Despite the evidence of the growing potential of the cannabis industry and wider acceptance, the domestic distribution of medical cannabis remains low.
This means almost all the medical cannabis prescribed in the UK is imported and unlicensed. Confusing and cumbersome regulations and restrictions set amid uncertainty regarding post-Brexit trade relations haven’t helped either. This applies even for companies who have gone through the various regulatory and legal hurdles to obtaining the proper licenses to produce and supply medical cannabis in the UK.
A lingering global pandemic has been a recipe for an unstable economy and led to increasing levels of mental distress and physical health issues to the wider population. With the focus on self-care, wellbeing and improved health outcomes, the cannabis industry has seen a positive effect.
The industry has undergone remarkable changes. More players are entering the market, new innovative and diverse products on offer and strong collaborations on the table. Stigmas and mindsets are shifting as the evidence base for medical cannabis strengthens. This opens the door to more reforms that will create a thriving cannabis industry in the UK.
The future direction of the industry
From an economic standpoint, a strong, regulated legal cannabis industry can contribute numerous economic benefits including employment opportunities, tax revenues and R&D innovations. But how do we get there?
In September 2020, The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued guidance on the listing of medical cannabis businesses on the London Stock Exchange. Although preliminary in nature and subject to further consultation, the guidance offered welcome relief for the industry and signalled to UK investors the potential value of the medical cannabis.
This guidance provides real scope for UK-based cannabis companies to secure significant investment and plays a role in removing ambiguity, increasing transparency and legitimising the industry as a sector that can offer returns – economically and socially. It will also address domestic demand issues.
While the FCA’s guidance signals a positive shift, barriers to entry and a lack of clarity on the criteria remains, hindering the confidence of serious investors.
Across Europe, different rules and regulatory frameworks also can lead to complications for cannabis businesses with borderless supply chains and can hamper the ability to scale and grow in new markets. Though there have been strong arguments to harmonise policies and standardise processes and practices to create reliable, competitively priced products, there is still a way to go.
The variations in global cannabis legalisation and complex regulatory environment can create a lack of certainty and confidence in the industry, which is required to propel it to new heights and gain investment momentum. To overcome this, there needs to be a body of evidence and research that offer valuable insights into the efficacy of medical cannabis for patients suffering from a range of conditions. As science and medicine play catch up, cannabis can grow from marginalised to the mainstream – moving it away from a treatment of last resort to the right course of treatment.
Developing pragmatic solutions based on imperative research, educating, and empowering the medical community and coordinating regulation will be vital for the industry to progress. As the endocannabinoid system is integrated into medical education, the stigma behind prescribing medical cannabis will be easier. Evidence-based on a rigorous scientific approach and methodology will also help clinicians and policy-makers understand cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) and support prescriptions and funding decisions.
There are over 900 CBD companies in the EU, but only a handful of companies that hold the appropriate licenses and accreditations to commercially produce naturally sourced cannabidiol (CBD) as an Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical use.
It is important that we raise the bar on product development via research and innovation to ensure products are precise, consistent, and safe before it gets to a patient. With more quality and refined cannabis products entering the market, patient experiences and access can only improve.
Medical cannabis in the UK
The UK’s medical cannabis industry has incredible potential. We must learn from the lessons and experiences of Canada and North America to ensure the cannabis industry remains strong, fair and progressive. This will help to destabilise the cannabis black market and ultimately protect public health. The legal industry can only thrive if more existing cannabis users choose the legal route, and the legal market is open, competitive and well-priced.
With further evidence on medical cannabis, the UK’s restrictive regulations and impasse associated with obtaining prescriptions will begin to improve. As such, we can feel confident that the near future will bring further clarification, insight, and hope for millions of patients across the globe looking to improve their lives and that of their families.