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UK Cannabis Experts Make Ten Recommendations for Industry Reform

By Alexander Beadle

Published: May 04, 2021   
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Cannabis experts are once again highlighting the need for reform in the UK cannabis industry, following the release of a new report from Maple Tree Consultants and Mackrell Solicitors.

Authored by medical cannabis experts, including neurologist Professor Mike Barnes and medical cannabis campaigner Hannah Deacon, the new discussion paper outlines the current state of the market and offers ten policy proposals for the UK government’s attention. These include the establishment of a centralized Office for Medicinal Cannabis, changes to the legally allowable upper limit for THC in hemp, and major reform of the current high-THC cultivation license system.

The discussion paper is formally supported by 16 other industry bodies, including the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, the Cannabis Trades Association, and the British Hemp Alliance.

The state of UK cannabis and the need for reform

Medical cannabis in the UK occupies a unique space. The UK is the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis products, as Cambridge-based biopharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals produces the popular pharmaceutical cannabis products Sativex and Epidiolex. But while the country excels at international exports, domestically, it still remains incredibly hard for patients to access the cannabis medicine they need.

Previously, medical cannabis advocates have written to the UK Home Secretary raising awareness for the current problems with patient access. In the first year after legalizing cannabis-based products for medicinal use (CBPMs), the National Health Service issued just 18 prescriptions, despite there being an estimated 1.4 million Britons currently self-medicating with cannabis to treat chronic health conditions. According to the new discussion paper, there have now been 6,000 prescriptions issued through private healthcare practices, but such private prescriptions are prohibitively expensive for most patients.

The past couple of years have also seen the rise of a new CBD industry in the UK. According to Prohibition Partners, a leading cannabis market intelligence firm and another supporter of this new paper, the UK CBD market could be worth up to £1 billion by 2025. But with the post-Brexit UK now responsible for handling its own novel food regulations, the country also has the opportunity to alter these regulations in new ways to support the growing industry if it so chooses.

Experts make ten recommendations to the government

Based on other similar financial projections, the report details the need for an established medicinal cannabis market and a robust CBD/industrial hemp sector in the UK. To this end, it makes ten key recommendations that the authors believe the government should pursue, including:

  • Allowing the cultivation of hemp flowers for CBD extraction.
  • Increasing the THC limit for approved hemp seeds to 1 percent.
  • Reviewing the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 to allow for justifiable medical claims on CBD products.
  • Ensuring that novel food regulations do not unfairly burden smaller firms and do not apply to whole plant hemp extracts.
  • Forming a new panel of UK and international cannabis experts to reassess current NICE guidelines for CBMPs.
  • Allowing GPs to prescribe medical cannabis.

Currently, cannabis industry guidance and regulation in the UK is handled by a wide array of different organizations, including the Home Office, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the NHS, and others. In order to properly manage an effective medical cannabis system, the report suggests the establishment of a single department – an Office for Medicinal Cannabis.

“It is no wonder that the medicinal cannabis sector in the UK is a mess,” the report states in its conclusion. “Presumably, the government, in changing the law, meant to allow access to cannabis as a medicine. If that was the case [sic] they have singularly failed to grasp the opportunity not only of helping people with chronic health conditions but of helping to establish a viable and dynamic new industry. Coordinating the medicinal cannabis agenda through a unified Office for Medicinal Cannabis will help to progress this agenda.”

In addition to the points above, the report also calls on the government to reform the current high-THC licensing system to make the process more streamlined, and to publish a guide for those applying for high-THC cultivation license in the hopes that more cultivators will apply and diversify the current pool of medical cannabis suppliers.

To this end, the report makes several suggestions on economic policy. Firstly, the authors ask that cannabis-related companies continue to be allowed to float on the London Stock Exchange. Additionally, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 should be reformed to allow easier investment in British cannabis business. Currently, an investor that runs a legal overseas cannabis business would run afoul of this law, which would lead to their proceeds being automatically categorized as “criminal property.”

Reviewing this legislation and adapting it to be more inclusive of the modern medical cannabis market would open up new avenues for investment in British business, the report argues.

The final recommendation asks the government to conduct a proper health economic analysis to understand the costs of introducing such a medical cannabis and hemp market.


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