In this article, Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform, shares his views on the future of cannabis in the UK.
There is a great deal of money in cannabis. Until recently it was mostly gained illegally but in the last few years, the range of opportunities has widened to include legal production and distribution as well as investment and research in the medicines market. There are even substantial and legal opportunities in spin offs from the huge illegal market. And the possibilities are going to multiply even faster over the next decade. If you’re not in cannabis now, you almost certainly will be soon, or something closely connected to it.
It was 10 years ago that CLEAR, the UK’s longest-established cannabis group, commissioned what is still the most comprehensive study of the UK market. Back in 2011, legal access to medicinal cannabis in the form of flower was no more than an ambition. Sativex, a whole plant oil with a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio, had only just been licensed and that had taken more than 12 years of research and tens of millions in funding. The illicit market was estimated at between £2.9bn and £8.8bn per annum, with an average of £5.9bn. There were said to be around three million people consuming cannabis regularly, that is at least monthly.
We haven’t undertaken any new research since, although we’ve reviewed the possibility every year. The company we commissioned has advised that little has likely changed and, significantly, most of the government data sources that they had mined are simply no longer available. Austerity put paid to a great deal of government data collection in all areas and it’s no surprise to realise that about some issues, our political masters literally have no idea what is going on.
So we have continued to base what we do on the 2011 data and they have been confirmed many times over by smaller research projects carried out by others. Recently the number of regular consumers has been estimated lower at slightly over two million but this is now based entirely on self-reporting from the British Crime Survey, which is bound to be under-reporting. In 2011, we had also used a variety of other sources.
In 2011/12 we carried out a survey of our members which indicated that at least one-third of consumers were using cannabis, at least in part, for medical reasons. We provided our data to the highly successful End Our Pain campaign and it became generally accepted that around one million people in Britain were using illicit cannabis for medical reasons. This figure was validated when a YouGov survey in 2019, based on the largest ever polling sample, put the figure at 1.4 million, 2.8% of the adult population.
So that is an excellent place to start in evaluating the cannabis opportunity. In today’s private-only medicinal cannabis market we are getting close to 10,000 patients receiving prescriptions, so that leaves room for huge growth. It’s set to explode, especially as within a year, maybe three at the outside, it looks as though the NHS could start funding prescriptions.
I’ve given up predicting when we will have a legal adult-use market in the UK. There is no rhyme or reason to drugs policy here. As ever, it’s not our PM or home secretary who makes that decision, it’s the editor of the Daily Mail. No longer is Paul Dacre sitting behind that desk but alarmingly Boris Johnson has put him in charge of OFCOM. That bodes alarmingly for the future of broadcasting, not just on cannabis and similar issues but on anything where we want to know the truth, or at least the facts and evidence to make up our own minds.
I’ve been saying we’ll have legal adult use within five years for at least the last 10 years. The best I can offer now is that I think it will probably come quite suddenly, just like the reform on medical use and what happens in the USA will have a decisive impact. But Biden has already disappointed on his clear promise to decriminalise federally, so I’m not getting excited quite yet.
Let’s be honest though, for all the people I advise on the cannabis opportunity and licensing, it’s adult use that really excites them. Even if they don’t want to admit it (and certainly not to the great and good they are inviting onto their boards) that is how they hope to become rich. And I have no doubt that it will happen. Any facilities developed or investments made now for the medical market will readily take advantage of what will be a huge consumer market when it finally opens up.
Although it’s far from easy, there should be no restriction on ambition for developing new facilities in the UK. It takes a great deal of money and a speculative outlay of at least £300,000, excluding property costs, to set about developing a business producing medicinal cannabis. It’s not possible to obtain the necessary licenses without creating the facility first and there’s no help or guidance from the authorities which issue the licenses. But with the right knowledge, experienced advice from a variety of sources, almost anything is possible.
