“We’re very proud to be hosting medical cannabis research,” Dr. Václav Trojan, head of the Faculty of Agronomy of Mendel University in the Czech Republic, told a group representatives from some of Europe’s most exciting cannabis organizations who had convened for a three day seminar covering Patient Focused Certification (PFC) arranged by International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI) and Americans for Safe Access (ASA).
Mendel University, located in the city of Brno, has been researching medical cannabis since the government made it legal to do so around two and a half years ago. The first European seminar of Patient Focused Certification was held there last week.
Kristin Nevedal, Director of the PFC Program, and Jahan Marcu, Ph.D, ASA Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Auditor of PFC Program, covered what it takes for a cannabis company to attain Patient Focused Certification for various activity areas. For those who thrive on acronyms, here’s a recap – ICCI and ASA brought PFC from the USA over to the EU to train cannabis companies about AHPA (American Herbal Products Association) standards, THC, CBD, GAP, GMP, GLP and SOPs. Welcome to the world of academia.
Dr. Marcu said, “PFC provides scientific standards for cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and laboratory supply chains. PFC also defines processes and documents for cannabis products by creating specific qualitative and quantitative standards.” This ensures that everyone is in compliance with best practices and the entire supply chain is safe for human consumption.
“With the legalization of cannabis on the rise in the US and Europe, programs like PFC are needed to meet patient demands for high-quality and predictable products. Unfortunately, many people cannot gauge quality of their products due to lack of information, which is why an educational program like PFC is so important to the cannabis industry,” he concluded.
Brno is Czech Republic’s second largest city. It’s located a two and half hour drive south-east of Prague and it’s closer to Vienna, capital of Austria or Bratislava in Slovakia. I had no idea how to officially pronounce it, but mumbling the word “Bruno” managed to buy me the one and a half hour train ticket from Bratislava, where my plane had landed.
Mendel University hosts 15,000 students and has an impressive agricultural school, which covers forestry, GMO research, and even hunting (as part of their forest ranger course) as well as medicinal cannabis and hemp as an agricultural crop.
European cannabis industry
The room was filled with representatives of European cannabis companies all looking to gain an insight into PFC. There were also people that were working towards becoming European PFC auditors.
Somehow I was also in the room. I myself – as a patient, hobby grower and caregiver – was in stark contrast to the person sitting next to me who was the Manager of Phyto Engineering of Bedrocan, which I believe translates to being responsible for ensuring the “grow room” functions as it should.
Bedrocan has been producing medicinal-grade cannabis under contract for the Dutch Ministry of Health since 2003. Contrary to the rumours, Bedrocan is not shorthand for Ben Dronkers Cannabis. Ben is founder of Sensi Seeds, Hempflax and the Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum, which has locations in Amsterdam and Barcelona. Bedrocan was, in fact, founded by Freerk Bruining and Tjalling Erkelens, who started production of standardized dry – “droge”, in Dutch – cannabis in the eighties. Mr. Erkelens is still Chairman of the Board at Bedrocan International.
Put bluntly, the untapped potential for high grade, consistent strength, clean-dried cannabis flower in Europe is colossal. For the moment, Bedrocan more or less has the monopoly on European Medical Cannabis (indoor grown, standardized and pharmaceutical-grade), although Germany does also import from Tweed and Peace Naturals in Canada.
Inevitably, European companies are moving into the space and working on getting the necessary licenses to produce for their home markets. One of these companies is Sens Med Distribution, who were represented at the event and are currently in a first round of funding for German grown medicinal cannabis cultivation, processing and distribution.
Gaining a license to cultivate, process and distribute in Germany is no walk in the park. Such facilities require exact specifications to the highest degree. They need millions in investment but, once the license is approved, the payoff would be immense.
Germany has Europe’s largest population and an incredibly oversubscribed – and newly introduced – medicinal cannabis programme, hence the need to import from Canada. Cannabis seeds in Germany are banned and presently there is little tolerance of home growing, except for a few cases.
Patient Focused Certification is the cannabis industry’s attempt at self-regulation. The standards evolved for more than 10 years of legal cannabis (medical and recreational) in the USA. It goes above and beyond the legal obligations of traditional cultivation, processing and manufacturing. It adheres to a set of specifications agreed upon by leading cannabis scientists, doctors and experts from around the globe. The certification is split into four different categories: cultivation, manufacturing, laboratories and distribution, encompassing generally accepted practices such as GAP (Good Agricultural Practice), GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) and GLP (Good Laboratory Practice).
We were about to get schooled in the best practices of producing the most professional cannabis and cannabis-derived products one can possibly achieve.
We couldn’t have had better professors. Kristin Nevedal has 20 years cannabis growing experience from her farm in Humbolt County in northern California. She is also co-founder of the Emerald Growers Association whose mission is to promote the medicinal, environmental, social, and economic benefits of lawfully cultivated sun-grown medical cannabis from California’s Emerald Triangle region. She also teaches at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, CA.
Jahan Marcu, Ph.D, is on the Board of Directors of the International Association for Cannabinoids as Medicine and is an author of the “Cannabis Monograph” which is available from the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.
Despite being as knowledgeable one can get on cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, Dr. Marcu thankfully frames it in a way that those with limited scientific knowledge can wrap their heads around. Which was lucky for me as my MSc in Multimedia does little in helping me understand the science of plants, medicines and their interactions with the human body.
The fascinating seminar vastly enhanced my understanding of what it takes to be an effective cannabis entrepreneur. You have to think of your business like any other “real” business. Just because you make cannabis edibles does not mean you do not have to adhere to the rules that any other cookie manufacturer must. Document everything, train your staff and wash your hands often.
Rolling out legalization in Europe
Cannabis legalisation for medical use is a reality in Europe and will spread sooner than many would have us believe possible. Organisations like ICCI, PFC, ASA and their colleagues in universities and medical practices throughout Europe will make it happen in a way that ensures it is safe for consumers by coaching players in the market to operate at a highly professional level.
If you are operating in the cannabis industry and don’t know about GAP, GMP, SOPs, deviations, good training practices, the essentials of cleanliness and documentation then you should find out when the next PFC course is going to be near you. If you are a cannabis consumer, then make sure you buy ASA PFC labelled products to ensure that what it says on the label is true and the quality of what you are buying can be trusted.
The ASA PFC programme is a way in which the cannabis industry can exist on the cannabis industry’s terms rather than be regulated by authorities who are scratching their heads when confronted with creating sensible policies to satisfy an ever-growing social awareness of the benefits of cannabis and hemp and their derived products. This is not a corporate takeover of the industry, it is an open source concept which anyone is free to join and share their ideas and concepts on how PFC should be.