The UK Reschedules Cannabis To A Schedule II Drug


Marguerite Arnold

August 3rd, 2018

Policy


It has been a long fought “Battle of Britain,” and it’s not over yet. However, change on the cannabis front has finally come to the UK. In late July, after an escalation by medical access campaignersand the press over the summer, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that cannabis would officially now, be rescheduled in the UK and available, by prescription, as soon as October.

Make no mistake. This is a big deal, and at an ever bigger time. The implications of not only these events, but the obvious international string-pulling and “cannabis diplomacy” behind all, are also revealed in a fascinating way. Not to mention, the obvious win for medical cannabis, as another sovereign country throws in the towel on the war against the weed.

But what does it mean for the industry if not investors? If not other issues sure to impact the global investing world, far, far from cannabis?

GW Pharmaceuticals Monopoly On British Medical Cannabis Could Be Broken

Unlike any other place in the world, the hypocrisy of the powers that be on medical cannabis has been extreme in England. Other countries – if not cannabis companies – take note. One company, GW Pharmaceuticals, holds the exclusive license to produce cannabinoid medications in the UK and has since 1998. In turn, British Sugar, a grow operation in Norfolk, has the exclusive contract with GW Pharma to cultivate cannabis plants for medical purposes in the UK.

For everyone else, growing is still criminalized. So is possession.

Cannabis as medicine is also widely unavailable – even in a country with alarming cancer rates. In fact, in some reports, it was suggested that the only part of the country where “pharmacized” cannabis is Wales. As in the funny half-moon bump of geography sticking out into the Atlantic just above the “Cornish leg.”. Not to mention the place where the current Queen’s son is prince.

This year as two appalling child epilepsy cases pushed the legalization discussion, finally, into Parliament and beyond (much as families in Israel also forced the Israeli government to widen access in 2014), and the UK emerged as the largest exporter of cannabis globally (even ahead of Canada), the other shoe finally dropped in the press. The “drugs secretary” (a member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet and appointed by her) and the government official who has continued to lead the crusade against greater medical access for British patients, is married to the Managing Director of British Sugar. One month later, in June, it was revealed that Prime Minister Theresa May was even more directly involved in (and directly profits from) the current monopoly and restriction of such drugs at home than merely leading the charge from 10 Downing Street against greater legalization via her policies and appointments. Her husband’s investment firm is the largest stockholder in GW Pharma.

This disclosure was not the only reason Javid also said that both oils and flower (also presumably but not yet discussed publically, from firms other than GW Pharma) might be available as soon as October in the UK. GW Pharma also failed a critical trial in Eastern Europe for its cannabinoid drug for focal (or drug resistant) epilepsy this year right at the time British parents were having their personal imports confiscated (from Holland and Canada). That landed one of the kids in the hospital.

Where or where, possibly, could that cannabis come from if GW Pharma does not move into the vacuum and nobody else gets a domestic license to cultivate?

More on that in a moment. One hint? It ain’t going to be Holland.

It’s A Political Sticky Wicket In The US Too

There is another aspect to the timing of the British rescheduling that is also interesting. Particularly given May’s direct financial benefit via her husband and her continued outreach to President Donald Trump at a time when Brexit is causing economic and political warnings in the UK that are literally, historically unprecedented.

In the middle of all of the legalization drama at home, abroad in the U.S. things got really rosy this year for GW Pharma. Why? They finally got clearance to import Epidiolex – one of the company’s child epilepsy drugs based on CBD – to America. In the process, they also became the first federally approved cannabis medicine available on the legitimate, federally sanctioned market. And, in an environment, it should be pointed out, where the U.S. has yet to reschedule or deschedule cannabis.

The fact that this is also an “import” approved potentially behind the scenes at the White House level where “U.S. jobs” is the driver behind actions ranging from the border wall to separating children from their families and starting a trade war with Europe and China, has so far, gotten scant notice.

But it well might get more – especially as Britain heads into the last awful eight months before reality really hits home.  In the U.S., the cannabis industry has yet to focus on this politically, but that too, may still happen as a terminally stalled federal bill to deschedule gains more sponsors in Congress.

A great number of British citizens are already experiencing Brexit buyer’s remorse while the authorities moan about Facebook and Russia’s role in the outcome of the vote. If the U.K. crashes out of the EU without a deal in place, many more will rapidly come to the conclusion that the new British reality will be far, far from “cricket.” And cannabis is an easy, easy issue to focus on.

Especially as Canadian recreational legalization, as a member of the British Commonwealth, has to be authorized by the Queen before the October transition.

Imports From The Commonwealth (And US) in A Brexit World

Here is one of the reasons cannabis politics may play an even bigger if not outsize role and impact in the current Britain. Far from just investors in GW Pharma.

International firms as well as those based solely in the UK along with leading government officials are now leading the warnings of the dire economic hit Brexit will cause if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.  One of the most intriguing aspects of this conversation, however, is also now put front and centre. If Britain really “hard exits” from the EU, that means that domestic production of food and drugs will have to be increased – especially at a time when authorities are starting to reveal their (appallingly dire) plans for stockpiling.

While this may not seem obvious to Americans, there is a huge amount of ex-im traffic that crosses the Channel between the UK and the continent daily by truck. The impact on basic foodstuffs and drugs used far more widely than cannabis will be dramatic. However, if not grown at home, exporting it from Portugal and Spain (under “normal” circumstances) would be as much of a no-brainer as oranges.

This hit will also be immediately felt. Officials on both sides of the major transit points are literally scouting parking lots to house the trucks that will stuck in transit on both sides, with new rules in place dramatically slowing everything coming into the UK and coming back out of it.

There is also a controversial new runway under construction at Heathrow, London’s main airport these days. Could it be that imported cannabis (as the UK decides on how to deal with its GW Monopoly problem) would be flown in from Canada? Or even the U.S. in a bizarre swapsie deal?

It’s not like this would be unprecedented. Trump has used cannabis as a political card before – notably asking Israel’s president Netanyahu to delay Israeli exports in exchange for support of moving the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It may sound odd, but with backlash absolutely possible at this point – both against GW Pharma and against May (not to mention Trump) – such a scenario is also far from the strangest potential “alternative fact” to emerge these days. Even in the cannabis industry.

About Marguerite Arnold



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