To Be Blunt: The Podcast for Cannabis Marketers

071 What We Can Learn and Compare from the European Cannabis Market to the United States with Steven George of Kaya Advisors

October 11, 2021 Shayda Torabi Season 2 Episode 71
To Be Blunt: The Podcast for Cannabis Marketers
071 What We Can Learn and Compare from the European Cannabis Market to the United States with Steven George of Kaya Advisors
Show Notes Transcript

“I truly believe that in the end, by giving people access to this plant, we have the ability to help a tremendous amount of people. End of story. Simple as that.” -  Steven George

Welcome back to the To Be Blunt podcast! In this episode, Shayda Torabi welcomes Steven George, advisor and founder of Kaya Advisors, to talk about the dichotomy between the aspects of the cannabis industry in Europe and America and the limitations attached to the legalities. He also shares his thoughts on how the current licensing processes painstakingly hinders effective global commercialization.


[00:01 – 07:47] Steven George’s Vision for Global Cannabis Accessibility

[07:48– 14:27] Aspects of the Cannabis Industry: Europe vs. America

[14:28 – 21:29] The Limitations of Cannabis Production and Consumption

[21:30 – 31:09] Licensing Procedures and the Legalization Process

[31:10 – 50:37] Global & Interstate Commerce and the Prevailing Competition: Let the Small Players in the Game

[50:38 – 54:54] Legal Grounds and Confusion in the Market

[54:55 – 57:42] Food for Thought: How can you take part in the industry?


Steven has been involved with the cannabis industry for the past 10+ years! He got started with medical cannabis cultivation back in 2010 in his home state of Michigan. In 2017 Steven moved to Portugal and soon after entered the medical cannabis industry in Europe working with Tilray as Country Manager of Portugal & Spain and most recently as European Alliance Manager. In July 2021 Steven left Tilray to launch his own firm, Kaya Advisors, which specializes in cannabis commercial strategy advice. 


Connect with Steven 



Shayda Torabi has been called one of the most influential Women in WordPress and now she’s one of the women leading the cannabis reformation conversation building one of Texas’ premier CBD brands. She's currently the CEO and Co-Founder of RESTART CBD, a female-run education first CBD wellness brand. And has formerly held marketing positions at WP Engine and WebDevStudios. Shayda is the host of a podcast for cannabis marketers called To Be Blunt, where she interviews top cannabis brands on their most successful marketing initiatives. When Shayda's not building her cannabiz in Texas, you can find her on the road exploring the best hikes and spots for vegan ice cream. Follow Shayda at @theshaydatorabi

Key Quotes:

“If there's a state or place that's limiting licenses, these [big operators] are the ones with the big wallets and the big pockets, and they tend to find a way, right? So I definitely don't like that side of it. I think there needs to be caution always.” -  Steven George

“I think it's tough to understand what the rules are, you know, I think limiting the licenses, especially to like small numbers, I think is just not fair at all… You have to let people compete, right? And that means you have to let the small compete as well.” -  Steven George 

“I know a large part of that community is much more involved in what they want to consume, and why they're consuming it, and who's growing it and how it makes them feel. And so I'm optimistic about the ability for these small players to survive.” -  Steven George  

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Steve George  0:00  
One of the other interesting things about Europe is that because you're doing this through the medical regulations in like so what happens is like so a company that goes here and that starts to grow and has this manufacturing like they are wholesaling narcotics like it's all through because it stays in the traditional pharmaceutical and cannabis is still a scheduled narcotic so they're dealing with narcotics, but it allows them to import and export. Okay, so goods can move freely within the European Union.

Announcer  0:46  
You're listening to two B one B podcast for cannabis marketers, where your host Shayda Torabi and her guests are trailblazing the path to marketing, educating and professionalizing cannabis light one up and listen up. Here's your host Shayda Torabi.

Shayda Torabi  1:13  
Hello my friends and welcome back to another episode of The to be blonde podcast. My name is Shayda Torabi, I am your host. I'm a cannabis business owner and a passionate brand marketer. And today's episode is really, really informative. I mean, we really touch on a lot of things that I just really don't think that people operating in the general American cannabis market really have heard about or have connections to discuss very frequently. So super honored and grateful to have Steven George on the podcast today. My guest is Steven George. He has been involved with the cannabis industry for the past 10 years. He got started with medical cannabis cultivation back in 2010 in his home state of Michigan. Then in 2017, he moved to Portugal and soon after entered the medical cannabis industry in Europe, working with tilray, one of the largest European cannabis operators as a country manager of Portugal and Spain. And then he finished up his time with that company as a European Alliance manager. Then in July of 2021, Steven left tilray to launch his own firm at Kaia advisors which specializes in cannabis commercial strategy and advice. So there's a lot to unpack and Stevens bio primarily, we are going to focus today's episode on talking about really what's going on in Europe, what is going on in medical cannabis from Europe compared to the United States, we touch on kind of the differences between the two markets from a hemp perspective as well, but really a lot of focus, just understanding and getting some good insight into how the laws are set up in Europe. And quick little like heads up. It's really interesting for those of us in America who are kind of looking towards federal legalization and how that will affect and really, I guess how that will impact interstate commerce and Stephen shares kind of what's going on right now in Europe. And I just think it's really good information for those of us who are building cannabis businesses and brands and how do we navigate that especially as we not only inch towards federal legalization, but really towards global access to cannabis. So without further ado, let's welcome Stephen to the To be blunt Show.

