An Unusual Medicine
This time last year the Mediterranean island state of Malta became the first country in Europe to legalise cannabis for personal use; as far as I know the Maltese sky hasn’t yet caved in and reports on the ground seem to indicate that society there is quite content with the change.
In the last few weeks Germany, the largest economy in the EU, has announced that cannabis prohibition will be replaced by a set of cautious regulations that permit the cultivation, preparation, sale and consumption of cannabis by consenting adults.
Germany legalised cannabis for medical use in 2017. Meanwhile in the UK, after four years of legal medical cannabis a recent survey has found that 49% of the population are not aware of the change in law.
Patient support forums online are saturated with anxious comments detailing encounters with the police, employers and even healthcare professionals who remain ignorant of cannabis’s status as a medicine and hostile towards the individuals who use it.
There are an estimated twenty thousand people in the UK who access cannabis legally; all but three of these patients do so through one of several lucrative private clinics that have sprung up since the 2018 reforms.
Consultants meet their patients on Zoom and prescriptions are fulfilled by a dispensing pharmacy, many of which are queueing up to do so.
Almost all of the medical cannabis in the UK is imported from abroad; countries like Israel, the Netherlands and Canada send billions of pounds worth of legal weed through customs every year. The UK is home to a handful of large cannabis producers, almost exclusively for export.
Approximately one third of medical cannabis patients in the UK have issues with sub-standard products being sold at a premium by pharmacists.
As the cost of living crisis spirals, reports are surfacing of medical cannabis patients turning to black market dealers who don’t charge for a consultation fee and offer same day delivery at no extra charge.
The overwhelming majority of cannabis in the UK is supplied by illicit traders; the 20,000 patients mentioned earlier make up less than one quarter of 1% of the total number of users in the country.
Cannabis is an unusual medicine. One of its redeeming features is that it is quite enjoyable to consume. Of course this is a twin edged sword, our society already tolerates more harmful drugs in the form of alcohol and tobacco. So what makes cannabis different? Precedent…
Cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1972 when the Misuse of Substances Act was introduced by a Conservative Home Secretary. The law prohibited possession of the drug but also made it almost impossible to research its potential medical applications.
Decades passed before regulations were loosened for multi-billion pound pharmaceutical companies with sweetheart deals. The Home Office issues arrest warrants for home-growers signing off on licenses for their friends and family in big pharma.
Public health and market data from the US and Canada gives us a glimpse of what liberal cannabis legislation could do for our country. Jurisdictions with legal weed see decreases in drug related crime alongside fewer units of alcohol and tobacco sold.
Cannabis becomes the medicine of choice for many patients, replacing costly synthetic drugs that carry a significantly higher risk of harm in the form of addiction, side-effects and sometimes death.
People who consume cannabis moderately report improved mood and sleep, without a reduction in productivity. In fact, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created in the cannabis industry in the US alone, while wrinkles in the policy need ironing out, it is worth noting that not a single state has rolled back legalisation.
Estimates suggest a legal cannabis market in the UK would garner a billion pounds a year in tax revenue as well as saving the police and courts about half a billion.
The economic argument for the repeal of cannabis prohibition is high school politics and it is inevitable that those in Government have encountered these figures already, so why not move to regulate the market and take back control from the criminal gangs? As things stand, a handful of politically connected companies retain a large share of the admittedly small domestic market while the law discriminates against those who can’t afford to comply.
The UK is already an outlier; estranged from the European single market, suffering from poor growth, dwindling investment relative to our peers and high employment with chronically low productivity. Our international reputation for sound governance has been trashed by Tory vandals. We have become little more than an expensive punchline.
The same government who collapsed the pensions market and do less than the bare minimum in the face of economic catastrophe also maintain that cannabis prohibition is a sensible course of action, despite evidence to the contrary.
Data from Public Health Scotland indicates there are approximately 350,000 cannabis users in Scotland, 3,000 doing so legally. The only progress in legislation since 2018 has been tightening restrictions on the burgeoning CBD market, which is being reshaped in the likeness of a “pharmaceutical idyll”.
Many people in the UK are now coming round to the idea that the government isn’t doing much to help them.
In the canna-sphere that’s called business as usual. ■
Big pharma has its beady eye on CBD