By Emily Ledger
The prime minister and government are coming under increasing pressure from senior advisors, MPs, and industry members to make meaningful changes to current UK cannabis laws. Advocates for reform claim that the UK cannabis sector is being held back from achieving its full potential despite a flourishing CBD industry and the legalisation of medical cannabis back in 2018.
Last week, a senior government taskforce, led by former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan-Smith, laid out to the prime minister a number of ways that the UK could ‘boost its economy by taking advantage of its post-Brexit regulatory freedom’. Their findings could mean spark significant changes to the UK’s rules and regulations around hemp and cannabis.
According to a member of the TIGRR taskforce, George Freeman MP, the proposals identify “an opportunity to frame a whole new UK industrial hemp industry”. The proposals are made with the backdrop of Novel Foods validations that are set to provide regulation to the UK’s ever-growing CBD industry.
CBD and Industrial Hemp
With the growth of the CBD sector in recent years – both in the UK and in other countries – the potential health and wellness benefits of the cannabis plant, and the boost that this can give to economies, have become increasingly recognised.
While CBD products are legal in the UK, British companies are forced to import the product from abroad due to UK legislation restricting the extraction of the compound from hemp crops. In addition, CBD companies must now have a validated Novel Foods application in order to sell their products in the country.
At the Medicinal Cannabis Summit hosted by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, Mr Freeman said:
“If we can get the regulatory framework right…where there is huge demand for medical cannabis and medical cannabinoid products, then we could start to grow more of that and supply that product here in the UK.
He continued: “We could have an industrial hemp industry that would be good for British farming and agriculture, we would not rely on imports so much to develop these products and that would be good for the balance of trade.
“We’ll be setting out what needs to be done and then there is a genuine political challenge for any government and the Prime Minister and No. 10 who will consider all of the recommendations and how to implement them.”
Under current regulation, farmers can apply to the Home Office for a license that will allow them to cultivate industrial hemp under strict conditions. However, only the seeds and stalks may be processed from the crop with guidance stating that the flowers and leaves of the plants must be destroyed on-site.
It is hoped, however, that this could soon change as the TIGRR taskforce takes a closer look at the industrial hemp and medical cannabis industry for potential growth opportunities in post-Brexit Britain.
A spokesperson for the Association for the Cannabinoids Industry said: “The Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform and the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs review of consumer cannabis extracts each present new opportunities to develop public policies that support the growth of the sector. It’s encouraging that each are engaging constructively with the industry and are receptive to new ideas.”
In November 2018, the government rescheduled cannabis in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, effectively legalising the medical use of the plant. While this sparked optimism for both advocates and patients, a recent report, backed by 16 industry bodies, claims that the UK medical cannabis sector is “a mess” with only three medical cannabis prescriptions administered through the NHS in over two years.
The report has been backed by a cross-party parliamentary group chaired by MPs Crispin Blunt and Jeff Smith. According to the Financial Times, the report is set to be sent to Westminster this week.
The Financial Times has revealed some findings of the report including that changes to rules on the cultivation, import and use of cannabis could create a UK industry worth $2bn. Estimates based on models from Canada and cannabis-legal US states state that an expanded industry could also create tens of thousands of jobs.
The report lays out a number of proposals, such as making it easier to grow cannabis for medicinal use and allowing the extraction of CBD. It will also reportedly argue that general practitioners should be allowed to prescribe medical cannabis products as well as specialist doctors.
Medical cannabis can currently be prescribed by specialist clinicians for a number of conditions when traditional treatment options have failed. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) only recommends cannabis products in a small number of indications, including treatment-resistant epilepsy, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and spasticity and stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis.