Like the U.S., Europe is also slowly moving towards the cannabis legalization; right now Germany is planning to start licensing the cultivation of medical cannabis. The details of the policy are still unknown. However, it will likely be based on the Dutch “Office for Medical Cannabis” that was created back in 2003 and continues to successfully regulate and supervise the medical cannabis industry in the Netherlands.
Under the current laws, people in the Netherlands are required to invest quite a lot of money before they are able to actually grow plants. Such an approach makes sense since the industry is associated with big risks. By now, Dutch regulations seems to be the best model for Germany, and they are expected to be changed only slightly. So, what can German citizens expect?
The conditions of growing medical marijuana in the Netherlands are strictly controlled by the government. Cannabis cultivation is a closely-monitored process, which has nothing in common with, say, opium cultivation in Tasmania. The mildew outbreak that happened in Tasmania back in 2014 is hardly possible in the land of cheese and windmills.
The whole process of the cannabis growing is thoroughly scrutinized and documented. There are several reasons for this approach. First, the goal is too keep cannabis from falling into wrong hands. Secondly, government control ensures that conditions for growing cannabis are right.
To our taste, the government in the Netherlands went a little overboard when creating standards for marijuana growers. Cannabis growers are required to install a special security system that provides access to the facility only to authorized people. Apart from this, the growing facility should be protected against burglars. The security measures include different constructions, such as fences and lattices, and watchmen hired to guard the room or the building.
The same security system does not allow anyone to enter the growing room unsterilized, even if you simply forgot to wash your hands after coming from outside or after visiting a bathroom.
If there are any visitors such as tradesmen, suppliers, or sushi delivery, everyone must be registered. The whole area should be monitored with both hidden and open cameras. However, it is not allowed to violate the privacy of the staff.
Growers must secure and disguise their facility as good as it is possible, so no one can guess what it is growing there from the outside. The facility should also be equipped with high-quality ventilation and filter systems to hide odor, enable fresh air access and provide protection from mold, infections, pests, birds, and vermin. All kinds of traps, lures, electric killers fit well as long as they do not damage or somehow affect the plants.
To protect the rooms from infections and mold, all staff must have sterile working clothes on; these clothes should never leave the room. All the people should wear high protective gloves at all times, so no human has any physical contact with the plants at no stages of the growing or curing cannabis. No handbags, backpacks, electronic devices including mobile phones are allowed inside the facility.
Since the Netherlands is the only country in Europe so far that allows growing medical marijuana, it is difficult to find trained and qualified staff for working in the industry. There is simply no in-company training, and cultivation companies have to invest money and time in the training of an employee every time they need someone to work with cannabis.
Everyone hired by such a company (growers, harvesters, guarders, pharmacists, and others) must keep all the details of their work in secret. Moreover, in most cases, employees are not allowed to tell others where they are working and what do they do, even to the members of their own family.
If the company is not only growing but also breeding cannabis, they are reqired to use only certified seeds that are registered at the Office for Medicinal Cannabis (OMC). The employees of the company select strong plants that will be fertilized, however, they do not use them directly: there is a risk of getting different phenotypes.
As for the other conditions in the Dutch state-controlled growing rooms, the whole climate is controlled by an automatic system. They use 600-watt HPS lamps, filter exhaust air systems that keep the air at approximately 50 percent humidity and a temperature of 24-27 ºC (75-80.6 ºF). They use sterilized rockwool as the growing medium and only certified organic nutrients. The whole irrigation system is fully automated; water is monitored.
All the rooms are monitored and computer-controlled. Automatic systems regulate everything up from quantity of nutrients to the positioning of growing lamps. When it comes to growing herbs in Germany, any use of pesticides or insecticides is forbidden. Any substance that comes into contact with cannabis must be checked in a laboratory. All the surfaces, mediums, and substances must be free from infections, bacteria, heavy metals, and any kinds of pollutants.
In order to grow medical marijuana, a company must equip at least five different rooms.
One or two rooms are for the plants in the vegetative period. These rooms are programmed to be illuminated for 18 hours. Usually, one room is used to cultivate seedlings, while in the other is used to grow mother plants to produce cuttings.
The number of rooms designated for flowering depends on the quantity of the strains the company grows: each strain should have a separate room. The size of the room depends on the quantity of the plants: in most cases, one square meter (≈10.8 square feet) per flower.
Another separate room should be used for harvesting. All the plants in this room should be processed within one day, so the THC level of all the plants is the same.
Yet another room is used for drying cannabis.
The pharmacists check the yield, so the finished product fits the standards: it cannot fluctuate even by as little as 0.1 percent.
After the flowers are harvested, they are immediately pruned in a sterile area. The staff places the flowers into a drying room where they lay for several weeks. During this time, the THC acid turns to active THC (THCa).
Unlike in the Netherlands, the irradiation procedure (exposing cannabis to UV radiation in order to destroy all possible infections and mold spores) will be not mandatory in Germany.
All the leftovers, such as stalks, leaves, and roots are carefully documented and then shredded. This material is turned into compost. However, if there are more than 80 kg (176 lb) of waste, it is delivered to the special municipality centers to be destroyed.
Everything that happens to the plants, from the seed state to the moment when the flowers get dry and the leftovers are composted, must be documented. The company should have a database where they keep data on all the steps of growing process for at least ten years. The data includes the name of the strain, the growing location, vegetative/flowering time, the fertilizer used, the amount of yield (including after the harvesting, before and after drying), THC content, and all the possible details that are listed in the regulations. The company is obligated to present all this data to the OMC immediately upon request.
The OMC takes the whole amount of the harvest for a fixed price and then sells it to local pharmacies as well as to the companies abroad.
The laboratory should check every batch by taking ten one-gram samples and testing them for bacteria, pesticides, and residual moisture, as well as measure THC, CBD, and CBN content. The OMC can recheck the results of testing in their own laboratories.
As we can see, the rules for medical cannabis growers in the Netherlands (and, soon, in Germany) are quite strict and complex. In contrast, marijuana growers in Canada undergo much saner levels of scrutiny.