While cannabis legalization across the board may still be a long way off, what cannot be ignored is a new public interest in medical cannabis.
Weed World is very pleased to be a Media Partner with the new Hemp & CBD Expo which is coming to Birmingham, March 2nd – 3rd 2019. Over the years, the UK has had its fair show of cannabis-related shows and events but they have often struggled to make their mark against such an inhospitable legal and cultural backdrop. However, organizers are banking that this new event is going to channel the zeitgeist and attract those from outside the cannabis community as well as those from inside it.
For starters, the Hemp & CBD Expo is taking place at the NEC, one of the nation’s more established and well recognized exhibition venues. If ever there was a mainstream, public-friendly place to make a sales pitch for medical cannabis products, then this is it! The expo also comes at a time when the British government seems to be putting some pragmatism into cannabis policy, following new regulations allowing medical cannabis to be prescribed to patients. Then there is the legal status of CBD in the UK – and the fact that you can buy it on your local High Street – which is challenging old myths that sought to paint cannabis in a purely negative light.
The Hemp & CBD Expo organizers are betting that now is the right time for the country and that their experience in the E-cigarette and vape industry sector will provide a blueprint for an expo to bring another piece to the puzzle to the normalization of cannabis in the UK. This involves putting on a show that ticks all the right boxes in terms of keeping everything inside the realms of present UK law with an emphasis on information, education and connecting people with quality products.
This event will not be a UK version of the unbridled smokefest, Spannabis: entertainment will be more chilled and there will be a big seminar element, taking in topics such as farming, market analysis, global trends and regulation. The main focus will be on exhibitors and the kind of quality products they offer – for B2B and consumers – and the organizers are excited to have signed up big names from the USA and Europe – the likes of Gen Canna, Dinafem and Blühen – alongside lesser-well-known UK brands.
“People are starting to realize the potential of CBD ,” says expo organizer, Tom Prendergrast. “A significant knock-on effect of that is a change in perception. CBD is a way for people to realize that you don’t need to have the psychoactive element to enjoy cannabis. CBD has so many benefits for people across the age range. It’s like the PG version of cannabis.”
Tom speaks from experience as a CBD user. He grew up in California where his kicks came from extreme sports – rollerblading at a high level and later snowboarding. Now in his thirties all those years of throwing himself around have come back to bite him. CBD helps him to manage back, shoulder and knee pain, as well as help with his insomnia. For him, CBD is a way of dealing with his ailments without relying on a handful of pills (with a list of potential side effects) meted out by a doctor based on a ten-minute consultation.
CBD has a lot going for it, but just as with any ‘next big thing’ (from olive oil and Goji berries to Echinacea and Probiotics) sifting out the credible claims from the big claims takes some doing. “Right now, there is a real need for credibility,” says Tom. ” You’ve got some very reputable companies in the marketplace but also others who are trading on the name with little real benefit to their product.”
As well as educating people and connecting them with quality suppliers, the Hemp & CBD Expo is keen to set the right tone with this event. Compliance is key – keeping within the law, promoting positive cannabis aspects and putting a respectable side of cannabis to a British public. Tom explains, “One of the positives to come out of the UK’s recent change of policy on medical cannabis is the fact that the British media can now talk about ‘legal’ and ‘cannabis’ in the same breath. This will have a big impact on changing public perception because for so long the emphasis has been on ‘illegal’.”
This was reflected in initial conversations with the NEC exhibition center. Mentioning the ‘C’ word, caused a few eyebrows to be raised until they were reassured that this was a wholly legitimate and compliant exhibition proposition, at which point they became “super excited and enthusiastic about the potential of this expo.” As Tom says, getting the NEC ‘s support was crucial as it adds a real legitimacy to have the event at such a recognized venue.
Another key is learning from the lessons of the vape industry, which went from a legal grey area to becoming normalized in the UK. “We saw how the industry was perceived in the early days. There was government denial, health scares (for example focus on ‘popcorn lung’) and a market crammed with products of varying quality. Once legitimized, fear was overcome and regulation was introduced. People knew what they were consuming and products had some accountability. This created stability and took out the cowboys only interested in a quick buck.”
It’s an interesting starting point. The UK is a world leader when it comes to the vaping industry. The UK government took a leap of faith where many others around the world were unwilling to follow. It was based on the simple fact that, despite the unknowns, vaping provided an alternative to smoking cigarettes that was less harmful to personal health. By treating cannabis in this way, focusing on a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, that has proven applications for health, there is the potential to create a regulatory framework that could provide the foundations for whatever may follow – a uniquely British model that policy makers could be comfortable with.
“I think there are lessons to be learned from what’s happening in other countries around the world,” says Tom. “For example, how cannabis taxes in Colorado are being used for community benefit. It will probably be a while before we see anything like that in the UK, but it will come once there is a certain level of education and professionalism. However, the UK ball has started rolling, and that is very positive.”
While cannabis legalization across the board may still be a long way off, what cannot be ignored is a new public interest in medical cannabis. In the past two or three years, European cannabis expos have started to see a shift in visitor demographics. Where once upon a time, they were the reserve of recreational users and growers, the crowds are becoming more diverse.
There are more women, older people and many more who have no previous experience of cannabis but are there to explore health benefits for themselves or relatives. They have been attracted by exposure to news reports, research studies and anecdotal evidence that cannabis has a place in the treatment of a range of medical conditions, from epilepsy to cancer to simple pain relief for the aches and niggles picked up over time. The CBD and Hemp expo is building up to be the sort of expo to welcome this kind of crowd, and in the process hopes to contribute to a state of cannabis normalization in the UK.
A few years ago, Weed World interviewed Harry Schubert, the founder of Cultiva in Austria, which is one of the biggest hemp expos on the European scene. He explained that in the early days he faced a lot of hostility from conservative locals and the authorities. He would make a point to go down to the local police station prior to each event, update them and chat through their concerns.
After time, his face got known, as did his reputation for running a tight event that didn’t bring the anarchy many had predicted. One year he went to pay his respects and ended up waiting in the police station until he was told that unfortunately nobody was available to see him that day – they were too busy showing schoolchildren around the police station…
In the whole scheme of things, the UK is lagging behind the international pack on legalization. That may all change after Brexit, of course, when we may be desperate for the economic boost that a regulated cannabis industry has the potential to bring (to the tune of £3.5 billion according to a report by Health Poverty Action). It has been said that the biggest impediment to change is purely the fact that there is no political appetite for it amongst MPs.
However, as the UK begins to have a proper conversation about cannabis, the Hemp and CBD expo is poised to become a forum for spreading knowledge and advice and promoting a positive image of the cannabis plant that is more digestible for the wider UK public. For that reason, this expo could well be here for the long term.
Get your tickets here