Steve George  3:27  
I'm Steve George, originally from Michigan by living in Lisbon, Portugal and I'm the reason founder of caya advisors, which is an advisory firm that I've created here in Europe to help connect cannabis companies with patients and consumers as the market develops out here in Europe. But if you can tell from my voice, I'm not from Europe, and I have an American accent. And that's actually where I'm originally from. So I grew up in the state of Michigan, which is also where my cannabis journey began, if you will, because we were one of the earlier states to move on the medical cannabis program back in 2008. And this is where I first kind of got more involved and started out my young cannabis career and cultivation and I was actually supplying some of the local dispensaries in my university town of Kalamazoo, Michigan. And this is also at the same time when I started to understand more beyond the plant than what I heard in music and just more of a recreational use but to also start to understand the medical values of cannabis as well. And then after that, so I ended up graduating in 2011 and had a degree in finance so I chased the financial career and kind of left the cannabis behind for a bit and moved down to Tennessee and worked in the finance industry was doing financial sales. And this is where I really built a strong corporate career. But it was also an industry and situation that I didn't find fulfillment in. So I actually decided to go back to school. And I did that to get an MBA, which I actually ended up doing in Port of all places. And then after the MBA, I decided to stick around. And ironically, at that same time, medical cannabis was starting to gain a bit more traction. So this was 2017, we're starting to gain a bit more traction. This was when Germany started to make some changes. And one of the larger companies that I previously worked for tilray was building out a large facility here in Portugal. And that's where I got started and spent the last three and a half years before founding ky advisors working with them.

Shayda Torabi  5:54  
That's so like incredible and fascinating. And also, I think so much like unknown, especially to those of us operating in I think the United States cannabis market, right? Like the US cannabis market is still super unknown and very slow paced, depending on what market you're in. I'm in Texas, and we just barely have medical cannabis. We're definitely trying to fight for I think broadening medical cannabis before we can even get to recreation. So that understanding paired with like, wow, even thinking about cannabis at a global level is just something that I don't think a lot of us talk about, which is why I am excited to have you on the podcast to kind of help shed some light into not only your background, and obviously through the journey that you've been through just being a part of the industry in that regard, but also to help kind of explain to us kind of what's going on overseas. And so if we can start there, kind of help us understand both, from your knowledge operating in Michigan and Tennessee, to now Portugal and really Europe. What is medical cannabis? Like? Maybe it's even what is cannabis like overseas in Europe in general? And how does that maybe compare to the US market because, you know, maybe I'll shoot a shot in the dark. I don't know if legalization in the United States at a federal level is coming anytime soon. Some say sooner than later. I don't know I'm a Texan, I'm a little skeptical, just because our state's a little slow. But when you then kind of again, step back and think of a world where everybody has access to cannabis on planet Earth. That just seems like so far fetched to me. And so when you're saying Germany and Portugal and tilray, obviously being a really major player in European cannabis, it's just it's stuff that I don't really see or hear a lot about. And so it's a little unknown. I didn't even know that there was medical cannabis in Europe. And so again, kind of help paint that picture of what is cannabis like? And then maybe how does that compare from Europe to the United States?

Steve George  7:48  
For sure? No, I think it's a great question. I think it's a great bit of information for the listeners as well, because it's quite different, right? And if we take a step back and just think of cannabis in general first, then things are quite similar, okay. And I think when you look at consumption levels here in Europe, very similar, you see five to 10% of populations consuming regularly, right? Doesn't matter if it's Northern Europe, Southern Europe, you see those numbers pretty much across the board. Now, some consume a bit more than others. But it's quite like I said, steady across the board in that sense. Now, one thing that I noticed when I moved out here originally, is that they consume a lot more hash, okay, then they do dried flower. And now the dried flower, there's still a lot of consumption, you still see it around regularly. But hash, this was something that was just I don't know, I always mentioned it, because it was something that stuck with me. But then if you look at rip Frenchie, but then you know, coming from Europe as well, and always the big hash guy, it started, you kind of connected the dots, right? And realize that. So then when I looked into it a little more, what you found is a lot of this hash is produced in Morocco, which is Northern Africa. And if you look at the map, you know, Northern Africa and the south of Spain are very, very close. I mean, it's only, I think, 100 kilometers or so to make it from continent to continent. So a lot of this hash moves up from illicitly moves up from Northern Africa from Morocco, and then comes in through Spain and then disperses its way through the rest of Europe. But you see really high consumption numbers in both France and Spain, and also in some of the other countries as well. But when it comes to the general cannabis, things quite similar Only thing is when it comes to what you're seeing now, because of the advancements in the US both medically and recreationally. There's a lot more form factors available in the US even in the illicit market, right you have edibles and vapes and all kinds of different things where you don't really see those Over here, okay, you see dried flower, and you see hash when it comes to the more illicit market because there is no recreational market in Europe. So that's the first thing to kind of put out there is that there is no active recreational or adult use market in Europe today. Now there are countries talking about it, but we'll get to that a little bit later. The major difference, I think the highlight is just the medical programs in general here in Europe. So what's going on is that in every country, it's actually the local health regulator who is putting through the regulation. So at the European level, they've only approved Sativex and epidiolex. So Sativex and epidiolex, from GW pharmacies are approved at the EU level, which is the same kind of federal level, we would look like in the US, right. But then when you dive into the country level, it's different country by country, similar to it is different state by state. But one thing that's similar across all countries is that it's all dealt with by the local health regulator, and everything is following the traditional pharmaceutical pathway, if you will. And what I mean by that, specifically, is that you're getting doctors are writing prescriptions, basically, per unit, just like any other prescription medicine that you're used to. It's not an annual certification or an annual recommendation. It is a prescription medicine, for example, here in Portugal, the doctors are using the same software that they use to prescribe any other prescription medicine and they have a option for cannabis. Right. So it's implemented into their traditional system and by prescription every time. That is the one major difference. The second major difference that I see here in Europe is that then all cannabis or medicinal cannabis is dispensed through the pharmacy. So this is the same pharmacy that patients are going for any other prescription medicine or over the counter medicine that they would be looking for, but is being dispensed in the pharmacy. So I think there are just two huge differences that we see from the US model, like I said, both with the purpose scription and being through pharmacy and for me, it's something that I think is really great for the industry, right because I think it legitimizes cannabis as a medicine right and not trying to beat around the bush or that the medicinal is just the pathway to the recreational or adult use. It is actually being looked at as a medicine. And just yesterday I put out something on LinkedIn that was actually about Germany, because Germany actually has public insurers reimbursing medical cannabis. So patients are actually going and getting dried cannabis flowers reimbursed by public insurance, right? Which I think is exactly what should be happening, right? If it's medicine, and it's providing help to individuals for specific indications, and other medications that are helping with those same indications are being reimbursed then why not? Why not cannabis as well.

