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Deregulating cannabis gives UK opportunity after Covid-19 

The deregulation of cannabis gives the UK the opportunity to ‘Build Back Greener’ following the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a lawyer specialising in legal cannabis.

Lawyer from London law firm Bishop & Sewell, Eleanor Furlong, specialising in the legal cannabis sector, says the deregulation of cannabis in the UK is a case of ‘when, not if’, and that it provides the UK with the ideal opportunity to take advantage of lucrative new markets following Covid-19. 

Creating jobs and saving costs

According to the International Narcotics Control Board’s (INCB) annual report, the UK is estimated to be the world’s largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis products – growing around 320 tonnes in 2019. 

The UK’s medicinal cannabis industry could create around 100,000 new jobs and be worth £2bn if regulation around the sector is relaxed, and legalisation could save an estimated £890m a year in reduced spending by police, prisons, courts and the NHS, according to a recent report by Maple Tree. 

Furlong said: “Despite medicinal cannabis use, as prescribed by a doctor, being made legal in the UK three years ago, only a handful of people have received NHS prescriptions for the treatment to date.

“However, stories such as that of Thomas Braun, the boy who hand-delivered a letter to the prime minister asking for help in getting a medical cannabis prescription for his severely epileptic brother, are throwing a national spotlight on the debates around relegislating on cannabis.

“Research shows that cannabis and cannabis-derived products have a huge range of medical uses, with treatments for chronic pain, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, movement disorders, eating disorders, cancer and AIDs patients and the list goes on.

“Relegislating cannabis also offers potentially significant savings to the NHS in prescription costs, whilst simultaneously reducing demand on more expensive and limited NHS resources. In addition, cannabis has the potential to boost both NHS funding through raising billions in revenue for the treasury, and the wider economy through the establishment of new cannabis sub-sectors within our existing industries; from farming to sustainable fashion.”

Regulatory reform

Recreational use of cannabis is legal in 14 US States, with overall legal sales expected to triple over the next three years to more than US$30bn.

Furlong continued: “The economic benefit of deregulation is too compelling for the Government to ignore; the market is highly profitable and growing rapidly, presenting an ideal opportunity for the UK to capitalise on its role as a global leader in cannabis cultivation and export.

“In the wake of the economic impact of the pandemic, political opportunity arises as the treasury explores options for balancing the books and raising funds. Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has set up an independent commission to review the benefits of legalising cannabis.”

London’s listed cannabis sector has also doubled in size this year after the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) approved the admission of cannabis-related businesses to the London Stock Exchange.

“The deregulation of cannabis will likely be made in phases, following the first steps being taken in medicinal cannabis. Subsequently attention should turn to the relaxation of farming regulations around hemp and CBD, although a pilot in London to create a legal cannabis market seems more likely and could be a catalyst for deregulation at a much faster pace,” added Furlong.

“Cannabis has been legal in other countries for some time, so there is much data available for the Government to consider. The electorate’s view will also count, and recent surveys in London have shown support for deregulation running at around 60%.

“Key to this will be to move the consumption method away from smoking to healthier alternatives like edibles and vaping, and position cannabis products as an alternative to alcohol. CBD oils are already de-regulated and it’s only a matter of time before hemp and medical marijuana follow.

“The legalisation of recreational cannabis use may take more time due to the legal and ethical challenges posed, such as whether the benefits of deregulation outweigh potential health and social costs, the likely rate of addiction and its impact, and practical issues such as clarifying a safe THC blood levels for driving when considering both regular and irregular cannabis users.

“Nevertheless, the wave for reform is building, and social and cultural attitudes are also shifting into place. The financial benefits of legalising cannabis may be what tips the balance, if the Government decides to reap the rewards of this lucrative nascent market.”

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