Thanks to a series of very strict regulations, the Danish cannabis industry is on its way to become one of the most technologically advanced in Europe, especially considering the slow pace at which European countries are legalizing the consumption and cultivation of medical cannabis. In order to better understand what is the element that puts Danish growers one step ahead in comparison to their foreign colleagues, the organic MMJ producer DANCANN provided a thorough picture of the current situation. “Our company is new, and we are currently in an early phase”, states Jeppe Krog Rasmussen, founder and CEO with DANCANN. “We are working to get the GMP certificate. After that, we will start a very delicate training program that will lay the foundations for our future large-scale operations.” Jeppe explains that Bedrocan, a Dutch medical cannabis producer, is setting the standard for this type of certification in Europe as it is the only European company with an EU-GMP certificate for the whole value chain, rather than just for the extraction process. “Many producers have GMP certifications implemented, yet not for the cultivation or for the entire chain”. DANCANN expects to obtain the license for the production of cannabis-bulk and export by the end of 2019 Q4.
Promising, yet confusing
The situation in Denmark is surely promising, yet quite confusing. The government did not know how to handle the legalization correctly, thus generating a lot of confusion among all the actors involved – or soon-to-be-involved – in this nascent industry. “A lot of people thought that it was necessary to only buy a greenhouse and everything would be ready to start”, says Morten Martinsen, DANCANN COO. “Consider Canadian companies, for instance. Canadians can boast a very high degree of technical and growing knowledge on this matter. Yet, the Danish regulations are new to all of us. They came here and bought existing greenhouses – since these are cheap in terms of square feet available – and found out that these had to be renovated in order to comply with the rules.”
That is why Morten takes care to specify that greenhouses are not completely reliable for producing medical cannabis, especially considering the strictness of Danish laws. “We think that greenhouses are not the go-to approach for producing high quality medicine. The footprint of your facility or the amount of sq. ft. you have is not important – it is the quality of your product that matters in this sector. And that is just not achievable in a large-scale greenhouse facility. That’s why we commit to produce indoors in a sealed environment with 100% control over every parameter”, Morten points out.
Many growers in Denmark are dreaming to join this industry, but the majority of them eventually give up when things reveal themselves to be more complicated than just growing cannabis. “We talk about medicine for patients who expect a consistent effect - every time! Whether it is possible to produce in a greenhouse that is highly influenced by external environmental factors, time must show, but we strongly doubt that the quality can be satisfactory for the patients”, says Morten. That is why DANCANN decided to opt for a fully sealed environment, completely automated, where every parameter can be constantly monitored. “We are building our growing facility from scratch, so that everything will be compliant from the get-go, rather than purchasing a greenhouse that was designed to grow tomatoes and convert it to the medical cannabis. We do not have the largest production area, but we aim for the best quality standard”, Morten remarks. “To have an existing structure to fit this can be difficult – other than incredibly costly.”
Trying to find the right balance
The real issue at the bottom of this matter is the difficulty to “find a balance between the agricultural and the pharmaceutical”, as Jeppe nicely puts it. In order for a batch of medical cannabis to be considered suitable for the pharmaceutical market, there are many different factors to take into consideration. Above all, the fact that a given plant will be distributed to people to treat specific health conditions. Therefore, the quality of the product must always be the same. “We deal with very sensitive patients, and only a little mistake could have fatal repercussions.”, Jeppe explains. Finding such a balance is not easy, and the consequence of this is that regulations might change over time or growers may encounter many obstacles to comply with those. “It is difficult to comply with all those strict rules, but we are on the right track. We want our production to be fully automated, so that we can monitor and control every single aspect. In this way, we can minimize errors and contaminations carried or induced by humans.”, Jeppe says. “We firmly believe that these regulations will be even stricter in the future. However, our approach is taking all these immediately into consideration.”
Strictness is the strength
The strictness of the regulations represents precisely one of the advantages of Danish growers in comparison to other countries. “We are aiming for extremely high and constant quality. However, we are doing that not only because we have to comply with the rules but mainly because that is our mission”, Jeppe remarks. DANCANN does care about the environment too, and the company sees in sustainability the next big challenge of the cannabis industry: “This industry is very energy intense, it really needs a lot of energy. Plants necessitate a lot of light and water, of course, and that will come at a cost”, Morten says. “That is why we will use an aeroponic system, thus reducing our water consumption up to 90%, and nutrients and labour up to 70%, for instance.” According to Jeppe and Morten, their extreme attention to the smallest details will ensure the company with greater production. “Additionally, it is important to point out that we grow vertically in aeroponics using LED lighting. Everything we mentioned thus far will ensure 50-100% greater harvests if compared to traditional greenhouses and can almost guarantee uniform product batches with extremely reduced energy consumption.”
Ironically enough, DANCANN sees most of the competition coming from its compatriots, and also from Germany, yet only sometime in the future: “Denmark will be the most advanced European country with regard to the cannabis industry. However, we are aiming for extremely high-quality cannabis, so we are not really concerned about that. Germany represents another alleged big competitor, if it weren’t for politics making things more complicated than they should be. This is exactly why we are planning to mainly export to Germany, as their current regulations make it difficult for German producers to meet the market demand.” With regard to this, Danish growers can rely on many export opportunities as the legislation allows for a free production, that is, no quotas. “Besides the Netherlands, we are the only European country with such a regulation”, Jeppe remarks.
Surrounded by a supportive community
In addition to the extreme care to details, DANCANN has been receiving a warm support by the local community, as well as by the mayor of the company’s municipality, Erik Buhl. “Both the municipality and the mayor are expressing their support to our endeavor. We are extremely grateful to our community for the help we are receiving, despite the general perception of this industry. This surely is a very positive sign.” This ties in directly with DANCANN’s future plans, “We have opportunities to expand our production, in terms of scaling possibilities. Obviously, everything will be 100% indoor environment.”, Jeppe says, “We want to leave our mark on how the future of cannabis cultivation looks, and we have the ambition to become one of the most modern Danish plant breeding facilities.”