Currently, German cannabis patients fear that the anticipated legalization in Canada on July 1 could result in an import ban of medicinal cannabis from Canadian producers to Germany. So far, Germany imports only cannabis from countries that do not violate the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
For example, the German government did not consider Uruguay to be a supplier of medical cannabis after it had been reprimanded by the UN in 2013 for legalization.
“Although Uruguay maintains a so-called cannabis agency, it violates the UN Uniform Convention on Narcotic Drugs, because it has legalized the use of cannabis for recreational purposes,” Erwin Rüddel, a member of parliament for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party recently told German media. In 2015, Rüddel had been a participant of a parliamentary delegation visiting Uruguay to get informed about the country’s new cannabis policy.
At present, only medicinal cannabis from the Netherlands and Canada are available for Germany’s patients. Both countries have a cannabis agency that controls the cultivation and distribution of medicinal products, and neither has legalized recreational cannabis. Therefore, in the eyes of Germany’s federal government, these countries abide by the single agreement.
But after Canada legalizes cannabis on July 1, the country, like Uruguay, theoretically would land on the German federal government’s blacklist.
Although the Trudeau government has announced that it will legalize in compliance with the Single Convention, it expressly allows only the medical use of cannabis. It was launched 57 years ago to restrict the production of drugs, and narcotics in particular.
Health Canada never took the Single Convention literally
Strictly speaking, Health Canada has violated the Single Convention ever since the medical cannabis program was implemented. The direct sales of producers to patients is not in compliance with the international set of rules. Unlike the Office for Medical Cannabis in the Netherlands, Health Canada neither buys nor stores the crops, as Article 23 of the convention requires:
“All cultivators of the opium will be required to deliver their total crops of opium to the agency. As soon as possible, but not later than four months after the end of the harvest.”
For coca and cannabis, Article 26 and Article 28 apply the same control system, whether government institutions themselves or licensed private producers take over cultivation.
German government’s dilemma
If the German federal government acts consistently with the treaty, the import of medical cannabis would have to be stopped the moment Canada legalizes on July 1. But given current supply shortages, stopping imports would mean tens of thousands of patients would be be left without medicine. The capacity of the only producer in the Netherlands that would remain in such a case is far from sufficient to meet the needs of German pharmacies.
After the Israeli government rejected the export plans of Israeli cannabis producers, existing supply shortages in Germany would be exacerbated. Additionally, the cultivation of medical cannabis in Germany is delayed after the tender, or permitting, procedure was declared invalid by the courts. After the verdict, the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) last week announced to completely overhaul the tender process. This means that the first German domestic crop is not expected before 2020.
So far, neither the federal government nor the BfArM have taken a position on the condition that might impact medical cannabis imports from Canada. But no matter which decision is made, a dilemma looms: either Canada and Germany will violate the UN Single Convention jointly, or German pharmacies will soon after run out of urgently needed medical cannabis.
Although Health Canada does not fully abide by the Single Convention, the BfArM still mandates its compliance.
“We (the BfArM) assume that Canada will continue to meet these requirements in the future if the harvested cannabis is intended for export to Germany,” an institute spokesman said.