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.
Five ways science can help your cannabis business
In this article, Christopher Tasker, CEO of Global Cannabinoid Solutions, discusses how science can help your cannabis business.
Science is a practical approach to understanding the world around us that has matured throughout the history of humanity.
Throughout human existence, the role of science has been to guide the development of and better the quality of human life. Science has brought us the comfort that we so take for granted in 21st-century life.
The Cambridge dictionary defines science as “Knowledge from the study of the structure and behaviour of the physical world, especially by watching, measuring, and experimenting to develop theories that describe the results of these activities.”
Science, as we know it today, has been defined by a series of key features that underpin the scientific process.
Figure 1. The key pillars of the scientific methodology as outlined by The science council.
A brief history
The role of scientific understanding has evolved throughout human history. The roots of science date back as far as ancient Egypt where the Egyptians and Mesopotamians laid the foundation of modern sciences such as astronomy, medicine and mathematics (Hessen et al., 2009).
These early contributions shaped Greek philosophy whereby attempts were made to provide explanations of events in the physical world based on natural causes (Grant, 2007). Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, a great deal of knowledge was lost. Some of this ancient knowledge was recovered during the Islamic Golden age which flourished with help of Islamic scholars who built on the knowledge they had absorbed (Klein-Frank, 1996). During this period, European science and society struggled for many centuries.
The Renaissance was a complex period that is described as a cultural movement of intellectual inquiry that spread across Europe early in the first millennium. Humanism was a key theme of this movement, which manifest itself in the forms of art, architecture, politics, science and literature. Towards the end of the 16th century and not long before his death, Nicolaus Copernicus published his heliocentric model of the universe which placed the sun rather than the earth at the center of the universe. This historical paradigm shift was one of the great dominoes that contributed to the scientific revolution (Rosen, 1986). Scientific contributions such as these sustained the European Renaissance which brought us great minds such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Michelangelo as well as inventions such as the telescope and camera obscura.
The European Renaissance and the new ideas that fuelled the scientific revolution culminated in what is known historically as the Age of Enlightenment, which dominated the 17th and 18th centuries. This societal shift placed reason at the centre of authority and legitimacy paving the way for the emergence of modern science. As the 19th and 20th centuries arrived so did the professionalism of science. Modern science is now comprised of many branches that are the foundations of society as we know it today.
Francis Bacon, a pivotal figure in science history and a key contributor to the development of the modern scientific method of investigation, was quoted saying “the real and legitimate goal of sciences is the endowment of human life with new inventions and riches” (Hessen et al., 2009).
Figure 2. A depiction of the Scale of the Universe mapped to the Branches of Science and the Hierarchy of Science. The Scale of the Universe capture the average diameters of key systems.
Fun fact: It takes approximately 60 trillion atoms to make a human cell, there are roughly 32 trillion cells in a person, and 108 billion people have ever lived.
Five ways science can help your cannabis business
In many ways, we are in the midst of a 21st-century renaissance. As we move forward in this digital age of information, science is now more accessible than ever. What was once reserved for esteemed individuals at the upper echelons of society is now accessible to the masses. Leveraging science provides a tremendous opportunity to look to science as a foundation of the development of the next generation of services, solutions and innovations that will help shape the future of humanity. This takes us into the five ways that Science can help your business today.
Protection from misinformation
An understanding of the fundamental scientific laws that underpin an industry provides an anchor point from which to assess and identify risks. This knowledge base is a protective layer that helps identify threats and faults before they escalate. Solve problems efficiently and reduce the impact of bad decisions.
A fundamental scientific understanding of your field provides an empirical approach to business offering independence and confidence in decision making. A workforce that is autonomous and empowered can operate with military precision, armed with unique perspectives and ideas to create a flourishing future. This means less management and more output. No longer relying on chasing trends but instead predicting and leading new trends with your new insights.
With autonomy comes the ability to differentiate from the competition and sow the seeds of your own unique identity. No longer relying on watching the competition and build a sustainable, long-term vision for your business and its legacy. So many stones have been left unturned, science is an exploratory tool that will help you navigate this nascent cannabis industry.
A legacy is built on the social impact you bring about as a company. Science provides a means to measure the factors affecting communities and offer meaningful solutions to our ecosystem. Protecting the community from the potential harms of our business and building impact in the process. Science is a bridging language that can be used to develop and engage in a conversion with communities impacted by your work sharing culture, ethos and interpretations.
Research and data are fundamental to building new hypotheses and planning for future expansion. Science and its unique methodologies will continue to advance understanding leading to the development of new intellectual property. As you uncover new findings you then benefit from the advantages and insights gained from your discoveries.
