Sunday Times – Online Article 5 May 2024

Hydrogen Utopia International PLC
07 May 2024


Hydrogen Utopia International PLC

 (the 'Company' or 'HUI')


Sunday Times - Online Article 5 May 2024

Hydrogen Utopia International PLC, a company specialising in turning non-recyclable mixed waste plastic into hydrogen and other carbon-free fuels, new materials or distributed renewable heat, would like to inform shareholders that there were 2 errors in the article published in The Sunday Times, on 5 May and entitled 'After years in the doldrums, is legal cannabis finally on a new high? Legalisation has proved a false dawn, whether for medicinal or recreational marijuana.'

Please note the following 2 errors:

1. The Sunday Times article states that harvest is every 8 weeks. This is incorrect. Harvest is currently every 3 weeks and anticipated to reduce to every 2 weeks from late August/September when 5 commercial greenhouses are expected to be fully operational; by then, 25 harvests a year of approximately 200kg of dried flowers per harvest are expected.

2. The Sunday Times article states that HUI owns Ohrid. This is incorrect. HUI has exercised its option to acquire 49% of Ohrid Organic Limited, parent company of Ohrid Organics DOO on 29 December 2023.

The Sunday Times online article dated 5 May 2024 can be accessed by readers with a digital subscription in this link:

The original article is reproduced below.

After years in the doldrums, is legal cannabis finally on a new high? Legalisation has proved a false dawn, whether for medicinal or recreational marijuana

In the mountain valley above North Macedonia's Lake Ohrid, eagles glide on the thermals against a clear blue sky. The air is crisp and alpine-clear. But beside a bumpy road flanked by densely forested hills, a pungent smell fills the air - the citric aroma of high-grade cannabis flowers.

These rural hills in the former Yugoslavia, and on the Greek side of the border to the south, hide a nascent European heartland for the cultivation of legal marijuana. After boom followed bust for the cannabis industry during the waves of legalisation in North America and Europe, there are hopes among brave investors that the region may form the basis of a sustainable business.

In a series of laboratory-clean greenhouses behind high barbed-wire fences at Ohrid Organics, men and women in medical-grade scrubs tend to thousands of cannabis plants in various stages of development. They clone, prune and monitor them as, thanks to a mixture of artificial heat and light, they go through an accelerated growing process. Harvest under such conditions comes every eight weeks.

"They're so beautiful! They're like my children," declared the delighted chief executive, Robbie Donchevski, a former semiconductor engineer who returned to his home country after a career in Taiwan.

Entry to the growing areas is allowed only through pressurised air jets that blow away any spores, insects or germs on visitors' clothes and hair that could infect the plants. There is a good reason for the obsessive cleanliness. These plants are destined entirely for the medical marijuana market - largely in Israel, Britain and Germany. When dried and packaged, Ohrid can guarantee they are free of pesticides and fungicides that might harm patients weakened by multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or other muscular conditions for which cannabis is claimed to be helpful.

And why is the location in this remote corner of eastern Europe so prized? Because an abundance of sunshine, water, cheap energy and labour up here means Donchevski can produce his weed for only 30 cents a gram. Most medical-grade marijuana is grown in hyper-optimised conditions completely indoors, using much more energy for heating, ventilation and artificial lighting.

A typical indoor "grow" - as farms in the industry call them - in Portugal or Israel would produce flowers at a cost of perhaps about €2 (£1.70) a gram. In the UK - where there are about four big grows in various undisclosed locations - costs run at about £4 a gram, industry experts said.

It remains to be seen whether Ohrid, owned by the London-listed firm Hydrogen Utopia, will thrive where farms in more expensive sunspots such as Portugal have gone bust. It is still in the testing stage after an €800,000 upgrade. But having just won its first order in England - for 50kg per month priced at €2.50 a gram - Donchevski is optimistic.

In 2017, as legalisation was about to sweep through North America, a stream of companies planning huge licensed grows to feed the expected boom raised money on the stock markets there. Canada won most of the floats because it had more relaxed rules than Wall Street. Shares in Aurora Cannabis tripled in value, making the Toronto-listed company worth about C$5 billion by the end of the year. Canadian rivals such as Aphria and Canopy Growth followed close behind.

Cannabis has been a plant in which investors - perhaps fittingly - have endured dizzy highs followed by crushing lows. It seemed entirely logical, as legislation stipulated that governments wanted licensed and regulated producers to thrive and squeeze out illicit growers. But in the years to come, investors found that when Canada and some American states legalised, pot smokers did not go rushing to the shiny new licensed producers in anywhere near the numbers expected.

These regulated farms, bound by strict rules on quality control and testing, found it impossible to compete with the decades-old black market growing the stuff in attics and garages.

Stockbroker Canaccord Genuity was responsible for bringing most of the companies to the Toronto Stock Exchange. As its London-based broker, Alex Brooks, recalled: "After a go-go 2017, in 2018 and 2019 it all basically went to shit." Shares in Aurora, Aphria and co collapsed.

Much of the blame can be placed on a basic misunderstanding - among the economists drafting the legalisation regime - of how the black market operated. Brooks explained that the street price of cannabis had been around C$6 or C$7 a gram for years. So, regulators assumed, set up the legal producers to sell within 5 or 10 per cent of that and you should take the market from the bad guys.