Shayda Torabi  13:25  
You said it just to clarify, it's just flour right? Are they able to get hash as well but there's no gummies there's no tinctures or topicals it's it sounds like it's just flour as the the legal medical function of cannabis.

Steve George  13:42  
So it's quite open actually. But what you see on the market so far are flowers and oils or tinctures right that are orally taken now, there's other companies that are still working on also other sublinguals and actually in the German market, the SK use continued to expand so I'm not even fully up to speed today on the present of what's available and there might even be some new stuff that is outside of oils and you know more pharmaceutical pill or dried flower but when it comes to you know hash edibles or like having something like a vape pen available that has not made it into the medical arena yet let's say

Shayda Torabi  14:28  
no got it that's so interesting because I think at a national or federal level in the United States medical cannabis does have more liberties or more form factors and obviously more conditions that it qualifies for, depending on what state has legalized so California, Colorado being some of the leaders in the United States. The rec market has the same access as the medical market in terms of types of products and accessibility. But obviously like you highlight a difference in where you go, you're going to a traditional kind of dispensary. is actually going to a pharmacy that is dispensing other drugs and using cannabis as one of those. But in Texas, I don't know if you know much about Texas and so this is just you know, maybe for the listeners too who are tuning in from across the world, let's say you aren't aware, Texas, it's really interesting our medical market right now, just hearing you say, you know, one of the predominant ways and and i know this too from a bioavailability perspective, like smoking is one of the best ways to consume cannabis to feel the effects. It's fast. It's consistent in that regard. But in Texas, smoking is actually not one of the form factors that is legal for our medical program. They're very limited. We're also limited by dose. But it is something that it just fascinates me like what all these other markets have shown that smoking cannabis is and has medicinal merit to it. But yet our market is like, no, we're going to give you edibles, and we'll give you tinctures and we'll give you topicals. But they're kind of restrained in that regard. And so I guess a follow up to is are there any limitations in terms of dosing or conditions when it comes to Europe versus the United States? Or is it very kind of similar in terms of its kept to some extent or like from medical perspective, especially since I know that's obviously your background and your passion as well of seeing cannabis be accessible for people who do have these debilitating medical ailments and diseases and wanting to be able to use cannabis for it? Just I guess, how is that seen, because to contrast that, and no shade to any US state that is operating medically. But like Oklahoma, for a good example, they're the wild wild west, they're completely open in terms of, quote unquote, medical marijuana. But the conditions list is so easy to qualify for. I've heard you know, doctors, you don't even have to go in and physically see a doctor anymore. You can just tell a medicine a doctor, and then they'll write your prescription and then you can kind of have access to cannabis. So to me, it's blurring and blending the lines of medicine versus people who recreationally want to consume. And again, I'm not here to point fingers are set, you shouldn't be doing anything like that. But it is a really interesting conversation when it seems like you really do view cannabis as medicinal. But then there's definitely some obvious liberties that are taken in certain states, let's say in the United States to again, blur the lines of what is actually medicine, and how do people actually qualify for that? And how much can they actually receive as part of their quote unquote, prescription?

Steve George  17:31  
Yeah, no, exactly. I mean, you make great point because Michigan was more like that. I don't know if they've updates they've made since I laughed, and but now they're adult use. So I'm sure they don't much focus there. But it same thing was in Michigan, I mean, when I got the certification back in 2010. I mean, there was no indications there was no I mean, yeah, you were supposed to have a precondition. But there was no specific indications, there was no limitation on form factors or whatever, you know, you went to the dispensary and what the dispensary had was available, right. But then when you look at Europe, it changes based on countries. So it's similar to what you see in the States. It just depends on what country and for example, in Portugal, there's seven indications Okay, that they list are that can be prescribed for for so that's how portugal is doing it, right. And these seven indications are outline there. But then they also go on as far as to say that the physicians can write off label and off label means basically, they can write for whatever reason they deem necessary. So that kind of opens up the door where in other countries, there's countries that don't have indication specific at all. So it's pretty wide open to what the physician deems as necessary right now, I think one of the interesting things you mentioned even before that was the inhalation, right? That's the thing too, is like, with a lot of the companies that are over here, working in the medical arena, or industry or medical cannabis industry, the teams have pharmaceutical backgrounds, and so they're very aware and knowledgeable on the pharmaceutical, network and drug delivery and in different healthcare related things. And I'm no healthcare professional at all. But I learned a tremendous amount by being surrounded by healthcare professionals with my previous employer the whole time, I was there, right and even having a medical department. And this is where we could start to look into some of that stuff and it's the exact point to what you make. When you inhale cannabis, it titrate up very quickly, and there's not many things that a doctor has access to, especially when you're looking at things like acute pain and stuff that comes on right away and you need an instant solution for a lot of the medication without going into direct injection into the bloodstream. You can't get there, right? Even with any pills, it's still gonna take some time to get into the bloodstream and get activated. So the inhalation and I've spoken with the key opinion leader in Spain physician who told me to my face in a meeting that said, She goes, I have nothing else that can do what this can. So it's a new tool for them as well, right, that they don't have before. And I think it's quite interesting. And to the Texas regulators, what I would even go on further to advise is what's interesting is that, so the volcano, yeah, you're aware of the volcano and you know, I have one eye, all right, all right, and see one of my friends growing up at a volcano, and what many people don't know is that I'm storing some Bristol's website, the volcano and the mighty medic are medical devices, medical devices, they are the only registered medical devices in Europe. And obviously, they were smart to jump on the bid and get ahead of that a little bit early, but they are registered medical devices. So I think that right there in itself shows that, hey, inhalation is a legitimate way to deliver this medicine, vaporisation is probably the better way to go. And that's why there's medical devices approved for that route of administration. But yeah, I mean, I think inhalation is an extremely important part. And, again, a tool that physicians depending on the indication they need, and it can be very helpful.