Science continues to play a pivotal role in the development of our civilisations. Learned societies, houses of wisdom, academies and institutions have provided scientific counsel to society for generations. Our cannabis science firm is here to support the cannabis industry with this next leg of 21st-century cannabis enterprise. By combining science, education and technology we are saturating the cannabis industry with next generation of scientific services, solutions and innovations for the betterment of businesses and communities across the globe.
- Grant, E. (2007) A history of natural philosophy : from the ancient world to the nineteenth century. Cambridge University Press.
- Hessen, B. et al. (2009) The social and economic roots of the Scientific Revolution : texts by Boris Hessen and Henryk Grossmann. Springer. Available at: https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Social_and_Economic_Roots_of_the_Sci.html?id=PgmbZIybuRoC (Accessed: 4 August 2021).
- Klein-Frank, F. A.-K. (1996) History of Islamic Philosophy, History of Islamic Philosophy. Edited by S. H. Nasr and O. Leaman. Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9781003070733.
- Rosen, E. (1986) The Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier.
Global Cannabinoid Solutions
SPONSORED: Tackling misinformation in the cannabis industry
CEO and Founder of Sativa Learning, Ryan McCreanor, jumps straight into the facts of the industry.
Where to begin? With a prime example from the legal adult-use industry.
Do you prefer indica or sativa?
In cannabis retail stores across Canada and dispensaries in the US, products are typically categorised into indica-dominant, sativa-dominant or hybrid. Cannabis consultants – or budtenders – will advise consumers to expect an indica-dominant product, to produce a sedating effect, possibly even leading to ‘couch-lock’ and therefore best consumed in the evening. Indica = In da couch.
A sativa-dominant high is likely to be more energising or alerting and better suited for daytime consumption. With a hybrid, you can expect a combination of effects; depending on the ratio of indica to sativa – whatever that means!
The problem? It’s outdated nonsense.
I know this all too well as I was responsible for teaching it to retail staff in cannabis stores across British Columbia, believing it to be world class cannabis education. The truth is indica and sativa are terms used to describe the morphology of the plant and have no bearing on the expected effects on the consumer. The cannabinoid and terpene profiles of a particular chemovar of cannabis are a better indicator of gauging expected effects.
To add to that, everyone’s endocannabinoid system is unique. Cannabis affects us all differently and there is a need for cautious, personal experimentation, to find a product that works for your desired effect. We also have to consider a consumer’s mindset and setting prior to consumption, as it will also play an important role in their overall cannabis experience; especially to a newbie.
So, why do cannabis retailers continue to sell cannabis in these categories? Because it’s easy! Sativa & indica are simple terms to understand. It makes life easy for the budtender, the consumer and the producers marketing the products. As straightforward as it is to understand, it does little to help consumers to find the right product for them. We are sacrificing a more complicated truth in place of unfounded ease at the expense of the consumer.
What about the CBD industry?
Unfortunately, we see the same issues arise in the CBD industry which is awash with misinformation. Let’s dive into some examples.
Almost every website mentioning CBD will tell you that it is a ‘non-psychoactive’ compound. But, according to Dr. Ethan Russo, this is an inaccurate term, given its prominent pharmacological benefits on anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, and possibly even depression. More accurately, we should be describing CBD as ‘non-intoxicating’.1
Am I being too pedantic here? Possibly. But if you’re not onboard with giving out correct information to your consumers, you’re part of the problem.
In the UK, it is widely believed that the limit of THC in legal CBD products is 0.2%, but this is also a common misconception. The 0.2% THC threshold refers to various rules in relation to cultivation and import of hemp. Under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, ‘exempt product’ status allows for the presence of no more than 1mg of THC in any given CBD product – although this now appears to be under review.
Add to the above the many unsubstantiated medical claims; CBD being hailed as a cure all and bogus products like CBD pillows, being sold to vulnerable people genuinely seeking relief from CBD, and it’s not a good look for the industry.
These examples are by no means an exhaustive list, but they are an indication that we as an industry need to do better, and to consistently give out the most up to date information to consumers. The cannabis industry is evolving at a fierce pace, and we have only scratched the surface on what we know about this powerful plant.
For the industry to progress in a better way, we need to be agile in our knowledge and education for the benefit of the consumer. Whether you’re involved in the medical, wellness or recreational side of the cannabis industry, the focus should always be on the end user experience.
Sativa Learning was created with the aims of providing the most up to date and accurate cannabis training and education available. Our CBD Industry Professional course has been developed by industry experts and includes a legal module which is reviewed and approved every quarter by Mackrell Solicitors, ensuring you receive the most current knowledge available.
We’re accredited by the CPD certification service to guarantee the content has been created to the highest standards of further learning. We are committed to providing cannabis organisations, entrepreneurs, jobseekers, academics, and medical professionals with the tools needed to cultivate a career in the cannabis industry.
As the cannabis industry grows worldwide, the gap in cannabis knowledge grows with it. We are here to bridge that gap.
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