I wouldn’t advise anyone to get into the CBD market at present. What was a booming opportunity has been hobbled by the intervention of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which has been breathtakingly incompetent and destructive. For products where there is no evidence of anyone ever coming to any harm from consuming them, they have tried to impose wholly unnecessary safety conditions but made a complete mess of the whole process. It’s been driven by officials who have no understanding of the products and they have been misled by a few big investors who have tried to manipulate them for their own ends. But it’s a very sad tale. No one has come out a winner and many small businesses have been destroyed for no good reason.
I’m quite certain that over-the-counter CBD ‘wellness’ products will continue and eventually the market will get the proper regulation it needs but the result of the FSA’s incompetence is that all the worthwhile products are now operating in a grey area. Anyone who isn’t already in should steer well clear for now. And if you’re offered isolate or isolate-based CBD, either as an investor or to consume, don’t bother. It’s next to useless for the purpose intended. It does have some applications in medicine but for ‘wellness’, wellbeing and the food supplement market, it’s pointless.
There are other niche opportunities for which the regulatory process already exists, such as pet products, which could be a very substantial market. There is certainly a real chance of getting ahead of any competition for anyone who acts now. As with the human medical market, it will be important to have the right expertise on board but not difficult to identify and hire the people you need.
There is room for many more cannabis clinics and for ancillary businesses such as the wholesaling and distribution of products. Customer service in this area is presently very poor and there’s a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst patients. Again, making the most of these opportunities will require hiring the right people, from doctors on the GMC specialist register who can prescribe, to pharmacists and product specialists who actually understand what they’re dealing with. By necessity, some of these people will have gained experience in the illicit market. They are the only people who know what they are doing in many instances. While this may be problematic in relation to licensing, provided the correct restrictions and procedures are put in place, it can be managed.
As I said earlier, it’s far from easy but not necessary to curtail ambition for the cannabis opportunity. One thing’s for certain, if you start now it is only going to get easier. The regulators and authorities concerned, even the FSA, are learning and there are clear signs of more flexibility and developing understanding. Cannabis is going to be very big in Britain. It’s been here for a thousand or fifteen hundred years already and although ‘they’ have tried furiously to do away with it over the past century, it’s coming back stronger than ever and Britain is going to be a healthier, happier and wealthier place as a result.
Peter Reynolds has been involved in cannabis law reform since the late 1970s. He first gave evidence to Parliament on the subject in 1983 and has contributed to every inquiry since. He was elected as leader of CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform in 2011 and is also a director of Cannabis Professionals, the trade association for CBD, hemp and medicinal cannabis businesses. He sits on three sub-committees of the UK Cannabis Industry Council and the advisory board of the Irish Medicinal Cannabis Council. He makes his living advising and consulting on cannabis licensing and product development.
Brains Bioceutical: building a cannabis dream team
CEO of Brains Bio, Rick Brar, discusses his philosophy that a CEO is only as good as the team they lead.
In this article, CEO of Brains Bioceutical, Rick Brar, discusses how building an expert team makes for a successful cannabis business.
I have always subscribed to the mantra that you are only as good as your team. As an entrepreneur and CEO, my relative success has always been the result of the high-performing teams that I have had the privilege of working with over the years. They have been instrumental in creating positive synergies, bringing innovative ideas to the forefront and helping to bring the company vision to life.
When I founded Brains Bioceutical, a global manufacturer of naturally-sourced active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), I knew the company would be embarking on a new frontier in the research and development of cannabinoids for the health and wellness sectors.
This ambitious undertaking would require the top minds across a number of industries, from pharmaceutical to cannabis and everything in between. Our team is strategically positioned to cover a diversified approach to pharmaceutical cannabinoids – with operations across the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and medical markets.
With that in mind, I went in search of the infrastructure and the people I would need to help fulfil my vision of creating a company that specialised in the development of natural, plant-based cannabinoid APIs, backed by evidence-based research.
My team of advisors tracked down an API manufacturing facility in the United Kingdom that was EU-GMP certified. Not only did the facility (BSPG Laboratories) check all of the boxes, it was run by Dean Billington, an accomplished scientific professional with decades of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.
