Lidl Grocery Store Chain Raided by Bavarian Police Over CBD cookies

Lidl’s embarrassing incident at one of the world’s top retailers underlines how hazardous the industry in Germany still is.
Lidl
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Lidl just experienced a grocery store chain being raided, and all because of CBD cookies. 

In a rather amusing or shocking incident, depending on where you sit, the German police have raided a Lidl grocery store in Bavaria (known locally not only as Bayern but also somewhat accurately as the “Texas of Deutschland”) over some CBD cookies. Plus, it was reported they raided the establishment for another assorted, otherwise innocuous 20 products including “cannabis energy drinks” and “hash brownies.”

The incident, as reported in the München Abendzeitung (an evening newspaper of the digital kind), is a testament to how difficult the local cannabis market still is, even for big companies that decide to join the hemp parade.

Beyond the legal issues and technicalities, the humor in this story (not to mention the cautionary tale) is manifest. It is certainly a cannabis-scented Grimm fairy tale gone rather bad.

The “Texas of Germany” and Cannabinoids

To set the scene for those who have never experienced Bavaria in the flesh, this is a bucolic part of the world known for a few things that are also broadly popular elsewhere—football (albeit of the soccer kind) and beer (of the German variety). 

And, of course, it’s also known for strange fashion ideas that lead to adult human beings being not the least bit self-conscious in walking down the street even at high noon in “traditional” German clothing. This attire is known as lederhosen or leather shorts (for gentleman) and Dirndls, a kitsch, Cinderella-Disney kind of outfit with lots of cleavage and poof as well as a lace up corset (for ladies). The locals do this even in months that are not October (known, of course, locally for Oktoberfest and internationally for Halloween).

Beyond the rather odd local fashions, there is certainly an aspect to Bavaria that is picturesque if not familiar elsewhere on the planet, minus a language that is tongue-twisting (just ask Mark Twain). Walt Disney certainly took a great deal of inspiration from this part of the world (as did Adolph Hitler).

Bavaria also has a few other characteristics. Rules here, particularly for Auslanders—read: even Germans not “from here” are strict to a degree that is teeth-numbing for those unaccustomed to the same. 

As in all such bizarrely strict places on Earth to live, it is also a state with one of the highest numbers of cannabis patients in Germany, in part because the cops do not think twice about busting even patients for small amounts of weed (although post 2017 this has relaxed somewhat). It is no accident that Gunther Weiglein, the patient whose lawsuit changed the federal law here in 2017, is also from Bayern.

If there was to be a mainstream grocery store that might be raided by the fuzz over hemp cookies, it would probably be a place like Munich. And of course, the cops did not disappoint. 

If this was a skit, it would be like German, cannabis-themed Monty Python. The only thing that is missing here is the dead parrot.

“Several articles have been secured,” according to police spokesman Stefan Sonntag after a Rosenheim branch of the grocery store was raided by the polizei. The items are currently being tested–even though the items are from a manufacturer who only produces THC-free products.

Lidl and Corporate Embarrassment

Here is the next disaster. Lidl, the fifth-largest retailer in the world, with annual sales in the multiple billions, decided to jump into the cannabis frenzy with a no-holds barred lack of caution that was rather shocking to anyone with any experience in the actual cannabis industry, certainly in Europe if not Germany.

Namely, as of this spring, brightly coloured inserts began arriving in households all over the country, delivered not via digital means but rather through post-boxes, proudly advertising CBD products on the front of their garishly adorned (and wrapped in plastic) mailers. Whoever was corporate counsel on this one was absolutely sleeping. A whole marketing department somewhere should probably lose their jobs.

Here is the first reason. For those unfamiliar with German law, CBD is still part of the German Narcotics Act. Namely, it may not be “advertised,” and certainly not to consumers via a grocery store mailer, delivered through the post. Major cannabis companies (starting with Tilray) have ended up on the wrong side of German law in court for less.

Here is the next bummer. The discounter signed an agreement with a start-up company, The Green Dealers, to deliver about 1.5 million CBD and THC-free articles to the company.

Of course, this should also come as no surprise in a country where the sellers of hemp tea have also been targeted routinely. So far, the rulings on this, even at the federal level, have not removed CBD from the Narcotics Act, but rather focused on the levels of THC in seized items. Beyond this of course, the start-up distributor sells products from a Czech-based manufacturer. If there were ever a test case in Germany to match the French decision last year (namely that imported CBD products, in this case, vapes from another part of the EU, when legally produced could not be banned from sale) this would be it.

It is hard to believe that this is not a set up if not fake news. However, this being Bavaria right now, if not Deutschland, it is also very easy to understand that it is not. 

The Strange, Grey Area of the German Hemp Market

Here is where all of this gets weird in a country where (at least in Frankfurt in the adjoining state of Hesse albeit also home to the international banking set) local hemp shops advertise freely on the outside of street cars, and in a way semi familiar to Americans. 

Here is the bottom-line reality. There is no real cannabis reform in Germany. The medical change that happened over the past four to five years has certainly begun to reset the conversation, but the huge and looming gaps between the haves and have-nots is already in the room. The young and innocent believe that cannabis reform might be a victory in the election, but this is largely a false hope—at least at the ballot box. German politics do not allow the kind of voter-driven, state referendums as seen in America.

The privately insured everywhere can gain access to the kind of cannabis they want. In places like Frankfurt, however, patients on public health insurance (90 percent of Germans) are facing doctors who are refusing to take more than two patients because of the regulatory requirements they face. This is also not uncommon in places like Bayern, where doctors are threatened by regular visits from the police as well.

Advertising is also in a strange place including social media issues familiar to anyone in the U.S. market—as is the ability of even licensed medical cannabis companies to achieve recurrent patient sales. The only “sure thing” here is actually dronabinol, the supposed “generic extract” that is currently being sold as an on-market drug for the benefit of both distributors and pharmacies.

The problem of safe access to cannabis products, of both the medical and “adult use” kind, starting with safety for not just patients and other customers but vendors is much in the news here as it is elsewhere. 

Ziya Gaziyev, the CEO and co-founder of a Berlin-based online cannabis platform called HelloMary, which uses doctor trained artificial intelligence (AI), said, “The market has never been more direly in need of a safe, secure, digital platform to buy, sell and transact in legal cannabis products.”

That is, at least, a universal theme, no matter where you are in the world of international cannabis. Strange costumes notwithstanding.

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