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According to Professor Mike Barnes, the UK has placed itself in an unlikely position as the world leader in the medical cannabis industry.
Cannabis stocks rose sharply following Joe Biden’s election victory and the passage of the MORE Act in the United States House of Representatives last December. The market is estimated at up to $ 124 billion by 2028. The UK is one of the world’s largest exporters of medicinal cannabis. However, the UK cannabis companies that could help solidify the country’s position are grappling with restrictive regulations that are holding back the development of the industry.
Health Europe’s digital editor Stephanie Price spoke to medical cannabis expert and neurologist Professor Mike Barnes of Maple Tree Consultancy about the UK’s potential to position itself as a leader in this field and what the future holds for medical cannabis in Britain could look like.
Medical cannabis in the USA
America is leading the way in adopting advanced cannabis policies, with states like California having had a legal market for nearly 20 years. Although the MORE bill has yet to be passed in the Senate, the picture looks positive for the industry in the country, which is home to experienced farmers and extractors.
“Biden has been lukewarm about cannabis – he advocates decriminalization and pardon of crime, but he didn’t say directly that cannabis should be legalized at the federal level. Overall, though, I’m very confident that cannabis is unstoppable in the states, as more than half of the states allow medicinal cannabis and some are now allowing recreational activities, ”says Barnes.
“The federal government can’t hold things back much longer – and I think we’re going to suddenly see an explosion of interest in American companies coming from the country to the rest of the world. This can be a little worrying for the UK as the country may be inundated with American imports. However, I think there would still be room for a UK industry, and I think there will be many more options for the UK in this regard. “
The growth of cannabis in the UK
There are currently minimal barriers to importing medical cannabis into the UK. All imported products must meet the EU GMP standards, which many American companies are already working on. However, according to Barnes, there is a risk that smaller businesses in the UK will be taken over by larger companies that come to the country if UK legislation doesn’t keep up with current industry leaders.
“Importing medical cannabis products into the UK is pretty easy when you have an EU GMP product. However, in this new area there is a risk that big players will take over small players and we are starting to see this in the CBD industry in the UK.
“As in any new industry, we’re going to see fewer players in a year or two, which is good in some ways as it brings economies of scale and could bring the price down. As for cannabis, I think there is room for craft cannabis in the UK, just as we have a demand for craft beer in this country – there are a lot of subtleties that you don’t get from the big players who produce a limited amount of oil range but some smaller players coming to the UK produce more interesting ranges. I would hate it if big players dominated the entire market.
“I think there is a parallel with the old beer industry where the UK beer industry was for a while dominated by half a dozen very large brewers with very limited choices, while now we are seeing a whole range of artisanal beers and delicacies that the general public likes – the same can be applied to cannabis.
“There is certainly a place for small niche farmers who can quickly adapt to the market.”
Building a medical cannabis market
Medical cannabis has been available on the NHS since 2018, but access to medical cannabis prescriptions from the NHS is still difficult. Around 2,500 patients are prescribed cannabis in the UK. However, all are private prescriptions and only three prescriptions are provided by the NHS.
“The medical cannabis industry is a billion dollar industry and I believe that if the industry is properly established in the UK in a year or two people will realize that it is a safe product and will think about legalizing it – as was the pattern in many countries. Unfortunately, I think that if the medical establishment is so reluctant and slow to establish medical cannabis, it could be bypassed, leaving us with a recreational industry that people go to to get their own medicine.
“Cannabis is here to stay – no doubt about it. I see the NHS starting prescribing in the next few years – so not only will this be beneficial for the cannabis industry, but I also see a more dynamic cannabis sector with a wide variety of medicinal cannabis products. Biden’s choice has added to that optimism and I would like to see UK industry grow our own produce. The only downside will be that it will be difficult to get prices up for produce grown in Colombia, where you can grow for less than $ 1 a gram – there has to be a greenhouse in the UK which increases the cost. Still, we can ensure that the quality is better and the supply chain is efficient. “