Dean is one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry when it comes to the CBD molecule and what it takes to navigate the complex global regulatory environments associated with cannabinoid APIs. He has a proven track record of commercial and business development success with major pharmaceutical companies including Caligor RX Ltd., Bilcare GCS Europe Limited, Fisher Clinical Services and Pharmalytic Limited.
He has also provided independent consulting services to a wider range of pharmaceutical companies at various stages of growth, providing expertise on all aspects of the drug development cycle including clinical trials, analytical chemistry and quality assurance.
Once Dean accepted the position as global chief operating officer for Brains Bioceutical, I knew this company was going to be well-positioned for hyper growth in the CBD health and wellness industries.
Following Dean’s hiring, I was in search of candidates that could lead our vertical markets – ingredient, wellness and pharmaceutical development. Terry O’Regan, who had a demonstrable track record of high performance in the pharma and biotech sectors, was my primary target. Having worked in a number of senior executive roles with pharmaceutical giant Biogen, I knew Terry could provide the expertise when it comes to the development and launches of new products and drive sustainable growth strategies.
With Biogen, Terry developed a comprehensive portfolio strategy that maximised the potential of Biogen’s MS brands, ensuring the company had the top three most prescribed MS drugs in the United Kingdom. He also made significant strides as chairman of the American Pharmaceutical Industry group, influencing government policy within the life science sector by identifying opportunities for further collaboration between the UK Government and the industry.
But it wasn’t just Terry’s track record in product innovation, business development or policy reforms that made him the ideal candidate for President of Brains Bio. It is his passion for creating a company culture where employees feel valued and respected; where everyone is an equal part of something extraordinary. Terry is a man that does his homework and before accepting the role as President, he consulted with a number of neurologists, oncologists, patients and conducted a thorough literature review of the potential that cannabinoids could have on the future of healthcare and patient outcomes. Convinced that our natural, plant-based cannabinoid API could be used to treat various chronic diseases facing the world, Terry graciously agreed to lead our team.
Thankfully for us, Terry had deep connections with prominent people in the pharmaceutical industry, including Bill Purves, who is now our chief commercial officer. Bill is a veteran in both the pharmaceutical and cannabis industries, ideally suited to lead Brains Bioceutical’s business development strategy, exploring new revenue streams and solidifying relationships with existing and prospective customers.
He started his pharmaceutical career with GlaxoSmithKline, where he stayed for over 10 years leading the company’s international business development unit. His entrepreneurial ventures began shortly thereafter with Iroko Pharmaceuticals, where Purves helped establish the company’s global sales and distribution networks for branded generic and specialty prescription products. In 2018, he entered the cannabis space, serving as CCO and CFO for Jacana, a Jamaican cannabis company. In these roles, Purves helped transform the startup into a fully vertically integrated cannabis company with business arms that included research and development, cultivation, production and extraction.
As CCO of Brains Bioceutical, Purves is able to combine his passion and experience in the pharmaceutical industry with his background in working with a cannabis startup.
And last but not least, what is a company without a tactical political strategist, public policy expert and master communicator? Barinder Bhullar, our senior vice president of corporate affairs, serves as the crucial link between the company and its customers, investors, employees and government, responsible for overseeing Brains Bioceutical’s overall communications strategy and providing direction on the company’s image, reputation and general performance.
Barinder has held multiple senior level positions within the BC government, with a proven track record in establishing and maintaining relations with domestic and international governments and stakeholders. He also served as vice-president of international affairs for The Supreme Cannabis Company, a leading Health Canada licensed cannabis producer. In this role, Barinder worked with governments in the United Kingdom and Brussels to provide input on Europe’s medical cannabis policy. More importantly, Barinder demonstrates incredible leadership and passion and is eager to lead the Brains Bio team in unlocking transformative health and wellness solutions for patients and consumers.
