Fixing a UK cannabis industry – Health Europa

Towards a UK cannabis industry
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Health Europa Quarterly (HEQ) speaks with Mike Barnes of All Maple Tree Consultants and Ricardo Geada of Mackrell Solicitors Regarding the need for a legal cannabis and CBD market in Britain.

The paper, titled’UK medical cannabis and CBD discussion paper: 10 guidelines for government’, involves a decrease in red tape and gentler regulation of what has the capacity to be a multi-billion-pound business.

HEQ speaks with neurologist and cannabis specialist Mike Barnes of all Maple Tree Consultants and Ricardo Geada, head of Mackrell Solicitors’ Cannabis Law Team, on the newspaper’s findings.

Which are the key findings of your report on the UK’s medical cannabis and CBD industry?

Mike Barnes: The simple reason we made this record was that there is a growing requirement for a UK medical cannabis and hemp business, particularly since for the last two decades it’s been legal to prescribe medical cannabis in the united kingdom and there is currently a burgeoning CBD market. Because of those two key things, we thought it was time to the government, the press and the public to recognise that requirement to come up with the medical cannabis business, so we came up with 10 guidelines for your government.

If we had better guidelines for enabling doctors to prescribe medical cannabis, which would be very useful, because the guidelines made by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and other bodies are extremely restrictive; and although they’re not compulsory, they do put a lot of doctors off. GPs would be quite excellent prescribers — generally they’re more holistic, so they understand the families, and they understand the patients — and there is a great deal of interest one of the GP community at starting to prescribe cannabis, so allowing GPs to become primary prescribers may be very useful.

The third key suggestion would be to make it easier for UK farmers to really develop high-THC cannabis, as well as hemp — there are plenty of farmers who are wanting to do that; some number of them have put in a program but that has only stalled at the Home Office level. Persuading the Home Office as well as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to speed up and streamline that process would be very important as a first step in building a proper UK medical cannabis business, which in turn would generate about 97,000 jobs; as well as creating income and strengthening a consistent supply of better quality product for those patients.

Ricardo Geada: From our standpoint as lawyers, that which we have seen from our client base is that the sector has efficiently overshot the legal regulations. The regulations and statutes in this nation are obsolete — the Misuse of Drugs Act is 50 years old — so they don’t truly deal with problems such as permitted levels of THC or the substance differences between plants and cannabis plants. This ties in with the reason we published the reportyes, we have issued 10 recommendations, but it’s more of an instructional piece aimed toward improving matters within this field.

By way of instance, one of our recommendations would be to get a heightened legal THC limitation. There are currently two important restrictions in place: firstly, hemp plants can only be cultivated using degrees of 0.2% THC or even lower. Meanwhile, when it comes to finished products such as CBD oils or extracts, just 1mg of THC per product is permitted. The Misuse of Drugs Act in this state prohibits any regulated substance, so THC is not permitted apart from those minor levels; and there is very much a demand for reform on that. That ties in with the demand for more education for parliamentarians and lawmakers, particularly concerning heightening their comprehension of the cannabis plant and THC.

Could wider education for both clinicians and policymakers enhance the regulatory landscape? How can this be implemented?

MB: Education is an essential issue — for people, particularly for doctors, and for politicians — about the potential benefits of this business and the benefits of minor changes to legislation; we are not talking about major legal changes which might require parliamentary approval. Educating everyone across the spectrum is truly important: we’re now putting on regular daily training sessions for doctors; we would love to acquire politicians around the desk and attempt to educate them regarding the benefits of this sector, but that’s yet to be achieved.

RG: Engagement is crucial; since is that openness on the part of both sides to achieve what’s going to be advantageous, not just to patients and consumers within this area, but also for the commercial entities that produce these goods, both to the medicinal side and round the hemp market.

Must cannabinoids be regulated as food supplements, novel foods or medications?

RG: At the moment, CBD has been treated as a Novel Food, no matter the arguments that have been raised that this shouldn’t be the case because cannabinoids are a part of our diet for centuries. With respect to Novel Foods regulation, the UK is currently from Europe and the FSA has taken the application procedure into its own hands as of January 2021. In February 2020, the FSA explained that when a producer already has merchandise out on the market, and should they create an application and it’s supported by the FSA, then the maker will be able to continue to market those products — and that’s uncommon in the circumstances, because typically products that are classified as novel can only be sold when they have been granted total authorisation, and that’s only the case here for goods that were not available on the industry prior to February of 2020.

In the report, we discuss whether the procedure has to be more simplified or whether the guidance has to be adjusted, because basically, CBD is CBD — thus once it’s been tested after, there is not likely to be much difference between goods besides particular variances in other cannabinoids or at the levels of THC. The FSA needs to supply much better guidance about what those levels must be: it’s received 1,000 Novel Foods software since January, potentially costing several hundreds of thousands of pounds to many businesses which cannot afford it; the procedure has to be simplified.

