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Cannabis in the UK: MPs Predict Legalization While Home Office Cracks Down on Hemp

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jul 30, 2019   
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It’s been another highly eventful week for cannabis in the United Kingdom. Three members of Parliament visited Canada to study its legal cannabis model, a cannabis-based drug from a British company got approval from a major European medicines panel, and the Home Office told one hemp farm to destroy its entire field of crops.

Luckily, we’ve gathered all the UK cannabis news worth knowing, so you don’t miss out on the conversation.

A Canadian cannabis trip

After traveling to Canada to study the country’s cannabis legalization process, a cross-party trio of MPs have predicted that the UK could legalize the drug within “five to ten years.” 

While cannabis can be prescribed by medical specialists in the UK, possessing the drug without a valid prescription can result in up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both

Speaking before the trip to the BBC, Labour MP David Lammy explained his hesitation to support legalization, stating that “the problem is, in a constituency like mine, there’s a brutal unfairness in the way that black youth are treated.”

“Often, when you go right back to the beginning of that conversation… the first contact with the police, and with crime, was marijuana use in their teens.”

Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly was slightly less reserved, describing himself as an open book when it comes to drug policy, while Sir Norman Lamb MP of the Liberal Democrats – the only political party in the UK that currently backs cannabis legalization – was openly supportive of the policy and even bought a small vial of cannabis oil during the trip. 

He used the oil on the nights he stayed in Canada, before taking a final dose and discarding the product before the plane journey home, telling the BBC, “I slept incredibly well. I took the drops and I slept very well on the plane home, I actually slept through breakfast.” 

The trip was organized by Volte Face, a UK-based group that campaigns for the legalizing cannabis in Britain. The trip was also sponsored in part by the North American cannabis company MPX, which denied suggestions from the BBC that it was trying to influence British politicians through funding the trip. 

Since returning, David Lammy has become a vocal advocate for the legalization of cannabis in Britain, against his party’s official stance on the issue. 

“I think I probably broadly agree with Norman [now]. I was always of the view that it is insane to be criminalizing as many young people as we are. Prohibition isn’t working. So, what I saw in Canada, it was the early stages of their experiment, but it was absolutely the direction we should be going in.”

Jonathan Djanogly remained reserved post-trip, but confided that he does believe that legalization will “happen at some point.” 

However, the UK Government has stated that it has “no intention of changing the law” when it comes to recreational cannabis. 

“The legalization of these substances would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery they can cause to families and society,” said a spokesperson from the Home Office.

Major European medicines agency OKs British-made cannabis drug 

The Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) has recommended approving the cannabis-based drug Epidiolex for use in Europe. 

The drug, made by the British company GW Pharmaceuticals, is an oral solution of CBD and is intended to be used as an adjunctive therapy for treating seizures in two forms of drug-resistant epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. 

Epidiolex has been proven effective in multiple clinical trials, and it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in America last June. 

The latest decision from the CHMP recommends that Epidiolex also be approved for use in Europe in treating the same conditions. This is also the first time that a plant-derived cannabis medicine has received a positive opinion in the EU’s centralized procedure for approving medicines. 

The final decision for approval now rests with the European Commission. GW Pharmaceuticals are expecting the Commission to make its decision over the company’s marketing authorization application around the end of September.

Home Office orders UK hemp farmer to destroy its crop

Hempen, one of the UK’s largest hemp farms, has been ordered by the Home Office to destroy its entire crop after its hemp grower’s license was unexpectedly rejected. 

Hemp law in the UK is complicated, but, in short, hemp farming is legal so long as a company meets certain conditions

All hemp farmers must hold a hemp growing license from the Home Office, which requires the farmers to inform the government of their exact seed types, the hemp's THC content, and where exactly the crop will be grown in relation to its surrounding.

Hemp growing licenses last for one growing season and must be renewed before farmers can begin growing their crop for the next.

Last year the Office also ruled that UK farmers couldn’t harvest hemp flower to produce cannabis oil or CBD, but could continue to grow seed and stalk for use in other applications. 

Hempen has held a hemp growing license for three years, and while it previously did mainly specialize in growing hemp flower for CBD, it reportedly pivoted its operations last November in light of the new Home Office ruling. Since then, the not-for-profit farm has focused predominantly on cultivating hemp seed and stalk for making cold-pressed seed oil and hemp flour, as well as other nutritional products. 

The hemp farm re-applied for its hemp growing license in December, but this month heard that its application had been unexpectedly rejected and that the Home Office would now require the firm to completely cease its production. 

Hempen started the process of destroying its entire crop last week in order to remain in compliance with the law. It’s estimated that the destroyed crop would have been worth approximately £200,000 in sales.

“In challenging economic times for British farmers, hemp is offering green shoots of hope as a rare crop that can pay for itself without subsidy,” Hempen co-founder Patrick Gillet told the BBC

“Instead of capitalizing on the booming CBD industry, the Home Office's bureaucracy is leading British farmers to destroy their own crops, and millions of pounds' worth of CBD flowers are being left to rot in the fields.”

Gillet questioned whether the Home Office should be involved in hemp farming, saying that the Home Office should allow the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take over the responsibility for regulating farmers. 

A petition on Change.org, started by Fred Fellowes, a fellow hemp farmer, calls on the Home Office to do just that. At the time of writing, the petition has nearly 7,300 of its target 7,500 signatories. 

The Home Office has said that it does not comment on individual cases.

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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