Collectively, we have an incredible mission ahead of us. The strength of our combined team brings over 100 years of relationships with large pharmaceutical and research institutions. This combined with an exclusive partnership with one of the world’s largest human nutrition companies, will allow us to rapidly expand our global sales footprint. Using our industry leading hemp-based cannabinoid API, we are pioneering a new frontier in medicinal and wellness solutions across the world.
Our leadership team possesses unparalleled expertise and institutional knowledge in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and cannabinoid-based product development. Now that we have the people, the infrastructure, the licensing and the research and development well underway, I am proud to say that Brains Bio is strategically positioned to be a trailblazer in healthcare innovation across the world.
Is digital marketing the future for cannabis marketing?
In this article, digital marketer Jack Pierce discusses the best techniques to utilise when marketing your cannabis business online.
Today, many consider marketing one of the hottest topics coming out of the digital world in 2022.
The digital disruption arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and the ever-changing digital environment are altering the landscape of marketing. The adaptations to such disruptions are now taking businesses to new realms by using innovative forms of social media platforms, shopping channels and news outlets to create consumer experiences, relationships and business ventures.
Alongside the prominent use of digital marketing as a tool to create customer value, many industries like the CBD and cannabinoid sectors are seeking to utilise digital marketing to secure their business placement in a competitive environment whilst creating meaningful consumer relationships to grow in both profits and positioning.
The UK is currently in the run to become one of the largest consumers of cannabis products worldwide. The total number of prescriptions for the medicinal use of cannabis and use of over-the-counter CBD is vastly growing. Whilst CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid present in cannabis, we still utilise it in many products from skincare, medicinal oils, and food, hoping to improve the lives and health of many patients and citizens in the UK.
Despite this demand and increase in using cannabis products and medicines, there is still a struggle felt amongst cannabis marketers and organisations when attempting to market products relating to cannabis or containing cannabis.
The current law in place in the UK does not permit the advertisement of cannabis products through traditional forms of advertising. However, the UK has now seen at least two CBD marketing campaigns featuring on television and outdoor billboards.
Further to this growing use and acceptance of cannabis worldwide, social media services are now taking the cannabis marketing industry to new heights by allowing the use of cannabis hashtags and discussions to be shared through their interactive and dynamic platforms.
This has led to a substantial increase in cannabis-related businesses to utilise multi-channel communication to secure consumers and share the latest updates coming directly from the cannabis industry.
Further to the adaptions surrounding the approval of cannabis promotions on social media, the number of organisations within the UK’s cannabis space utilising such digital efforts has taken the social media industry by storm.
Thousands of users are now following and interacting with cannabis platforms daily, creating an active and thriving online community of cannabis users, patients, and professionals. Besides these adaptions within content regulations, noticeable changes have also occurred within the application of alternative digital services, such as online meeting and event services.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought forward a new way of communication and discussion through digital meeting platforms. Organisations within the cannabis space did not miss out on this influential change as many turned to new forms of direct marketing through virtual attendance events, discussing hot cannabis topics and industry improvements in the UK to help reach wider communities and participants at low costs.
As a result of such a diverse use of platforms to market cannabis-related products, it is perhaps clear that digital marketing may always remain the key element to growing your business in the UK’s cannabis sector. If it does – what are the best techniques to utilise when marketing your cannabis business online?
Here are some top tips to utilise when marketing your cannabis service or products online.
Know your value offering
Cannabis is clearly in demand, but what else do your consumers value? Aim to focus your value offerings on specific consumer segments rather than the entire cannabis industry.
Implement a strong social media strategy
Digital marketing is becoming a dominant force. An aim to implement and communicate a powerful strategy should be at the forefront of goals to gain the engagement and interaction desired.
Listen to your audience. Your audience is your lifeline, and marketing should always reflect your audience. The cannabis industry may have a vast and diverse audience, but you cannot reach it all. Listen to your current audience and build on this to grow.
As the options to network have become ever more interactive, organisations should create their brand and image and let it flourish through online events and discussions.