MB: What the government needs to understand is that CBD is a medicine, and the stark reality is that those who are making CBD goods are currently prohibited from producing medical claims. The problem with all the advertisements around CBD in magazines, tv, radio and other media is that people are moving into shops, purchasing CBD over the counter to get their medical problems, such as anxiety, pain, sleep or appetite, and then they do not understand what to consider, what format to take it in, the way to take it how much to take; and because the companies producing CBD are not able to make any concrete claims, they’re unable to help the user. What has to be achieved — and this is just another of our guidelines — would be to modify the stipulations of the Medicines Act to permit those companies to make sensible, balanced medical claims. Obviously, they shouldn’t have the capability to make any untoward or absurd statements, like saying CBD cures all forms of cancer; but CBD is actually a very good and very secure medicine, and the problem we currently have is that people cannot say that.

Allowing companies to create those practical, balanced asserts for over-the-counter CBD goods — wellness asserts, if you’d like — is really quite significant, as there are hundreds of thousands of individuals using CBD for medical reasons, but from ignorance, a few of those folks are utilizing it at too small a dose to really have a result and then penalizes it while some could be using it at too high a dose and having unnecessary negative effects. We need to be able to state what there is to take, what it’s good for and what it is not good for.

What is the economic benefits of establishing a legal domestic cannabis industry over the united kingdom, particularly in the context of the fiscal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic?

MB: Post-COVID-19, and to some degree post-Brexit, setting a domestic cannabis industry would offer a very important economic stimulation: at a conservative estimate, developing a UK medical cannabis industry will deliver 97,000 tasks, which will be over, by way of instance, the united kingdom fishing industry. It may be a crucial business to excite part of the economy, dismissing the wellness or healthcare benefits entirely; and of course when you’ve got a vibrant new business, you may increase tax revenue from that through corporation tax and VAT.

Generally speaking, not only would a legal cannabis industry in the united kingdom make money for the nation, it would also divert that earnings from the black market — because we should not forget that there is a large black market for cannabis right now, which will be putting cash in the hands of criminals. Why would we would like to put money into the criminal fraternity once we can invest in a great quality, standardised, consistent, secure product, make money and generate jobs?

RG: Establishing legal business will make revenue, through taxation and differently, for the government, however, there are also benefits concerning access for patients and consumers. Medical cannabis would be more freely available; there would be more guidance available for patients, as it would be given through licensed, regulated companies and clinics; but also the expense to those patients and consumers would fall dramatically, because the goods would be more readily available. Arguably, it might be a win-win scenario for everybody.

What is the benefits of patients and legitimate providers? Will there be a human rights aspect into calming cannabis legislation, both concerning patient welfare and the more harmful implications of the illegal cannabis market?

RG: Generally, once we talk about anything that’s thought to be a medicine, it ought to go through the proper approval procedures; it has to be examined and checked. Medical cannabis has to be made more available, but it should still be accessed through reputable clinics or dispensaries, as is true in most US states. Maybe a physician or practitioner may suggest a cannabis-based medicine, but they ought to then be able to direct the patient into a dispensary in which there will be somebody who is not only accredited but qualified to advocate a particular strain or percentage of CBD or THC. That’s where we must reach, instead of suggesting that individuals possess an inherent right to get a particular item.

To go back to the first aim of the report, one of the main benefits of evolving medical cannabis policy would be for those rather than going through the black market or purchasing anything off a street corner and not really knowing what they’re purchasing or where it really comes out of — there is not any track and trace system to get those goods — we could have legitimate systems in place where everybody is guarded.

MB: I cannot think of any practical intellectual case which may be made for maintaining medical cannabis — we are not speaking about recreational cannabis here — illegal. We’re forcing people into the illegal black market, where they do not understand what quality they are becoming, how much to shoot, the consequences of the item, whether it’s contaminated. If we could make a secure, consistent medicine widely available to the people who need it, there cannot be any other intellectual debate for maintaining it inside the criminal marketplace; I just do not understand why people imply that it ought to be.

RG: We’re treating patients and consumers as offenders. It is not the right way. There are two key elements of illegal cannabis consumers: people using cannabis oils flower to treat certain symptoms, and those who purchase cannabis for recreational or adult usage; and that’s likely to happen until cannabis is decriminalised or legalised in the united kingdom. Looking at other European nations that have previously criminalised cannabis, for example Portugal, they have seen a dramatic drop in criminal action and massive growth in tax revenues where medicines have been readily reachable by pharmacies or clinics where individuals could go to access particular medications. The numbers are there to demonstrate that criminal action will fall if cannabis is more accessible legally.

What cannot be missing is that this is all about the patients and consumers. Access to cannabis is something which shouldn’t be treated as a taboo subject or as criminal action.

Neurologist and cannabis specialist
Maple Tree Consultants

Ricardo Geada
Head of Cannabis Law Team
Mackrell Solicitors

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