Shayda Torabi  21:30  
That's so fascinating. I mean, I think what storz and Bickel is a German based company, right? Correct. So obviously, European founded, but I didn't pick up on that notion that they were actually classified as a medical device. And it obviously does go in line with what you're sharing in terms of, it's really cool to hear that one of these medical professionals in Spain even acknowledged that this is a very fast way for people with certain ailments or conditions to find relief in a quick effect. And there is I believe, medical merit to that. But obviously, it gets diluted, I think, depending on what market and who's saying it, and whose opinion and blah, blah, blah, all these other aspects of it. Now what I'm kind of curious to get a better understanding from you. So knowing that Europe is mostly actually totally medical, like from a legal perspective, and it's legalizing country, by country are the countries the ones then who are like, again, my knowledge from medical is closely mostly what's happening in Texas. And so we have licensing, and people had to go get the bids for the licenses. And Texas only issued so many licenses, let's say Portugal, where you're living in and where tilray obviously had, or still has a place with the country and the facility rather to say, are they connected to the country? Do they have to apply for a bid to have a license to operate legally in Portugal? Or is there limited licensure? Like, what is that relationship between the government and these operators, and maybe kind of overlapping that with what we have in America, which is, you know, multi state operators. So you're seeing a lot of people who are maybe setting up in one state, and then they're able to replicate that state to state and so you're seeing some, I don't want to call it a corporation. But you know, they're they're building these large businesses that are helping drive the industry forward. Is that equally happening in Europe? And to what extent is that process for people to be a part of the medical industry? Like for example, if I moved to Portugal, could I apply for licenses, you know, qualified to grow cannabis? And then have my cannabis be used by these pharmacists and these doctors or is it a much higher barrier to entry to operate in the EU cannabis market?

Steve George  23:46  
Now it's a great question. And it's a kind of a yes and a no, a yes or no question. Because yes, there is licensing processes in most of the countries now. We're still gonna see kind of how this unfolds. But initially, tilray was one of the first companies that was out here building a large scale facility and it happened to be in Portugal. Okay. Now, Portugal is in the south of Europe. So we do get a lot of sun or 300 days of sun. It's fairly warm in the summers, mild winters. So it's a good place also attractive from a labor standpoint as well. So it was clear kind of why someone would choose this country but then Spain's next door is very similar, right? And we've seen a lot more attention here in Portugal, and it's hard to tell like why that was. It might have just been because tilray came here first, literally, that might be just that simple. And then people were like, okay, we need to grow in Portugal is the thing to do. So we've seen a lot in here in Portugal, and again, yes, the process is anyone could come here and you can establish a company and they have some requirements, but then you can apply for the license. The feed actually applies quite affordable. And then people Could, then it's up to you, you know, like, there's groups here that are only cultivating, right. So their idea would then be to they don't want to manufacture anything. So they're growing to then sell to one of these groups that want to manufacture the product and actually commercialize it right? Because that is the one part that gets a bit stricter is that there's like an EU GMP. Okay, I don't know if you heard this around. But it's like Good Manufacturing Practices. But the EU has their own specifications for this EU GMP, and to manufacture pharmaceutical drugs, you need to be EU GMP certified. So this then gets a little bit more bureaucratic. And obviously, it's expensive, you know, to build these facilities and do that processing. It's pharmaceutical manufacturing, right. So it's an expensive area, which does pose a bit of a barrier to entry for smaller players. But on the cultivation side, I think it's very open. And you have some bootstrap groups here that got licenses, right, that are able to cultivate, and they're able to, we'll have to wait and see how they do. But I'm glad that they're able to participate in they're able to compete, and they're here. It's one of the reasons why I also open the advisory firm to try to help some of these smaller groups, right with the knowledge that I have to help them compete with the bigger groups out there. So you definitely see the differences when it comes to licensing. But everyone is allowed to do that. And it looks a little bit different country to country. And I think you're seeing more down south because most are being its greenhouse. And so they're trying to use the natural light. And it's the end, like I said, because of other things like labor. So then if you go to Germany, you're going to need to build an indoor facility, labor is much more expensive, etc, etc, your cost of production, and everything increases quite a bit. So that's why I think you've seen more attraction down here in the south of Europe. Now the super interesting thing or not, you know, one of the other interesting things about Europe is that because you're doing this through the medical regulations, and like so what happens is like so a company that goes here, and that starts to grow and has this manufacturing, like they are wholesaling narcotics like it's all through, you know, because it stays in the traditional pharmaceutical and cannabis is still a scheduled narcotic. So they're dealing with narcotics, but it allows them to import and export. Okay, so goods can move freely within the European Union, assuming the health right, like so what happens is Sam sitting here in Portugal, and I want to sell some cannabis to Germany, okay, like I want to sell to a distributor doesn't even have to be my own company, I just want to sell to a distributor in Germany, who's then going to distribute to pharmacies in Germany, the German company would go to their local health regulator, assuming they had all the license and certifications, they would get an import permit. So they would get an official import permit from the German health regulators for the amount that they're looking, you know, let's say 100 kilos, okay. So they're looking to import in 100 kilos of dried cannabis flour, okay, then they're buying it from Portugal, then that company in Portugal would take that import certificate, give it to their health regulator, and the health regulator here in Portugal would issue an export permit. And once you have that export, and matching import permit, this product can then go on a plane and fly to Germany and land in Germany and then be distributed in Germany, with, you know, without the company selling here in Portugal having any establishment or facility or company in the country that they then sold to so you could work with partners and other distributors to move things around. So it's definitely a big difference. And it's funny, you brought that up? Because it was a question that I've, as I've worked over here the last few years and been in this industry, and I've had people from North America come over and visit and obviously things are continuing to progress in the US. And I say, I always ask them, you know, I'm like, What do you think, you know, after seeing things over here, like, because my biggest concern being here is that because there's no adult use and things are moving a bit more slower that like, Am I making a mistake because I'm here and I'm not in back home, I could be more involved or I could be growing at home and doing more of my own r&d things or whatever right? Like Am I just like missing something because I'm here. And then oftentimes what I've heard is feedback is like, yeah, you're missing things, but we're missing things that you're able to do over there and you guys are actually like moving cannabis around like a global good. And one of the markets that opened up a lot over here is Israel. So Israel is also important. A lot of medical cannabis from European countries as well also with this same import export process so yeah, I find it to be quite a big difference.