To learn how to improve your cannabis marketing in 2022, sign up for the Cannabis Wealth Newsletter below.
Canal Side Marketing
Cannabis in the UK is a medicine for the rich but a crime for the poor
Tim Henley, medical cannabis patient advocate at Access Kaneh, shares his thoughts on medical cannabis access in the UK.
Cannabis in the UK is currently a medicine for the rich and a crime for the poor – can the UK continue like this?
Even today judges are sentencing people for growing their own medicine. I believe the industry has to push for decriminalisation to ensure medical cannabis benefits all.
The judiciary seemed to have missed the memo highlighting that cannabis is now legal for medical use. The juxtaposition of legal medicine and illicit crime from the same plant really does come down to money and an EU GMP certificate. Policing by consent in this country is the bedrock of our system and is being eroded by the current cannabis legislation which sees massive disparities in wealth, crime and punishment based on opportunity and ethnicity.
Now, don’t get me wrong – cannabis farms with modern slaves and electricity theft are the bane of modern society and need to be stamped out. That’s why we need proper regulation with an equitable balance, and it needs to be enacted now. The future will see reparation payments for the lives blighted by the current legislation and highly likely an official apology in time. Why is the UK not looking at the global change happening now?
Well, at the same time medical cannabis became legal in the UK, the Canadians implemented the Cannabis Act. Canada legalised adult-use following two decades of successful and extensive medical access where no one died.
What can the UK learn from Canada? First, the starting point for Canada’s legislation was delivering harm reduction and quality of life outcomes. The previous two decades of medical access were not set up to focus on scientific research or ensuring cannabis was an option of last resort but an option of choice. If someone with a medical condition wanted to choose cannabis they could, if they felt better and gained benefit from using medical cannabis that was good enough for the Canadians. Patients could even get a prescription to grow their own medicine empowering them to take back control of their own health.
This is in stark contrast to the UK approach where only GMC consultants can prescribe Cannabis medication. The consultation at a private clinic can only happen after all other effective treatment options have been considered and exhausted. Each script is a specified product with no leeway for patients to choose options that may be more suitable for them as other countries allow in the dispensary system.
The private clinics since 2018 have seen around 10,000 cannabis patients, way behind other countries such as Australia with close to 100,000 patients, Germany with over 120,000 and Canada with over 350,000 patients pre-adult use. The UK has come so far but at the same time achieved so little. There are, by most estimates, around 1.75 million people using illicit cannabis for medical purposes. These people have not felt compelled to move to legal medical cannabis even though they risk legal action against them if caught, for them cannabis is a crime.
Why have more people not sought out legal cannabis?
Maybe the initial consult and the monthly script costs are too high. This seems on the surface the reason why medical cannabis has not expanded as quickly. However, the medication costs in some cases are comparable to illicit cannabis so it is not the whole story. Part of the picture seems to be that many people still don’t know medical cannabis is legally available, if they do, it is seen as too difficult to access.
I happen to think one of the key factors is clinician responses. My own personal experience shows the issues. I asked my GP about using Cannabis for my lower back pain. They told me it was only available for epileptic children, but they offered me opioid painkillers instead. I reluctantly started co-codamol but saw no benefit and knew further escalation could lead to dark addictions.
The GP had given me incorrect information and shown no understanding of Cannabis as a medication. This is why AccessKaneh was formed to help people understand cannabis and navigate the regulatory system. But even now in appointments with doctors when I mention Cannabis there is definitely a feeling of disapproval in the air. I am reasonably healthy so visits to my GP are rare.
However, if future treatment decisions are affected by my choice to use medical cannabis that makes me uneasy and for many is an untenable option. That’s why they continue in the shadows of others. Their use of cannabis means they are healthy and don’t have the medical records required to get a script. There is a multitude of reasons that a more relaxed approach will remove. Personally, I hope we move to a system where nurse practitioners or trained GPs can prescribe, like Australia and Canada. I can then find a GP that understands cannabis and looks at holistic medicine as an opportunity, not a snake oil.
