Greenwashing and the European cannabis industry

There are many who say they speak “for” the “industry” in Europe at the moment, but who those people are and what they really mean, is another story.

Photo credit, Kim MacKinnon, Unsplash

As most of the industry (I know) is gearing up for and getting excited for the return of the ICBC in Berlin with a special new investment forum, one thing is clear. The cannabis industry in Europe is growing up. And we won’t let Covid beat us. Click on the links above to gain access to the discount codes for the conference (good until August 4).

Here is one thing that is certain. Over the last 12 months, there are industry groups which have begun to dot the landscape across Europe, claiming that they speak “for” the industry. Indeed, several have approached me, in several areas of capacity, and asked me to (at minimum) vouch for them if not write and work for and with them in strategic and business development.

I am willing to do that, finally, and for a couple of reasons, as a board member and as an influencer, beyond my paid journalism (there is a difference) although I will never work in PR and for the following reasons.

  1. Different groups have different agendas, strategies, and internal politics. There is a desperate need for homogenization across the industry right now, especially in Europe. That will only happen if groups put aside differences and work together. This is also true of some of the more flamboyant personalities in the room (mine included). However, this also means that “power” as traditionally recognized, must not be the only voice that is heard and indeed is not in a world where social media has become as important as the old kind. Nor is this a world just for those with money. The big companies are just as vulnerable as the smaller ones right now on critical issues that fall between the cracks of both big business and big pharma not to mention Big Pot.
  2. Any group that does not recognize that both medical and recreational reform in Europe is on the table right now is out to lunch and or smoking something of the non-cannabis kind. This means, by definition, that the lobbying groups now lining up in Brussels, must be convinced to work together one way or another. The bigger cannabis companies are still not working together in any way and in any one group at a European level. Further, smaller companies who are often in the vanguard of the organizational effort, must also have voices which are respected. The issues that are on the table now cross both verticals.
  3. The pharma industry is in the room and in a way that has not been present before, just about anywhere, starting with either the US or Canada. The agendas and goals of this contingent of the market are not necessarily out of line with “big” cannabis, but they are also not strictly in line with them either. This part of the market also does not necessarily care about the “other” parts of the discussion, which range from full recreational reform to licensed patient home grow. None of these issues can be ignored in Europe right now.
  4. This entire discussion is in an area which I call “guerrilla pharma” – namely that the industry desperately needs consistent standards, but the reality is that the pharma consultants and those with strictly this background are going to miss the boat on all issues which do not fit neatly into the “pharma” bucket. And that is a great deal of this industry, even in Europe.
  5. Any group that discounts patient voices, priorities and ultimately a way to integrate cost-conscious cannabis into the mix must be convinced to act differently. Diversity, even in strictly business focussed groups is critical – and so far, that has not happened, certainly not in Germany and Europe so far to date. This means that women must be a part of the mix – and at senior positions. It also means that women must be on the boards of the same and in equal measure to the men involved.
  6. Authenticity counts. The cannabis industry is a big tent. That is one of the most interesting aspects of the North American reform that has happened already is that it is clear that “big cannabis” clearly has a voice, but it is still not mainstream, and further, has essentially run over patients and those who want to be in an industry that is not just driven by extreme capitalism. Founders of small companies should be nurtured along the way, not bought up for a snap in an orgy of post-Covid opportunism. Ultimately, this is going to count for something in places like Europe where certification matters. The small guys may not always win, but there is a window of opportunity for them that is not closed. Further, small companies that can adopt certification and standards quickly may also be in a better position than bigger names. The issues around cultivation are one of them. This also means that influencers are increasingly important in a professional environment where people also need quick answers.
  7. Bullying and bullsh*t, certainly, are in the room, but this must be kept to a minimum, no matter how Machiavellian politics and start-up businesses, if not where both meet in this industry, can be.

In a post Covid world, authenticity, and having a voice that counts, is more critical than ever. Particularly in a vertical that is as exciting and cut-throat, and on the edge as any revolutionary frontier but also counts on the “something else.” Those who have the savoir faire to make a fundamental difference will know that, without being told. And further, contribute in a way that protects the soul of those that have always made this industry what it is.

Greenwashing, in other words, won’t take you far in this industry. Authenticity and results are what counts.

And it is overdue for the industry to come together, finally, beyond individual companies and individual “cannabis” strategies (like CBD only or medical cannabis only) and push through to not only make cannabis fully legal, across Europe, but also to integrate the plant and its products into the regulatory framework of the region and individual countries thereof.

So far however, there has yet to be a group like the American NCIA to take root in Europe.

Stay tuned.


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