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Why Britain Should Be Backing Cannabis After Biden’s Win

By Mike Barnes

Published: Dec 16, 2020   

Photo by Deniz Fuchidzhiev via Unsplash

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This year’s US election brought even more drama to the tumultuous year that has been 2020, as Joe Biden secured an emphatic victory. However, another surprise winner may well be the cannabis industry, as its stocks soar.

The new president-elect has previously stated that he would seek to reform cannabis legislation in the US. This intention, coupled with the alleviating news of several successful Covid vaccines, has resulted in a rapid rise of cannabis businesses on the stock market, as a surge of investment floods the budding industry.

The UK would do well to cash in on this green rush, already having the genuine potential to be a world leader in the sector.

The UK’s bright potential

Unbeknown to many, Britain is the world’s largest producer of medical cannabis products, according to a United Nations report in 2018.

A recent report even revealed that the UK’s market could be worth up to £2.31 billion (US $3 billion) by 2024, while other reports forecast the global market to reach a staggering value of US $42.7 billion within four years. The UK has not been completely blind to this; major companies such as GW Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in England, have enjoyed prolific success in recent years.

But it is not just the corporations who will benefit. Based on the equivalent job market in the US, the UK could see 50,000 new jobs as a result of the cannabis industry. These will be wide-ranging roles of varying skill levels, from farmers, researchers, production workers to accountants, lawyers, and lab technicians to name a few.

The need for such employment streams is significant given the context of the pandemic and the potential implications of Brexit. As legislation develops and more opportunities for businesses in the sector arise, the industry will only continue to expand.

The market’s potential is arguably inevitable and possibly boundless given the huge strides respective countries have seen in the political progress and investment into research for the various treatments the drug offers.

However, this makes it more frustrating that there are prominent issues stopping the many cannabis businesses, and the country as a whole, from reaping the rewards from the increasingly lucrative sector.

Cannabis held back

One such issue is the dire lack of patient access which stubbornly remains. Despite the legalization of cannabis products for medical use in 2018, very few patients have been able to gain a prescription for such treatments on the National Health Service (NHS). A report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) revealed that less than 10 percent of the cannabis-based medical products (CBMPs) prescribed to patients in 2019 came from NHS prescriptions.

This is woefully disappointing. Ultimately, the cause can be boiled down to the outdated political discourse. This poor framing subsequently affects the education and research available to clinicians, who seemingly lack the confidence to prescribe these medicines, despite the abundance of international evidence showcasing their success.

The skepticism in Westminster is also having a substantial impact on the businesses within the emerging industry, as they face an unprecedented amount of red tape and restrictions.

In particular, the government has imposed disconcertingly strict regulations concerning the importing and exporting of the drugs. Currently, groups can only import cannabis in accordance with existing UK prescriptions, and most cannabis-based medicines will not be issued with export permits by the Home Office.

Such restrictions seemingly pose no purpose other than to hinder the growth of the industry, as excessive red tape may well result in forcing investment outside the UK.

A choppy forecast

This obstruction should alarm the government, especially given the lofty trade ambitions it has following the exit from the European Union. Although many businesses are aware of this and are currently lobbying for meaningful changes, an increasing amount are turning to more liberal, developed foreign markets such as Germany, Canada, and Australia.

Britain has a strong reputation in pharmaceuticals, emphasized by the recent success of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine. However, we simply will not become a market leader if such unnecessary restrictions remain.

Furthermore, more dangers are looming on the horizon if the UK’s cannabis industry does not see genuine reform. The government is currently running the risk of an American style “big pharma” monopoly as the current restrictions in place favor large companies, which have the resources and time to obtain the required licenses.

This is not just some far-fetched conspiracy theory either; the medicinal value of cannabis-based products has not only been proved but it is, in fact, increasing, as it offers alternatives for various existing treatments for serious conditions from epilepsy to chronic pain management. Large pharmaceuticals recognize this potential and it would be in their interest to lobby the government to withhold any reform, suffocating new, smaller, businesses in the sector in order to establish a monopoly in the future.

This practice is unfortunately consistent for the pharmaceutical industry in countries such as the United States, where companies capitalize on regulations to maximize their profits, at the cost of stifling the industry as a whole, ultimately restricting patient access.

If they are successful, which the government must ensure that they are not, it will also hamper the innovation within the market, limiting the flow of new products.

If Boris Johnson is serious about “levelling up” the UK, we must start with the cannabis industry. The amount of money that the country can benefit from is immense, not to mention the potential for the job market – both factors are sorely needed if the economy is to recover from the pandemic.

However, it is not a given. If businesses are not supported now, they will look elsewhere, which would leave Britain locked out of investment and at the mercy of big pharma.

Mike Barnes

Consultant Neurologist and Medical Cannabis Expert

Professor Mike Barnes is a consultant neurologist and medical cannabis expert, who, as chair of the UK's Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, is dedicated to bringing this safe and effective medicine to people living with chronic conditions. He has contributed to Analytical Cannabis since 2020.


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