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Is the UK missing out on the potential of the medicinal cannabis industry?

The UK is dealing with tough economic times. From the ongoing impact of the pandemic to the fallout from Brexit, rising inflation, soaring energy prices and increases in the cost of food and medicine, there’s plenty to be concerned about.

But is the UK missing out on the vast potential of an industry that offers so much? A recent report ‘New Leaf: Beyond Brexit, Countering Covid’ says so. The report was published in November 2021 by drug policy reform advocacy body Volteface. And it is clear that there is much to be gained by the UK Government buying into the medicinal cannabis industry.

Medicinal cannabis industry could be worth £1.2 billion to the UK

The report is unequivocal in its statement that the UK is missing out on a vast amount of income, and the potential to create 41,000 new jobs. And the thing holding the country back is the red tape.

Outdated licensing regimes are slowing the growth of the medicinal cannabis industry in the UK. At the moment, even very simple regulatory issues must go through the Home Office, which results in long delays and high costs to the taxpayer.

According to Volteface, the answer could like in the UK Government appointing a dedicated medicinal cannabis ‘tsar’ to speed up regulatory issues and boost the sector.

The report recommends a number of steps that could be taken to fully integrate the medicinal cannabis into the UK economy. This would, of course then go on to attract more investment, create more jobs and increase taxable revenue – all of which should be welcomed right now.

What does the current medicinal cannabis sector look like?

There have been a number of positive steps in the UK towards embracing the medicinal cannabis sector. For example, a range of medicinal cannabis businesses are now listed on the London Stock Exchange. These include Kanabo and Ciitech, among many others. We will undoubtedly see more follow suit throughout 2022 and beyond.

The fact that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) greenlit these LSE listings is progress in itself. By listing medicinal cannabis companies on the stock exchange, it shows that analysis has taken place to prove the legality and sound business practice in this sector.

Medicinal cannabis has, of course, been legal in the UK since 2018. We are also seeing a long-term boom in the sale and demand for products related to CBD.

Red tape is holding the UK back

Interestingly, some of the recommendations put forward in the report by the group include those already suggested by a separate task force. This was the task force for innovation, growth and regulatory reform, which was apparently well received by the prime minister.

Despite this enthusiasm for the industry, there has been frustratingly slow progress in capitalising on the potential of the market. It’s predicted that the CBD wellness market alone will be worth more than £1 billion by 2025.

However, antiquated policies are holding back the UK’s farming community from being part of it. According to Daniel Pryor, Head of Programmes at the Adam Smith Institute (also key contributor to the report), the UK is well positioned to take advantage of the benefits of the CBD market and the medicinal cannabis sector.

He says: “Thanks to our sensible, liberal approach to regulation, these fast-growing markets are already attracting innovation, investment and jobs to our shores.”

But he goes on to say, if the UK wants to become a market leader within Europe by bringing enormous relief to patients and to cement the UK’s position as a global centre for excellence in R&D, then much more must be done.

What can the UK do to advance its ambitions within medicinal cannabis?

Various recommendations from the report point towards actions that the UK Government could take to ensure that the country is part of this vital industry sector in a meaningful way.

The recommendations include the following:

  • Create a UK Governmental body to manage the expansion of the medicinal cannabis sector. This would remove the regulatory burden from the Home Office, which is currently slowing down the process.
  • Instigate a streamlined approach to regulatory matters for the medicinal cannabis sector in the UK.
  • Ensure that the Food Standards Association clarifies and refines the amount of THC that can go into CBD relate products. This clarity should encourage and help to expand further innovation and investment in the sector.
  • Invest in innovation, research and development in the sector via the British Chamber of Commerce. This would show that the Government regards the medicinal cannabis sector as a major growth area for the economy. It would also help to expand access to medicine.
  • Create local extraction sites and allow farmers in the UK to extract CBD from hemp flowers. This is an urgent need in order to normalise the production of hemp and allow innovation and development in this sector.
  • Make suitable legislative changes to allow the simpler flow of CBD products. Right now, customs and various regulatory bodies are slowing down the product supply chain and making it far more expensive than it needs to be. With some simplification, costs will come down and more people will have access to medicinal cannabis.
  • Alter the harsh regulations that state that medicinal cannabis prescriptions can only be made by specialist doctors. If this was replaced by doctors who have been certified through a specific qualification, this would open up this sector to far more people. This has been done in Germany, who are leading the way in expanding the sector in Europe. The UK should follow suit.
  • The UK should ensure that private patients can be reimbursed via health insurance.
  • Expand patient access to medicinal cannabis though the NHS by increasing the evidence base through a government-funded national trial.

We hope that the Government does follow the recommendations in this report. The UK is a great place right now to capitalise on the huge potential of the medicinal cannabis sector. And with a few tweaks that’s exactly what could happen.