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Transforming London’s cannabis expertise into a world-leading industry

Three steps to transform London’s cannabis expertise into a world-leading industry.

London’s medical cannabis research capabilities and cannabis investment advisory services are both world-class. It is time to turn the focus of this impressive expertise onto developing legal production and retail markets for London.

The UK is among the world’s largest growers of medical-grade cannabis, with centres of research excellence at Imperial College and King’s College, among other institutions. This year, the Mayor of London has a unique opportunity to work with these academic partners and legal experts to establish and promote simple and transparent laboratory standards for a new local cannabis production and retail industry. This is one of 20 recommendations contained in the London Cannabis Legalisation Commission study, submitted to the Mayor and London Assembly members this week.

The international experience with legal cannabis production and retail shows that laboratory testing is essential to support the public health and safety aims of legalisation, and will be important to ensure the integrity of the London cannabis labelling system. Specifically, mandatory product testing supported by medical cannabis experts at Imperial College combined with clear labelling would minimise the risk of contaminated products entering the London cannabis market. The Commission recommends that the Mayor of London publish a model cannabis regulation that can then be adopted by interested London councils to pilot legal cannabis production and retail. The model regulation would include a process for quality control and laboratory testing.

Drawing on the existing capacity within London’s research university network including Imperial’s Medical Cannabis Research Group would help local consumers and market regulators make informed decisions. London is in the fortunate position of having laboratory standards for cannabis as part of the existing medical cannabis programme and these skills and expertise can support the scaling up of pilot production and retail programmes.

In addition to bringing medical cannabis expertise to bear on supporting quality control in a new legal industry, it will be important for the Mayor and London councils to act swiftly to build additional capacity. The Mayor should communicate an accelerated plan to:

  1. Start cannabis industry training programmes for youth in advance of launching London councils cannabis production and retail pilots in 2022. There are significant opportunities for formal employment in the London cannabis industry, with the growing, retail, processing and distribution segments all having high job creation potential. A formalised job training programme for London cannabis business sub-sectors would benefit businesses looking for skilled workers. Cannabis vocational training would also boost progress on the Mayor’s social equity goals, and this is one goal of our London Cannabis Academy. Those who will be enforcing the new cannabis regulatory regime, mostly London councils, and the police where necessary, will also need proper training to fulfil these new roles in a legal cannabis market. While all London councils will be involved in training officials within their respective jurisdictions, the Mayor of London’s model cannabis regulation should establish guidelines and develop standardised content for in-person and digital training.

The illicit cannabis industry is already well developed in London, so shifting this supply chain into the legal market should be a priority. Tracking this progress will require baseline information. The Mayor of London and his team should:

  1. Monitor and evaluate the new legal cannabis industry from the beginning. Data will be needed to track the evolution of the new system to understand if it is successfully displacing illicit supply, helping to dampen youth violence, and generate employment and local business opportunities. Analysis that compares data gathered under the new system against baseline data will help regulators determine whether London is on track to achieve the goal of reducing profits of the illicit industry and associated youth violence, and build a world-class cannabis industry that empowers Londoners. Timely data collection, evaluation and reporting of results on a pan-London basis will be key to the successful development of London councils pilot programmes.

  2. The Mayor should proactively communicate London’s leadership plans. Clear communication is necessary to provide Londoners with the information they need to understand the regulated system and the intended contents of a model regulation. London First and the Mayor’s office should prepare to provide all Londoners with the facts about cannabis and its effects, alongside specific information and guidance to the different groups involved in the regulated cannabis market. Beyond London, the Mayor’s office should have a communications strategy to update the international community and global city networks on the content and timeline for implementation of cannabis pilot programmes and the model London cannabis regulation.

Access the full London Cannabis Study here and register for the global launch roundtable here.

Hamish Stewart
London Cannabis Legalisation Commission

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