On the positive side, I recently went to the Royal Society of Medicine for an event aptly named as “Pain and cannabis medicines: Everything you want to know (but were afraid to ask)” it felt like cannabis is actually starting to make an impact in the medical world amongst the more enlightened doctors so things are starting to move.
That said, listening to Paul Chrisp from NICE – National Institute for Health Care Excellence, the gatekeepers and advisors on what the NHS should fund and whose current guidelines are blocking cannabis prescribing in the health service, I was so frustrated. Mr Chrisp’s view was there is just not the evidence to the standard NICE will accept to change their opinion. He did however say they would look at real-world evidence and quality of life data but the gold standard was always going to be Randomised Controlled Trials (RCT’s).
This methodology once again disadvantages cannabis. The current research and licensing system is for single active ingredient drugs where pharma companies can recoup their RCT investment for specific conditions. Cannabis will never be able to fund such research at scale because strains and cultivars are easily reproducible and cannot be patented to get the return on Investment.
One answer is to empower citizen science and open-source research using the data from the many countries endorsing access. This approach can accumulate country-wide data into collaborative research following the model that has been shown so effective in COVID research. Maybe this model can convince NICE to make cannabis accessible to all.
Paul Chrisp’s comments made me think once again why we are not looking at the historic record of safe use. For thousands of years people have used cannabis as a medication before we sanitised medicine to symptom control and lost our holistic approach. It is only in the last hundred years since the real industrialisation of societies started that cannabis fell out of favour. The century of prohibition led patients to the shadows and vilified their medicinal cannabis use.
Strange to stand on their shoulders, listening to General Medical Council registered (GMC) consultant after consultant presenting slides and case studies on how effective the medication is. The descriptions of patients where pharma meds had not been effective but cannabis or a derivative have been, make compelling real-world evidence.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the critical reason why cannabis is so effective in so many conditions. But we find out during the conference that the ECS and its operation are still not taught in medical schools because the GMC still does not deem it important enough. This is perhaps because cannabis takes us into this area of holistic caring which has always presented problems for the medical establishment and its pharma orthodoxy. The mantra “prevention is better than cure” means to me the ECS should be top of the training curriculum of all future clinicians.
Back to the question, how does the UK stop cannabis being a medicine for the rich and a crime for the poor? This has to be based on exactly the same criteria Canada used to evaluate its steps forward. Harm reduction and real-world quality of life outcomes. These guiding principles should directly affect the way the UK approaches cannabis. We can learn from around the world where health systems are subsidising the price or cost of consultations for medical cannabis, so it is a medicine for those that choose it. It’s time the NHS looked at the holistic opportunity that the ECS and medical cannabis present.
Currently, EU GMP cannabis sits in concrete and steel edifices that take away the plant’s power to regenerate our planet’s atmosphere. For me, the most important issue on the horizon is why medical cannabis is not regulated as a herbal medicine, where I believe it should really sit. If cannabis was restored as a herbal medicine the industry could actually be a leader in climate change action and environmental impacts while delivering real social change to benefit the world’s poorest and helping the majority.
The introduction of dispensaries as advocated by the Cannabis Trades Association in our 10 point plan on cannabis would reinvigorate the high street leading to a renaissance of many high streets and providing local jobs.
Cannabis will be part of the future – the question is who will it benefit?
As the great physicist Carl Sagan said:
“The illegality of Cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world”
Written under his pseudonym Mr. X to avoid the heavy social stigma associated with cannabis in 1969.
What has changed? Enlightened countries are re-evaluating and unleashing the healing power of cannabis, will the UK?
Medical cannabis patient advocate
- New agreement to fund Phase II trials for cannabis glaucoma treatment
- Discover Europe’s first registered cannabis seedbank
- What can Uruguay teach the UK about cannabis policy?
- Flora Growth steps up international growth strategy with opening of offices in London
- Roundup of Q1 2022 financial results in the UK medical cannabis space