But it turned out that the black market operators' street price was nothing like a fair reflection of their cost price. As soon as licenced marijuana arrived, with its laboratory-controlled levels of the active compounds THC and CBD, the price on Canadian streets dropped 20 per cent.

Far from winning over dope smokers to the legitimate market, the complete opposite happened as street pot became available for pin money. "It was just not possible to match the illegal cost structure with high-quality legal supply," Brooks said.

Much of the legitimate cannabis grown in Canada ended up simply being destroyed due to a lack of customers. In the US states that liberalised, it was even worse, according to Brooks: "The price went straight down to 50 cents a gram. And obviously, you can't make legal supply work at that price."

The situation in the United States was made worse because cannabis was not allowed to be shipped across state lines, meaning companies had to set up costly growing facilities in each state, adding still more to their overheads.

Britain, like many European countries, did not want to follow Canada and the states in the US that legalised marijuana for recreational use. But in September 2018, following publicity around cases of sick children whose parents wanted to give them cannabis-based medicines to ease their pain, Sajid Javid, then the home secretary, relented. A law was passed allowing specialist doctors to prescribe them after a referral from a GP. It was designed to help ease conditions such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, the nauseous side-effects of chemotherapy and anxiety.

The regulatory shift inspired hopes for the flagging legal trade. But the hurdles to get a prescription were so high that the rush investors hoped for never materialised. As in the US, growers in Britain were not allowed to export their crop.

About 70 specialists across the UK are thought to be prescribing medical cannabis and with a lack of central data collection, the market size is hard to estimate. The market research group Prohibition Partners has estimated that 63,000 people will have been treated with medical cannabis in the UK by the end of this year.

Toby Shillito, an investment banker turned adviser to companies setting up cannabis facilities, is a stern critic of the current UK's regime. "Hardly anybody is using medical cannabis," he said. "Doctors don't prescribe it because it's not part of the medical school curriculum - and for the patient, it's difficult to get."

Patients must retrieve their medical records from their family GP, take them to a private cannabis clinic "and then hope that the specialist will prescribe it for you", he said. "It's a great shame," Shillito added. "We should be able to build a British industry with British science, with cutting-edge technology, creating jobs and stopping the black market, the stabbings and all the rest of the appalling stuff that goes with it."

Britain's biggest distributor and manufacturer is Curaleaf, a US cannabis giant set up by Boris Jordan - an American banker who has been controversial since the Ukraine war due to his many years working in Russia. Curaleaf has its own grow in Portugal, from where it imports cannabis oil or flowers in bulk before they are processed in Sunderland into pastilles, drops and other formats. Jonny Hodgson, its UK managing director, said dried flowers make up more than half of prescriptions, which patients inhale through a vaporising device. Smoking cannabis remains illegal, even for medicinal purposes.

Hodgson said: "Here in the UK, it is frustrating. People are not aware they can get cannabis legally prescribed to them; they think THC is illegal."

Germany has been one of Europe's most progressive countries on cannabis and last month relaxed its rules further, removing cannabis from the "narcotics" list - making it far easier for doctors to write prescriptions and pharmacies to give them out. The move triggered a wave of new prescriptions in Germany, with one teleclinic alone said to have treated about 100,000 patients in the first two weeks. In the UK, though, regulatory change is not seen as likely - either by a Labour or Conservative government.

In the US, meanwhile, deregulation continues apace, both for medical and recreational use. Last week President Biden's administration indicated that the federal government would recommend reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug and permit its medicinal purposes, opening up its use to all states. The share price of Curaleaf, which issued a statement describing the move as "monumental", shot up by nearly 20 per cent last week. At nearly C$8 a share - the company is based in New York but listed in Toronto - that was some way off its highs of C$16, but it signalled a partial recovery in the beaten-up sector.

Back in Macedonia, Donchevski - who says he does not use cannabis himself - is optimistic that his "babies" will find plenty of customers in Europe and Israel. "These plants are beautiful," he said. "They're better than roses."

For further information, please contact:

Hydrogen Utopia International PLC

Aleksandra Binkowska           

+44 20 3811 8770     


Alfred Henry Corporate Finance Limited (LSE Corporate Adviser)

Nick Michaels/Maya Klein Wassink                                                  

+44 20 3772 0021


Novum Securities Limited (Broker)                                                                    

Jon Belliss/Colin Rowbury                              

+44 20 7399 9400


About Hydrogen Utopia International PLC


HUI aims to become one of the leading new European companies specialising in turning non-recyclable mixed waste plastic into carbon-free fuels, new materials or distributed renewable heat.


A HUI facility uses non-recyclable mixed waste plastic as feedstock and turns it into syngas from which new products and energy can be produced. HUI anticipates that its revenues will be derived from a variety of sources, dependent upon location and configuration of the HUI facilities, including the sale of syngas, hydrogen and other gases, electricity and heat sales, and the payment to it of fees for a given quantity of non-recyclable mixed waste plastic received at a HUI facility.


HUI will target areas where there is significant private sector interest or potential, financial backing is accessible and or where substantial EU and/or government funded sources of grants and loans are or may be available. The global increase in fossil fuel-based energy prices reinforces the need for alternative, price competitive energy sources, which HUI's business model can provide.


The pressing need to deal with growing amounts of waste plastic combined with a real momentum in the use of hydrogen from renewable sources may pave the way for a rapid deployment of and investment in HUI facilities.

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