Shayda Torabi  30:19  
Hello, just want to take a quick moment to thank my sponsor and full disclosure my company restart CBD, restart CBD is a brand that I built with my sister. So we are family owned and a women owned we do operate a brick and mortar in Austin. So if you ever find yourself in Central Texas, we'd love for you to come say hi. But we also ship nationwide and we carry a wide range of CBD products. We really care about this plant, we really care about educating our customers, this show would not be possible without their support. So please go check us out at restart CBD calm and use code to be blunt for $5 off your next purchase. Thanks. And let's go back to the show. Oh, it's so fascinating. I mean, that was gonna be one of my questions. And then you said it I was gonna ask Can you leave the country in? Can you guys transfer the goods from country to country? So you articulated that very helpfully that was just literally something I had no concept or knowledge about. And now my follow up to you. I'm curious if you know, have an understanding and can share. Because I do think from an American perspective. And it's also interesting that you shared your I think just like truth in the sense that now I'm in Europe, am I missing what's going on in America? And I think as Americans, I'm like, Okay, well, what's going on in Europe? And how does that impact each other's marketplace as we do go towards here in America more national and obviously, eventually global. But when we talk about in the United States opening up federal legalization, the word that gets thrown around a lot is interstate commerce. And I think that I've taken a role of caution, especially with this podcast, I've gotten to talk to so many incredible guests like yourself included who have just shared so transparently, their truths, and it's just kind of put me in a position of also paying attention to the market, the signs reading all these different reports understanding that every state has legalized different even states that have legalized like California, you start to pick apart both from their medical transition into recreation, people who had their medical licenses, medical dispensaries, they weren't awarded the recreation dispensary license right away. There's not necessarily rhyme or reason sometimes. And so I think when you hear of companies like Amazon, where they're becoming more lenient with cannabis for their employees, then you think, well, Amazon is a mass distributor, you know, they ship me things in two days love them or hate them like they've built this force, that should we open up interstate commerce. It's rightfully, I think, an opinion to have Well, what does that do for the industry? Does that have space for smaller I'm going to use the word kind of craft cultivators, or craft businesses or craft brands to succeed. And I think a lot of the feedback that I hear from outside of the industry is, Oh, of course, I mean, you look at there's Miller and Corona and all these, you know, Bud Light, Budweiser massive brands, but then people still like to go to their small craft brews and support local and things like that. But my fear my caution is always the barrier to entry. If I today wanted to go open a brewery, it's relatively easy for me to just go find a piece of land buy equipment, obviously have to have the science know how to make beer. But there's nothing from a licensing perspective that is saying, well, there's only 10 licenses in Austin. So you have to get one of those 10 licenses otherwise, sorry, the doors shut. You can't open a brewery. But obviously, that's what's happening with cannabis. So I can't project what's going to happen in Texas. I can make some predictions. But I don't know what's actually going to happen when the shoe hits. And then kind of you extrapolate that out to a federal level. I think there's just again, some rightful caution around interstate commerce, and what's that going to do to the industry. And so to bring it back around to your, you know, point of view, it sounds like Europe has figured out a way to kind of open those doors. Do you see, let's say countries like Portugal are doing more exporting than they are importing it sounds like the price to operate is much more reasonable in countries like Portugal versus let's say, countries like Germany. And so do you see Germany, as an example, there could be other countries where they're predominantly importing versus exporting and how that kind of has shaped the European market? And then kind of you know, just would be curious to your thoughts of what Europe is doing and how that relates to what America is potentially opening up with federal legalization, and how this like global economy of transporting, importing, exporting, sharing, selling consuming cannabis could play out from your expertise and perspective. Yeah,

