Here is the fascinating, if not frustrating, thing about U.K. cannabis reform: It is not like the government hasn’t seen the potential for years. Indeed, former Prime Minister Theresa May’s husband was the major shareholder in GW Pharmaceuticals before it was bought out.
However, for reasons deliberate and not so, the British government is becoming more invested in at least medical cannabis.
In the case of Grass & Co., a CBD manufacturer, the U.K. government became a part owner after its emergency start-up COVID loan converted into shares. The Future Fund was set up during the depths of the COVID pandemic to provide convertible loans to 1,190 companies. Three hundred and thirty five of those companies have been unable to pay back the funds, so the investment made in them has converted into equity.
Where is British Cannabis Reform?
The entire British conundrum over cannabis has lurched forward in strange ways. In 2018, the government allowed cannabis to be dispensed by prescription—the only problem was that most patients could not access the drug as it was not reimbursed by the National Health Service (NHS). Today, most patients in the U.K. obtain their cannabis from either private clinics or via Project Twenty21, a non-profit study which has enrolled approximately 20,000 patients.
Beyond this, the government has also so far, at least, explicitly refused to consider patients who suffer from chronic pain. About one in three adults in the U.K. suffers from this condition.
Earlier this year, the government finally allowed CBD products to go on sale—but not without setbacks. The application process was so fraught with setbacks that the application and approval process has been extended. There are now about 3,500 products on the market here and that is expected to increase.
The U.K., in other words, has not really seen real medical reform.
In the meantime, for the most part, the entire topic of recreational cannabis is mostly off the agenda.
Bright Spots on the Islands
If real reform that includes THC has been a political third rail in national British politics, there are signs that the topic is gaining traction in fits and starts.
The first is that, no matter the delay, there is increasing interest in the treatment of chronic pain with cannabinoids. A prominent Harley Street clinic has tried (and so far, failed) to launch a 5,000-person trial to study the impact.
Beyond this, reform is clearly moving on islands around the U.K. Both Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey are moving forward with plans to cultivate high THC cannabis. Beyond this, ground has been broken on the Isle of Man, just south of the southern coast of the U.K., for a large cultivation facility.
The only place in the U.K. where recreational cannabis has been taken seriously so far is Guernsey, where legislators are openly talking about moving forward.
Why is Reform Here so Fraught with Setbacks?
Part of the problem in the U.K. right now is that there are just so many other large and looming issues. Brexit actually created the first delay here. Patients who had, just months before, suddenly been given the right to obtain cannabis by prescription suddenly faced an interruption in supply from continental Europe. Then there was an intercession by the British government, which denied chronic pain patients the right to be considered for cannabis treatment.
Beyond this, both the pandemic and of course the war in Ukraine have created economic and political disruption. And that is before the many scandals currently afoot in Whitehall.
Tragically, it is the British people who suffer from every delay. However, it is clear that the British cannot sidestep the issue—and there are signs that the entire discussion is moving ahead, albeit painfully slowly.