50 Years and Counting
It is 50 years since the Summer of Love attempted to break down cannabis prohibition. Thankfully the world's understanding and education of this hugely important plant has evolved significantly during this time.
However, the British attitude towards cannabis has not progressed or evolved as it has in a lot of neighbouring European countries. Cannabis law reform has always been a point of contention in British politics. To put this into context, possession of cannabis still comes with a potential 5-year prison sentence, a law that was introduced in 1971.
This being said, there have been certain silver linings. Aside from the cannabis investment sector which is beginning to get traction in the capital, the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries have begun to embrace and capitalise on the myriad of applications cannabis has to offer. And all within the boundaries of a very limiting UK law.
The UK is in the unfortunate position of having a confrontational, right wing and conservative government in power. The outlook for cannabis does not look good while the present government retains control of the country.
Having said that, there has been some positive political momentum in recent months with the Liberal Democrat party and members of the Labour Party (the current government’s chief opposition) calling for a dialogue to be opened up about the potential of cannabis law reform in the UK. Regional parties and MPs in Wales and Scotland have also been vocal on their desire for a reformed and legalised medical cannabis industry.
The UK could look to Australia where there are strong legal similarities and a legal blueprint is already in place for reformation. That country has laid the foundations for a considered and thriving legalised market.
At present, cannabis is not recognised as having any therapeutic value, meaning that its medical application is against the law and carries the same punishments as recreational use. However, there is a single exception with Sativex, the leading product of publicly listed GW Pharmaceuticals. It is a cannabis-based medicine for MS patients and was originally made available in the UK via the National Health Service in 2010. However, the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) deemed the product insufficiently effective in treating muscle spasticity for its price and so the drug is now only available privately… at a steep £375 + VAT.
The key reason that the price of Sativex is so high is due to the current expensive and bureaucratic process companies have to go through in order to attain the necessary licences to produce cannabis based medicines. This issue is surely a result of the UK’s increasingly archaic approach to the topic in general. This assumption is based on similar products to Sativex currently on the shelves in other countries across the globe - for prices significantly less than the UK equivalent.
There has been a swell in cosmetic companies utilising the cannabis extract, hemp-seed oil, over the last few years. Hemp-seed oil contains the essential fatty oils and antioxidants proven to have positive effects on skin-care ailments such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. British high-street mainstays, Body Shop and Holland & Barrett, both stock cosmetic products infused with hemp seeds either imported or grown on British soil.
Similarly, hemp-based cooking oils, milk, clothes and even books and paper are readily available on UK shelves. This demonstrates not only the versatility and profitability of the cannabis plant but also the enormous potential a reformation of UK cannabis law could bring. The UK is well set up to lead a brand driven but effectively regulated ‘health and wellness’ cannabis market when the government changes over the coming years.
There is still progress being made in the pharmaceutical sector - in spite of the regressive and obstructive UK cannabis laws. GW Pharmaceuticals are flourishing in the nascent global cannabis market. Their cultivation facility is based in Norfolk (hosted by British Sugar) and is 18-hectares in size - the equivalent of 23 football pitches. Here they are able to research, develop and produce cannabis-based medicine to export to the US, where medical cannabis continues to be among the fastest growing marketplaces.
Another company aiming to capitalise on the cannabis market is CBD vaporiser producers, MediPen, who this year opened the UK’s first publicly available 1,800ft sq dedicated cannabis research facility. The purpose of the facility is to “import and work with controlled compounds found in cannabis“ with an aim to “study the plant in further detail”. It also provides a platform for anyone looking to utilise its facilities for the purposes of driving innovation around the use of medicinal cannabis.
So, even while the UK is falling behind the global market, there are many companies and individuals providing groundbreaking and innovative research and insight into the potential of a legal cannabis market. British companies could still capitalise and flourish within the world’s fastest growing industry.
We believe that, as a global financial and business hub, London especially has the enviable potential of becoming the epicentre of the European cannabis industry. Unfortunately, the current reality is that progress is being impeded by the government’s insistence that medical patients and recreational users must follow archaic laws dating back 50 years.