There is nobody in the German medical cannabis industry, if not increasingly European one, who does not know the name Peter Homberg. He is a partner at Dentons Europe LLP (now based in Berlin but with a stint in Frankfurt) where he heads the Life Sciences and European Cannabis sector group. In this role, he has carved out a practice that specializes in the “new” (post 2015/2016) German cannabis market like no other.
In fact, he has had a ground floor seat in helping to create it in the first place, as well as representing some of the industry’s largest names (and transactions). The interesting thing about Homberg, however, is that he does not just work on the big deals. Walking into his regular industry update seminars (put on hold because of Covid) is an introduction to the faces and companies including start-ups, and at every level, of the industry aus Deutschland. Taking place at the Denton’s swanky law office in central Berlin they are a bit too conventional, for all the obvious reasons, to be called “cannabis salons.” But that is, from a legal and regulatory perspective, exactly what they have been so far.
A Look Past The CV
These are the corporate shingle highlights: Homberg worked as in-house counsel for some of the largest companies in the country beginning in 1996—including Daimler Benz and Roche Diagnostics. After a stint in several well-known German and international law firms, he was also on the ground floor of the founding of Dentons in 2012.
However, Homberg also has the heart of a cannabis entrepreneur who does not just focus on the “big guys.” He has also consistently given back to the community—most recently by kicking off a must-attend 20-minute digital legal update via Zoom briefing that is likely to become the hottest monthly ticket in Europe for everyone who is everyone in the “biz.” This is especially true as things begin to thaw from not only the Pandemic front, but all the rather major reform that has been steadily ticking through the powers that be (read the WHO, the European Commission and various other major court challenges) beginning to take effect on a national level. Or not, as the case may be.
He is also a big patient advocate—although in Homberg’s case, he has worked with other medicines than cannabis. “Throughout my career, I believed that the work I am doing has, to a certain extent, a positive impact on patients (and of course clients).” He laughs. Among his other attributes, he is also a German lawyer with a good sense of humor.
In short, it is hard really to pigeon-hole him. He has the legal savoir faire and résumé of a corporate shark who might pass for Richard Gere’s (younger) brother. But he is also passionate about this industry and those who need the drug to allow them to live more comfortably—if not function at all.
“I am a strong believer that cannabis as a medicinal product is a wonderful addition if not a replacement to the treatment of various diseases and should have been made available to patients even earlier than 2017,” he says. “When that liberalization came which I foresaw some time before, I thought it would be a good idea to help the upcoming industry in Germany to establish themselves in the marketplace and to provide high quality products to patients as additional or even replacement treatment for their diseases.”
His cannabis practice, as one might expect, has grown rapidly.
Through the Weeds
When asked what the most satisfying work for him is, Homberg is quick to respond. “The fact that we have seen new products reach the market very quickly and the increasing numbers of patients, not to mention the positive data published by BfArM.” This is the agency also known as the Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte or in a less tongue twisting version of the same, the German version of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “This is a large observational study. It has positive effects on various diseases and of course not for all patients, but a great number of patients,” he says.
Germany is fairly unique still in terms of nationalizing medical cannabis discussions in that the conditions, at least theoretically, the drug may be prescribed for are not defined by the legislature but rather left up to doctors. That said, by far, the greatest number of prescriptions so far are chronic pain, along with conditions associated with cancer and MS.
Homberg knows that this will also change. So much, indeed has, in a mere half decade.
When asked what still frustrates him, if anything, he laughs and pauses for a moment. “I am too old to get frustrated—by anything. But I think the most difficult issue is the problem of regulatory conformity in the EU at the moment. You also see the beginnings of this in the U.S. right now. There is going to be a huge problem when the U.S. finally unites behind federal reform and the state markets have to do the same thing. This is an issue we here in Europe are facing at the moment. On the country level, you see this problem on a constant, daily basis and this needs to be harmonized, quickly.”
While he does not add this, perhaps because this is such a well-trodden space for him, it is also an issue far beyond cannabis. Regardless, and perhaps for this very reason, this is a topic Homberg is quite passionate about. “The European Commission needs to establish a framework for cannabis. This is a long process, but it has to be done. The European Parliament is putting the task of harmonization on the desk of the European Commission at the moment. No harmonization equals issues with cross border sales, with the quality determinations standards, and that is something that needs to be regulated on an EU wide basis.”
Market Opportunities Are Growing
Homberg is also pleasantly surprised by the speed of market development in Germany (although of course this is all relative). There are still far too many cannabis patients who cannot get basic access. From his perspective at least, he also thinks that physicians are increasingly starting to accept and prescribe cannabis.
Homberg is, for all his enthusiasm, however, not unaware of the patient issues still in the room. “I know there are a number of cases against health insurers by patients. This is a difficult issue here in Germany. Before therapy begins, patients have to apply to get the reimbursement approval from insurers and this is then checked on a longer-term basis. This also may result in some cases of rejections that are not justified.”
One of the most positive developments of late? He is quick to respond. “The fact that the price of cannabis is no longer distorted by an overwhelming additional surcharge that pharmacists were required to apply, by law, that was a 100% increase in the price of cannabis at point of sale. That is a big step forward.” That is a very recent change. The new Annex 10 to the Auxiliary Tax Treaty between pharmacies and the statutory health insurers came into effect in March 2020.
There will also be many more victories to come.
In many ways and for many reasons, because of the work of one Peter Homberg, Esq. German Cannabis Lawyer. No other explanation or definition required.