Steve George  34:59  
thanks. It'll be interesting to see it all go down. And I mean, and I totally understand where you're coming from as well when it comes to the interstate commerce and what that'll do and let you know, because like I said, I already know people push back a lot against even some of the multi state operators already, right? Because they're, I mean, it's it's kind of the same thing, in a sense, right? And then these are starting to be some of the bigger groups. And then, obviously, if there's a state or place that's limiting licenses, these are the ones with the big wallets and the big pockets, and they tend to find a way right. So I definitely don't like that side of it. And I think there needs to be caution always. When moving that way. And yeah, I mean, I don't know, it's it's really, it's tough. It's a great question. And I think it's tough to understand what the rules are, you know, I think limiting the licenses, especially to like small numbers, I think is just not fair at all. Right? I just don't think that's a good approach from a state level when you know, I think Florida does something similar as well. And, yeah, so I just think you have to let people compete, right. And that means you have to let the small compete as well. And because what you find with cannabis, you know, like I said, in the beer example, is really good, because I always sat there, and I looked at it. And I always because I've tried to make this comparison before, you know, and I sat there and I thought, like, why did it take so long? Before the craft beer thing got like big, right? Like, what was it? What was it when everyone was like, I'm sick of drinking Bud Light, and this watered down beer and I can make something better? And what was it I know you had like some of the bigger like, the fat tires of the world that were like a little more crafty, but still kind of big? And that's like, I think those are some of the ones that started but it was like, what really made that take off, you know, and from what you can see, it seems to be a sustainable model. So my question is, is like, and you're already seeing the craft cannabis, like the word and talked about a lot, right? So it's like, then I started to question like, maybe did we just skip that whole era, and now we're just going to like, hey, there's going to be the big players, but there's also going to be the craft, and they'll find their markets and the big players are going to be that the cheaper, more cost effective mass produce mediocre stuff. But then if you're someone who wants that's willing to spend a little bit more, that wants a great product that wants to be part of a community that wants to know where their products being produced and manufactured and the team, etc, then I think they can play as well, you make a great point, it's really in my more opinions more about it's that licensing process to let them play, are you gonna let them play? Are you not? Because I think when you do let them play, assuming you then don't adjust rules in favor of the bigger players. There's many great small cultivators. And I know there's consumers that want to be a part of something, and especially when I look deeper into the cannabis community, and the people that I know, yes, you have the group that's always going to go for more maybe affordable options. But then I know a large part of that community is much more involved in what they want to consume, and why they're consuming it, and who's growing it and how it makes them feel. And so I'm optimistic about the ability for the small players to survive. But as I said, I really think it matters a lot about how they manage this licensing. And when you if you do go to a federal level, what does that mean? Is there going to be amount of federal cultivation license? What do you do to the existing put? It gets so confusing to me when I try to look at what the federal government's going to do now moving forward, right? Because, yeah, I mean, you have so many licenses already in place and different regulations state to state, so I don't even know how they hide, it's hard for me to even wrap my head around it. And you know, like I said it, maybe it's easier to federally legalize, but then you leave it up to the states to operate individually. But then again, you know, that would still I think, open up interstate commerce. So you would still have this thing of to it, here's what happened, you open up that and then it's gonna come down to the states who were smart or in who wasn't smart, because then the states with the limited licenses, if they're not producing good quality out of those Limited License, then guess what they're gonna start doing importing? Right? They're gonna start importing from other states from people who are producing good quality cannabis and producing stuff that people want to consume. This will the state that actually limit their licenses might end up hurting themselves in the long run when this actually goes more federal because that's like what's going on in Portugal right now you have there's no limit really on the license and the government's kind of issuing now we don't know if they'll stop at some point, or how that's gonna play out but it shows you that the Gonna let everyone play. And if you can produce high quality cannabis and you have good branding and a marketing strategy behind it, then you can get into the market for sure. And I think here it's still open in like you have a lot of big players the toe raise the canopies app, you're the roars of the world that have been around here. But there's other small companies that are coming online now that are getting their flour into the German market. It's because they're producing better quality than the bigger players.

