New Report Calls For Establishment Of Government ‘Single Steward Authority’ To Overhaul UK Cannabis Regulation

THE HODGES Review, a new report pushing for an overhaul of how medical, industrial and consumer cannabis is regulated in the UK, was launched yesterday seeing 20 policy recommendations put forward to the Government. 

The report, authored by regulatory specialist Professor Christopher Hodges, argues that the disparate governing bodies currently responsible for regulation across the sector must be brought together under ‘a single “steward” authority’ that will ‘govern and guide the entire sector’. 

While many of the recommendations align closely with those that have already been suggested by the Medical Cannabis and CBD All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) and their members, these are being put forward independently of both. 

The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI), which commissioned the review, told BusinessCann it believes bringing these recommendations directly to the ‘most senior people in Government’ is the fastest and most efficient way to enact change, and it expects a formal response by autumn. 

The Hodges Review 

According to the ACI’s founder Steve Moore, the review was launched to address the ‘significant challenges’ faced by an industry that is ‘basically a product of activism, campaigning and lobbying’. 

“This is not an industry that any politician, civil servant or regulator had ever planned to exist. Because it wasn’t designed in Whitehall, it has never had any proper recognition or stewardship in Whitehall. It is just a chaotic mess.”

A core tenet of the review is the formation of a ‘coordinated Government stewardship’, a single guiding force across the entire cannabis industry, with an ambition to ‘actively nurture’ the sector to grow, attract investment and secure political support. 

Similarly to the CBD APPG, the report suggests the UK is in a strong position to become a leading force in the international cannabis arena, and has the opportunity to build a thriving new post-Brexit industry. 

In order to achieve this, Mr Moore argues that the cannabis industry must become part of ‘Britain’s life sciences story’, enabling it to access the ‘billions we’re spending in public funds on life sciences research’ and expand the much-needed clinical research in the sector. 

Alongside this stewardship, Mr Moore says his organisation is arguing for a ‘new collaborative vehicle to be created between the industry and Government’ called the ‘round table’. 

This entity, much like the APPG’s Secretariat Advisory Board (SAB), would provide ‘an easy way for the Government to be able to engage with key stakeholders’. 

Unlike the APPG, however, Mr Moore says the only way to create a body that truly represents the entire industry is through the Government. 

“It’s not going to come from within the industry. People talk wistfully about trying to create a kind of unified voice… Anyone that thinks you’re going to get a representative organisation for this industry doesn’t know this industry. The Government can create the conditions where it can happen.”

Despite discrepancies in opinion regarding the route to achieving these goals, many of the review’s proposed policy amendments are shared across much of the industry. 

These include the modernisation of the Proceeds of Crime Act to allow businesses to more easily sell legal cannabis without falling foul of the law, allowing GPs to begin prescribing medical cannabis, and updating hemp farming rules to allow licensed growers to cultivate hemp flowers. 

Furthermore, the report calls for legal clarification on the amount of controlled cannabinoids allowed in commercial CBD products, commitments for a national patient registry to be taken  forward, and the introduction of coordinated data-collection efforts for real-world evidence, and also encourages consultation between patient groups and frontline police officers so they can effectively ‘verify patients who have a valid prescription’. 

A full list of the recommendations can be accessed here. 

A Fork in the Road

The industry is now in a position where both the ACI and the APPG, which is spearheaded by secretariat Tenacious Labs, are proposing their own models for regulatory reform, while promising strong relationships with the Government, enabling them to bring about these changes. Each group also appears to be powering ahead with their own strategies. 

Regarding the release of the Hodges Review, Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP and Chair of the CBD APPG, told BusinessCann: “Hodges Review is a welcome piece of freelancing by a small in number, if important and generally well-funded, part of the industry. 

“The APPG’s report will build on Professor Hodge’s work in a way that takes care to include the interests of the whole industry as far as we possibly can, and examine all regulatory options in what should be a dynamic new sector, alongside the Professor’s own pioneered philosophy of Outcome-Based Cooperative Regulation. 

“With the Hodges authors, we are clear that there is a huge opportunity for the UK if we get the regulation of the industry right.”

Meanwhile, Mr Moore said that the ACI didn’t want to pursue the route of setting up ‘an alternative group of MPs’, as it believes it ‘has good contacts where it matters’. 

“On behalf of our company, we have gone to the most senior people in government to work with us on this.” 

He added that the presence of UK Minister for Science, Research & Innovation George Freeman at the report’s launch was ‘testimony to the kind of engagement we have’, and that he would be surprised if other recommendations put forward ‘had the kind of analysis from people who have worked in and around government that we can bring’.

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