane” exhibit at Barcelona’s spectacular Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum, housed in a restored 15th-century palace. The exhibit highlights 12 female cannabis activists from across the globe and will be on view through Sept. 29. Attending were Mila Jansen, “The Hash Queen” from the Netherlands, and Paris-based author and activist Michka Seeliger-Chatelain, who were presented in the exhibit along with women from Peru, Uruguay, Latvia, the U.S., Canada, Jamaica and Spain.
The following three days saw the well-attended Spannabis show, which was much like the Emerald Cup or a High Times event, minus any product sampling, with the focus on seeds and growing products. High Times has now purchased Spannabis and it seems to fit their demographic: About 80 percent of the attendees were young males, in this case of many nationalities.
TELL US, have you ever been to a cannabis business conference?