Shayda Torabi  40:32  
Yeah, I mean, you hit the nail on the head, I share the same sentiment, it's something that I often reflect and talk about as well in terms of just because you can grow let's say in Texas doesn't mean the quality of what we're growing is quality, right? And so I think that is something for people just to be mindful of in terms of like, yes, these markets are isolated right now. But as you do open up interstate commerce, I mean, don't quote me on this, but I think I read something somewhere that said, if we opened up interstate commerce, essentially all cannabis that's being consumed today could be grown in the state of Idaho in the United States could be grown in the state of Idaho, and it would supply the whole United States. And so you really start thinking and especially reflecting on I think the hemp market as well, that markets gone through so many roller coasters of there wasn't enough than there was a surplus and so you're kind of watching that I think in parallel to projecting or trying to project what could happen when you do open up interstate commerce and so maybe the in a weird way, I just presented myself an interesting idea to resonate on a little bit more offline of, okay, we kind of have interstate commerce with hemp. How is that going? You know, and obviously, some players are doing it better than others. And so like, even for us in our retail here in Austin, we got a lot of Texas farmers who were calling say, Hey, I grew for the first time because Texas legalized in 2019. So crops were coming in kind of on the market, I would say like 2019 2020 and I was getting a lot of calls just being a dispensary owner, hey, I have this flower. I'm growing it in state. Do you want it? And my answer, you know, unfortunately, is like, Oh, this is your first time growing cannabis. I don't care you grow outdoor indoor, it still wasn't quality. And that's not to say that there isn't some good stuff being grown in Texas. But again, the market has to kind of like learn the cultivars, you know, varies the quality of flower, the soil varies the quality of flower, the geography, indoor versus outdoor, like there's obviously so many variabilities and I often also reflect on like orange juice, I love orange juice, I just had a nice big glass this morning. Just because you can grow oranges in Texas doesn't mean those oranges are going to be the same quality as Florida oranges, you know, it's the sunshine, it's the soil, it's whatever. And so I have to kind of take that into account too as I navigate cannabis thinking just because we can do something doesn't mean that that's going to be the future opportunity for that state. And so it's just interesting again, being in Texas where you're kind of watching all of our peer states legalized in different degrees, Florida like you highlighted very limited licensure. Oklahoma is a free for all Arizona wet medical direct really quick and then you have New York State New Jersey, which legalized around the same time, but their programs don't actually open recreation until 2023 2024. So there's a lot of disparity in the market in terms of, well, how's it gonna play out, you know, and so I think that's where I try to exist is not to assume anything, but to really just try to study everything that's happening around me to make the best educated strategy to kind of move forward. And so kind of with that conversation around hemp a little bit I am curious knowing that it's more adopted in the United States than ever before. Even from our dispensary perspective, you know, I ship nationwide and I've had people who have found our brand in the UK I think we had someone reach out from Spain and they're like, Hey, can you ship your CBD our country just legalized hemp? And I'm like, I don't know what the European laws are around hemp like so what is hemp like in Europe and what is the CBD market and then kind of same same conversation as European cannabis. Is that market more open in terms of types of products? Do you see hemp edibles have topicals things like that and kind of what's the sentiment for hemp in Europe?

Steve George  44:21  
Well it's a mess to say lightly Yeah, the hemp in and especially you know and then when we get into CBD gets big it's very interesting here, okay. Because they've allowed the many of the countries has allowed the production of hemp for quite a while, right? They had regulation in place dealing with the Department of Agriculture to be able to produce him but EU also has like they have a hemp catalog, actually. So there's certified seeds. Okay, there's an EU catalog of certified seeds for hemp production in this catalog. It's been around for I don't know how long but a long time okay and I think it's ever growing a little bit but that's the reality so that's been there and hemp production has been allowed but most of these certified seeds are my understanding are more of your industrial true industrial hemp and some of them are flower producing but most of them I think are limited in the flower production but then there's a couple of them that do produce okay flowers and you can get CBD percents I think the highest ones from what I understand is about 12 to 14% okay is the highest these ones are bred to be able to receive because many of the regulations still here the THC limit is point two like it's point two in Portugal some of the other ones is point three and so when you get those CBD numbers to hide the THC goes over the limit and then you got another problem on your hands right because now you're technically growing something illegal so it's confusing but it's normalizing again and even Portugal they changed the regulations and then made some changes again this summer in like I'm a part of Canada Casa which is the hemp Association here in Portugal and and there's a lot of issues because there's just the farm that just a couple of weeks back got raided and got all these plants chopped down and these growing CBD and it's industrial hemp and there's no THC, right, but there's, I don't know, I don't know the full story, but you know, there's some still some confusion there. Now, what's super interesting is then back in November of 2020, there was a big case, okay, because a company in France, I believe they were dealing with vape pens, don't quote me on it, but I believe it was like vapes that they had Okay, like, you know, CBD vapes and they were importing them from the Czech Republic. But the Czech Republic was allowing them to be manufactured like legally okay. But this company then got targeted, you know, by there was a court case against them, French court case against them for basically selling narcotic and it went all the way up to the EU courts. And the EU courts decided that CBD is not a narcotic, because it is not psychoactive in that if CBD is a or a product is manufactured in a member state legally then it has the free movement of goods within the EU. Okay, so that's kind of where we sit right now. But this was like an EU court ruling this wasn't a regulation or a law or you know, it was an EU court ruling so now after that ruling, it really started to open up because I think lawyers just said hey, you said it's not a narcotic so you don't have to worry about that anymore. You're not trafficking narcotics. And that it has the free movement of goods so as long as it's being produced in somewhere where it's being legally produced then we can move freely and there's no problem so for example, here in Portugal, in Lisbon where I'm sitting right now if you go to the city center there's plenty of CBD shops okay that are selling flowers vape pens, edibles hash pollen it's like a little mini dispensary right but with only focus on CBD so very similar to I'm sure you know your dispensary. But these ones are kind of small scale because you can tell they're in a very, like, touristy you know, it's almost like they're trying to target kind of the tourists that are coming in with cannabis leaves. And the marketing and branding is terrible and, but they're in good locations. And it's like I said, and it's cannabis and there's flowers in there. So people are interested, they want to walk in, they want to see what's going on. They often end up you know, they'll leave with something or whatever, right? If you went to the health regulators here in Portugal right now, if I went down the center, Lisbon and talked in format, which is the health regulator, they would say CBD is a narcotic. And it falls under our regulation. And you need to have a medical cannabis, and it needs to be registered and whatever. So it's actually caused a lot of confusion here in Portugal because they legalized medical cannabis now almost two and a half years ago now. And still there's not a CBD product on the market yet for prescription because to get a product registered, takes I was involved with the process at my previous employer and it took a couple years before we got that approval. So that's a concern right? But then after this came in, then they started being a little bit more enforceable and then patients weren't able to find any CBD right and then until that ruling, now it's kind of opened up Again, but it's still not clear. And it's really not clear anywhere in Europe and it's actually something that I'm focused on a little bit more right now myself because yeah, it's just kind of sad that people can't access it and because it's not then regulated a lot of the CBD products that you can get online or whatever I mean, anyone could be making them really, I could be making stuff right behind me in my kitchen right now. I could be bottling it, branding it nicely, whatever and putting it on the market, and no one would know what was in it, how it was made. And yeah, so it's so it's a mess.

