In the last 20 years, Britain has become the world’s largest legal producer and exporter of medical marijuana – yet remains one of the most anti-cannabis countries in the world. Confused? Well, there’s no time to waste! As British red tape around cannabis regulation begins to loosen, this could be the dawning of a lucrative new industry that savvy investors need to be aware of.
UK cannabis law change
Since November 2018, medicinal cannabis products have been legalised for prescription in the UK by specialist doctors in a limited number of circumstances. Currently illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell for recreational purposes, marijuana is defined as a Class B drug with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for possession plus an unlimited fine or up to 14 years in prison for unlicensed dealing, unlicensed production and unlicensed trafficking, an unlimited fine, or both. Simplified, current UK laws on cannabis state that:
- CBD oil is legal in the UK as long as it contains no more than 0.2% THC, which must not be easily separated from it. (THC is a component of cannabis that makes you feel ‘high’)
- Cannabis oil generally has a higher THC content, so it is not usually allowed in the UK.
- The exception to the rule is Sativex, a 50-50 mix of THC and CBD. Produced in a lab, it has been approved for multiple sclerosis suffers by NHS Wales.
- Industrial hemp can be grown legally with a license, as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC.
What countries are supplying the UK with medical marijuana?
Because of strict regulation, it is incredibly difficult to obtain a licence to grow, market and distribute medical marijuana in Britain, so the UK currently relies on other sources to find its medical cannabis supplies. The first bulk shipment of medical cannabis was reported to have entered the country in February 2019 from the Netherlands (the second largest exporter of medicinal marijuana in the world), fulfilling prescriptions for four patients as well as additional stock to “ensure continuity of supply” for future patients. Bulgaria is also a known supplier of medicinal marijuana to Britain, which is home to farms and formulation facilities belonging to Dragonfly Biosciences; Europe’s largest and leading producer of Cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabis-derived extracts.
MGC Pharmaceuticals has also just secured a license to import its medical cannabis epilepsy drug CannEpil into the UK.
Will Brexit affect marijuana imports?
This all depends on what route Britain eventually decides to take to exit the EU. A ‘no deal’ Brexit could seriously impact upon British cannabis imports, echoing the same fears surrounding food & other medical supplies and prices. If a ‘softer’ Brexit approach is taken, with the likes of an EU customs union and access to the single market on the table, impacts on marijuana imports would be distinctly minimized.
Caught up in a haze of uncertainty, Brexit is particularly worrying for UK farmers thanks to the likes of high import and export tariff introductions. However, producing medical marijuana could be a great opportunity to boost the British farming community as well as the rural economy as a whole.
Legal marijuana vs illegal marijuana trade in Britain
Revealed by a 2016 UN Report, Britain exported 2.1 tonnes of medical marijuana that year. This accounted for around 70% of the world’s total legal cannabis exports, whilst producing 95 tons of this ‘green gold’ for medical and scientific purposes; officially making Britain the worlds largest legal producer and exporter of medical cannabis. Although, the Home Office doesn’t define what it grows as cannabis, as it doesn’t export it in its raw form.
In contrast, Britain’s black-market cannabis trade is worth £2.6bn per annum, with 255 tonnes sold to three million users in the UK between 2016/2017. From these statistics, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has concluded that if cannabis was legalised, tax revenues alone could exceed £1bn per year.
Who are the major players in the UK’s budding cannabis industry?
With the majority of British medical marijuana ending up in the US, our thriving ‘legal’ cannabis industry generates hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue each year, fully supported by the British government who also profit from the practice. UK marijuana cannabis cultivators to keep an eye on include:
- GW Pharmaceuticals (supplied by British Sugar)
Backed by US-based investment house Capital Group, this British biopharmaceutical company founded the first natural cannabis plant derivative to gain market approval in any country for its cannabis-based multiple sclerosis treatment product nabiximols; brand name Sativex. The cannabis-based Epidiolex has also been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of rare childhood epilepsy conditions.
- George Botanicals (a subsidiary of Sativa Investments)
Owned by Britain’s first medicinal cannabis investment vehicle, George Botanicals is the UK’s leading manufacturer of Cannabidiol (CBD) products, which include CBD oils, balms, capsules and flavoured oils. Going forward, Sativa Investments are now planning a £10million legal cannabis farm based in Wiltshire.
As interest grows, is it time to invest in medical marijuana?
As with many investment avenues, getting involved in the early stages is advisable to making a successful return on the original investment. GW Pharmaceuticals isn’t currently profitable, although its stock has impressively grown 180% over the past five years. But with spending on legal cannabis worldwide expected to reach $57 billion by 2027, it can’t be denied that legalizing marijuana for recreational use would likely see massive returns on investment for British investors.
Whilst our Canadian cousins have rolled with the times to fully legalize recreational marijuana, recreational use is also legal in 10 US states, with medical cannabis legal across 33 states. With this in mind, here’s the top five worldwide marijuana stocks dominating the international marketplace:
- Canopy Growth Corp. (Ontario, Canada)
- Aurora Cannabis Inc. (Edmonton, Canada)
- Cronos Group Inc. (Toronto, Canada)
- Terra Tech Corp (California, US)
- AbbVie (Illinois, US)
Will cannabis ever be legalised in Britain?
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has previously stated: “There will be strict controls in place, and this is in no way a step towards legalising the recreational use of cannabis.” However, the majority of the British public back liberalising policy towards cannabis – the main argument for decriminalisation being to put marijuana in the hands of legitimate regulated businesses, not criminal gangs.
Plus, if Brexit turns out to be the calamitous situation that is predicted, to make up the shortfall of billions of pounds lost in EU subsidies, the UK may have no choice but to legalize cannabis for recreational use in the future.