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Has the UK’s medicinal cannabis reform gone to pot?

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Medicinal cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018, however, the NHS has only administered a handful of prescriptions, it has been reported. By contrast, 6,000 prescriptions have been prescribed in the same period through private healthcare. Small vials of medicinal grade cannabis oil can cost hundreds of pounds when bought privately. According to parents of children with severe and daily seizures, the vials last on average two days, making the cost unsustainable.

The UK could create a £2bn industry, based on a 2019 YouGov study that suggested 1.4m people in the UK were already self-medicating using marijuana bought off the streets. This can often mean people are putting themselves in dangerous situations because they cannot afford to purchase through a private clinic.

Patients that have commented in the mainstream press, including on LBC radio, that the NHS is unwilling to supply on grounds of cost and lack of clinical evidence that cannabis is a proven drug for a variety of conditions. These ailments or serious health conditions can include gout, epilepsy, chemo-related pain and lack of appetite, and eye conditions, to name a few. Patients that have used medicinal grade marijuana argue that immediate results and sweet relief are undeniable, yet getting it on the NHS is rarely if ever an option.

Legal restrictions currently include how cannabis can be grown, imported and used, yet once those restrictions are examined and loosened, the UK could see a flurry of regulated and licensed businesses come to market, much like we have seen in the US, subsequently bringing down prices.

Cannabis reform: what’s next?

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Access to Medical Cannabis under Prescription is sending a report this week to Westminster to help secure appropriate access to medical cannabis on the NHS. Chaired by MPs Jeff Smith and Crispin Blunt the group is urging regulators to loosen restrictions that have been discouraging the NHS from procuring prescribing medicinal cannabis.

The report also argues that medicinal cannabis could be thousands of jobs within the licensed medical cannabis production and distribution networks.

The group is calling for restrictions to be lifted on cannabis in its various forms including full-plant extract containing both CBD and THC in formulations produced to a consistent high-quality pharmaceutical grade and manufactured to GMP standard.

Cannabis reform: Khan he get it passed?

Earlier this month, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan pledged to convene an independent commission that will report on the feasibility of cannabis decriminalisation in the UK’s capital, if he’s re-elected in the upcoming mayoral elections.

Mayor Khan of the Labour party said the drugs commission would review the possible health, economic and criminal justice implications of the move, but ruled out considering other drugs such as cocaine and heroin for decriminalisation, according to a report by news and research site, Marijuana and the Law.

Under the UK’s drug laws, cannabis is considered a class-B substance, while cocaine and heroin are class-A meaning they incur stiffer punishments.

In announcing the commission, Khan cited widespread support for marijuana legalization in London, with some polls finding nearly two-thirds of the capital’s residents are in favour of the move. Across the UK, a Survation survey reported nearly half of UK residents also support cannabis legalisation, with only 30 percent against the move.

“It’s time for fresh ideas about how to reduce the harms drugs and drug-related crimes cause to individuals, families and communities,” Khan said in a press release. “The commission will make recommendations focusing on the most effective laws to tackle crime, protect Londoners’ health, and reduce the huge damage that illegal drugs, including cannabis, cause to our communities and society.”

What do other politicans think?

In a Sky Interview (see video below) Keir Starmer would appear content on current drug laws. His viewpoints on drugs are heavily based on his dealings with cases during his time as Director of Public Prosecutions. He recalls in the video that he had witnessed all too often the damage caused by drug-related violence, gang activities and county lines exploitation.

According to Transform, the UK drug policy foundation, Keir’s experience is an “argument for change.”

“The violence and exploitation Starmer describes are precisely the consequence of a market that remains completely outside of formal control, and tangible evidence that the enforcement-led approach has failed,” said Transform in a report.

“If what motivates Sir Keir’s view on drug policy is the litany of failures that he describes, then the only possible conclusion is reform – because the same policies can only produce the same failures. Defaulting to more of the same is not a neutral position: it is to actively support policies that produce the harms he decries,” the foundation said.

What is the difference between medicinal marijuana and CBD oil?

Marijuana-derived CBD oil can be considered medical marijuana since it meets the definition of marijuana and is commonly used for medical purposes. However, hemp-derived CBD oil is not considered medical marijuana.

Cannabis products with less than 0.3% THC are considered to be hemp-derived. Medical marijuana, a general term used to describe marijuana products, refers to products with more than 0.3% THC that are taken for medical purposes, according to CBDOilUsers.com

How big is the UK CBD oil market?

The UK CBD oil market, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is continuing to increase in size, according to High Times. With a current market value of £300 million, the UK’s CBD market is expected to continue to grow as it offers entrepreneurial and employment opportunities and is a major source for tax revenues. 

The Food Standards Agency (known as the FSA) has announced new regulations surrounding CBD products sold in the UK. As of 2021, CBD products are allowed to be legally sold in the UK, providing that the THC content (tetrahydrocannabinol) content is zero or trace amounts (0.2%). Companies must also obtain a valid novel foods license in order to remain in the market after March.

“This is a step in the right direction, as consumers will only be buying from the UK’s best CBD oil brands who are compliant,” said the report.

Why is the US ahead of the UK medicinal marijuana market?

  • It is predicted that in 2025, legal marijuana sales will earn as much as $23 billion in the US alone (New Frontier Data, 2018)
  • Ancillary and product companies make up for the number of cannabis stores in the US with a minimum of 13,000 businesses and a maximum of 18,000 businesses (Marijuana Business Daily, 2017)
  • 2016 became the year of investment in the legal cannabis industry, totalling to a sum of $477.96 million (New Frontier Data, 2017)

Reform of US federal banking rules could finally allow legal marijuana businesses to access banks.

Progressive California state Democrat Barbara Lee announced on her Twitter account last week that the House of Representatives had passed the #SAFEBanking Act so that businesses in the 47 states where some form of marijuana is legal no longer have to operate cash only.

“This is a step toward ending the failed war on drugs and bringing restorative justice to our Black and Brown communities,” said Lee.

The move would end a “dangerous and unwieldy cash-only cannabis industry,” reported Forbes cannabis capitalism contributor Chris Roberts.

Roberts said in his report that the new legislation could encourage investment that would diversify and make more equal what’s to date been an industry “dominated mostly by white men and wealthy capitalists.”

Interested in how laws on drug use have changed over the years? Check out this timeline: Timeline | Transform (transformdrugs.org)

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