The Dutch medical industry is feeling the stress of growing demand for lab services in their medical marijuana industry.
Licenses to producers of medical marijuana in the Netherlands are in high demand. In the nine months since licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana were granted, the number of licenses has roughly doubled. To ensure supply, Dutch authorities have also doubled the number of industrial-strength cannabis testing laboratories over the past year.
These labs will provide analysis of the smokable and aerosolized versions of medical marijuana, allowing policymakers to decide which companies are the best suited to produce and sell the medicine to patients. Currently, there are three industrial-strength marijuana testing laboratories in the Netherlands. The growing sector also provides job opportunities for some Dutch businesses that weren’t traditionally involved in the medical marijuana industry.
Wienbiz, a subsidiary of data analyst IHS Markit, opened its industrial-strength cannabis lab in Amsterdam in March 2017. Since then, it has expanded to offices in Utrecht, Arnhem and Den Bosch. Managing director Wim Verbeek says more than 50 people are working at the labs, which test for a variety of human health factors — including cannabis potency, content of active ingredients in cannabis and levels of pesticides. Each year, Wienbiz produces and delivers more than 5 tons of cannabis for testing.
Verbeek says Wienbiz’s key advantage over competitors like Elite Labs, which operates its own and contracted labs across the Netherlands, is that its workforce is made up of medical marijuana experts who have previously worked at the Centers for Disease Control. “We have some really bright scientists who are experts in cannabis,” he says.
Wiek van den Boogert, a director of waste management company Janssen, says the company is not currently involved in the cannabis industry. But he estimates that in about a year, as more companies begin doing business with cannabis, Janssen’s sewage division, which has no presence in the cannabis industry today, will be deployed for testing services.
“But we still haven’t reached the point that it’s something that we as a company want to get involved in,” he says.
Brussels-based Erritas, which opened a cannabis laboratory in November, reports it currently sends 90 tons of cannabis to its three industrial-strength labs. European authorities announced in December that they would require importers to declare whether the drug had been tested on Dutch soil. When those importers are found to have outsourced testing to Amsterdam, they will lose their licenses. The same holds true for importers that operate a facility in the Netherlands — they will be required to pay for and perform the testing themselves.
Erritas chief executive Duane Niessen says the move puts Dutch laboratories at a disadvantage because their businesses are run less efficiently than those of their European competitors. Erritas has expanded into factories in Brussels and Cologne in recent months. Niessen says additional EU-wide regulations in the works will provide additional checks for the cannabis companies that do business on the continent.
The Dutch government implemented more stringent rules for the growing and testing of medical marijuana in 2013, requiring producers of the plant to create and produce all cannabis plants — including seeds — in a sterile space free of soil and pollens. There is also a 20-meter pesticide and herbicide buffer zone around all growing premises and a 100-meter one around places that house the plants. Nearly all of these regulations began in 2014.
Bert Pedersen, a lawyer at Amsterdam’s Schiebel Samuela, says rules set by the Dutch government have fostered strong competition among the country’s cannabis companies. It was not uncommon, he says, for a large cannabis-manufacturing firm to employ seven to 10 people to measure, test and monitor their products in the past. But these days, he says, there are no large European-level cannabis manufacturers with as many employees. With international companies looking to do business in the Netherlands, he predicts the number of marijuana-manufacturing jobs in the country will continue to shrink.
“[The Netherlands] are playing a very hard game with a big stick,” Pedersen says. “But the government is solving their problems in order to attract those European players — which could be a big advantage for the Dutch industry in the long run.”