Shayda Torabi  50:38  
I mean, it's heartbreaking to hear but at the same time, you know, encouraging because it sounds like I mean, just like everything you've shared, right? There's obviously a lot of setbacks that both markets really at a global level the whole market has, there's a lot of progress being made. But at the same time, there's a lot of confusion that I think we're trying to fight through and I can only hope that you know, 10 years from now we can look back at these challenging times and be really proud of the work that we're putting in individually to help bring cannabis to the forefront. I mean, we're kind of out of time to go into you know, too much more detail. I'm curious to just at a high level it sounds like CBD is having a hard time minor cannabinoids Is there any Delta eight in the market or things like that because those are definitely things I think as hemp is opened up here in the States you're seeing more minor cannabinoids and just to kind of round it out from a medical perspective. I do believe these different cannabinoids each have different properties. Yes, I believe they work really great together. But obviously different strains have different therapeutic benefits. One can argue that particular cannabinoid or combination of cannabinoids can be good for a versus another combination could be really good for B and so I just think all these things are in an effort to help us open up this conversation to normalize cannabis. So ultimately, consumers have access to this plant from a medicinal perspective, just like they would any other pharmaceutical drug but with in my opinion, much less side effects comparatively so just kind of like to end on that note, do you see more cannabinoids opening up in Europe or is it still pretty limited just based on the medical cannabis market and like this emerging hemp market

Steve George  52:22  
it's still pretty limited right? But you are starting to see some you'll hear about CBN and CBG and it actually some of these reasons are because of in the on the industrial hemp side of things. Like I'd mentioned before keeping that THC percentage below the threshold actually, from what I've understood from growers and cultivators that it's easier with more like high CBD strains and then with a high CBD cultivars to keep that THC low. So yes, you're starting to see but they're the more popular minor cannabinoids right that everyone's already quite familiar with back our our community is quite familiar with I often get ahead of myself and I think to you, you make a great point is to have these conversations and to be able to go into so much depth about the different things and even in talking you know, minor cannabinoids and other stuff like that, between you and I in between the community. Like I said, I think we all often forget to step back a little bit right and get outside of the community. And that's when I always kind of brings me back to Earth a little bit because, you know, yeah, we get confused. And yeah, it's it's a lot of tough work that everyone is doing in this space. And a lot of us are also putting ourselves out there, right? I've had a strong corporate career my whole life, and I made it not a baby, but I made it switch into the cannabis industry, but I've owned it like I own any other career, corporate career that I've had. But that means I'm very public about my association with cannabis consumption and working in the industry and everything. So if this doesn't work out, you know, maybe that will, that's gonna hurt us down the road, but I'm more than certain we're long past the point of no return. So I think we'll continue to see it expand. But yeah, but you know, I often have to take that time out and step away and have conversations with people who are knowledgeable or educated and then right then I can clearly ground myself and say, okay, you know, like, yes, we're confused. And yes, it's challenging sometimes, but but we know a lot. And the more we keep going, we'll continue to learn and we're going to help a lot a lot of people and that's just what I tell myself every day, you know, is that in the end, like I said, there's some challenges with adult use and some other things like that. But I truly believe in the end by giving people access to this plant, we have the ability to help a tremendous amount of people. End of story. Simple as that.

Shayda Torabi  54:55  
That literally blew my mind. Oh my god every friggin conversation. On this podcast, I obviously I just like I'm a sponge, I soak up all this information. So I know that I walked away with a lot of interesting tidbits specifically for me, I think it was really fascinating to learn that the European Union kind of operates as, while they're different countries, obviously as like a whole. And so the whole idea of importing and exporting, and obviously I touched on it in the podcast, too. You might come from a state that is really good at outdoor growing. But that doesn't mean that you know, two states over they're equally as good at outdoor growing. And so when the market opens up, if everybody has access to it, is that really going to continue to be where the strengths are kind of falling as the industry starts to open up? I don't know. And so definitely, we can't really project or really be specific about what is going to happen. But I do again, think that these conversations are really good stimulators for us just to be critically thinking about what the hell is happening in the industry and one, how can I be a part of it? I think that was a really big takeaway, too, from just getting to connect with Steven, he's so involved in the Portugal and European cannabis legalization conversations, both in terms of advocating for medical cannabis, but also just advocating for adult use and recreational cannabis legalization as well. And, you know, as a Texan, I take that personally, I think that there's a lot of advocacy that has yet to be done, we as a state are not where I'd like to see us in terms of our cannabis laws. And I really do believe, you know, politics aside, that we can each have a role to play in helping see cannabis be more adopted, whether it's at the state policy, legislative, or even just consumer level. And so if that's something that resonated with you, too, I would just love to connect with you. Please feel free to reach out, follow up with me, find me on social media, let's connect on LinkedIn. I really appreciate the conversations that stem from these episodes, and just encourage you to you know, reach out and start that dialogue. So that's all I have for today's episode. Thank you so much for tuning in to another episode of The To be blunt podcast. I will be back next Monday with another brand new episode. Until then, talk to y'all later. Bye.

Announcer  57:15  
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