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UAE eases drug laws for travellers, raising questions on Billy Hood case

The United Arab Emirates has announced that it will now destroy cannabis products rather than imprisoning individuals.

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UAE eases drug laws for travellers, raising questions on Billy Hood case
Image from Detained In Dubai of British national Billy Hood

The news that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will relax cannabis drug laws has raised new questions about the case of a British national detained for possessing CBD products.

The UAE has said it will destroy products containing cannabis that have been brought into the country by foreign travellers, instead of imprisoning individuals, in what has been described as a “step in the right direction” by campaigners.

However, the development raises the question of the release of British national Billy Hood who was imprisoned for trafficking, selling and possessing CBD earlier this year.

Published in the country’s official gazette, the Associated Press (AP) has reported that the UAE has confirmed it will be relaxing its drug laws around cannabis. Travellers carrying cannabis products would normally face a four-year prison sentence if caught.

According to AP, the law change will see minimum sentences for first-time drug offenders of three months to two years, and convicts will be offered rehabilitation. It also reports that travellers caught with cannabis products are normally deported to their home countries following imprisonment, but that this decision will now be left to a judge. 

A number of foreigners have been imprisoned by the UAE for what the country constitutes as crimes, including having prescription medicines.

The recent case of 24-year-old Billy Hood saw the British footballer sentenced to 25 years in prison in Dubai following the discovery of four bottles of CBD in his car.

Billy explained to the authorities that his friend from England must have left them there on the way to the airport following a visit and that he was not aware of the presence of the products.

At the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters, a urine sample was processed which was returned as negative and Billy was asked to sign a document in Arabic without an English translation, which Billy refused to do. After being sent back to a holding cell, Billy succumbed to the pressure and agreed to sign the document in Arabic, not knowing its content. 

Radha Stirling, CEO of campaign group Detained in Dubai, which is working with Billy’s case, commented that: “Forced and coerced confessions are commonplace in Dubai.”

Billy’s brother Alexander is fighting for his freedom and the case has been appealed by Billy’s lawyers following allegations that Hood has been tortured after being moved to Al Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi and placed in solitary confinement in a cockroach-infested cell.

Billy’s mother has reported that he has been uncontactable since being moved to the prison. 

Speaking to Cannabis Wealth on the new development to UAE drug laws, Stirling commented: “It’s pleasing to see the UAE is finally addressing draconian drug laws that have seen numerous foreigners locked up for arbitrary reasons like prescription medicine, residual THC in blood from hashish consumed overseas as well as simply knowing someone who has possessed small amounts of drugs. 

“This is a step in the right direction and something we’ve pursued for almost 14 years. But what really needs to be focused on is forced confessions and wrongful prosecutions like we have seen in the case of Billy Hood whose appeal results are expected today.

“The changes in law have come after years of public outrage caused by the large number of wrongful arrests and prosecutions. We are pleased to see the UAE responding to calls for legislative change but the procedural issues will continue to cause unfair detentions.”

On 27 November, 2021, Billy’s family appeared at Dubai’s largest luxury property show in London to set off #FreeBilly balloons for his birthday.

“Billy’s mother Breda is frightened to get her hopes up for next week’s appeal results,” commented Stirling in a statement.

“It has been a most distressing time since Billy was moved to Abu Dhabi and put in isolation. The past year has been an absolute nightmare for the family and they are stressed out of their minds.

“Andy Neal went through the same thing. He was detained for a whole year before finally being exonerated. I don’t think anyone can imagine what that does to a person. The impact and trauma are ongoing and lead to broken families and damaged victims. The human toll of failing and corrupt police practices is extreme and a serious human rights issue.

“When UAE enterprise then comes to London to put on property shows and the like, offering free residency visas and 50 per cent mortgages, we have to understand that people will be lured into these offerings and are at risk of losing their investments as they have done systematically for over a decade, their freedom or like Lee Bradley Brown, their lives. 

“There are thousands of foreigners who have been deceived by property developers often owned by the government and this deceit has resulted in their loss of funds and freedom as banks have jailed them for debt. Numerous British nationals are in Dubai right now, prisoners in the capital of fraud and money laundering. After being robbed by companies with deceptive trade practices and zero accountability, they are then held in the country until they can repay mortgages for homes that were never even finished. The catch is, their passports will be confiscated and their working permits cancelled at the same time. Foreigners have faced homelessness and become suicidal over this egregious situation.

“The [UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] FCDO has been criticised for its lack of sufficient travel warnings to the UAE and in fact, this very issue will be debated in Parliament shortly. For the time being, it’s important that those being lured into mortgages, debt and unfinished property developments are warned by rights groups of the risks they face in the Gulf. The best way to do that is to attend Dubai’s marketing events to warn citizens directly.”

A petition to release Hood from prison has so far received more than 100,000 signatures and is aiming to collect 150,000 signatures to become one of the most popular petitions in the history of Change.org.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are giving consular support to a British man who has been imprisoned in the UAE. We are in contact with his family in the UK.”

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Italy plans hemp production increases: could the UK be next?

Italian officials are planning an increase in hemp and processing centres which could boost fabric or fibre production

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Officials in west-central Italy are progressing plans to build a sustainable hemp supply chain model which would help to boost local agriculture.

The town of Roccasecca is located in the Frosinone province in the Lazio region. Officials are preparing the land to be planted with hemp ahead of the growing season. The project is a joint initiative of the city of Roccasecca and Cosilam, the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, consultancy Agricola Happy Hill and municipalities of Ceccano and San Giovanni Incarico.

The project was announced last year as a way of processing poor soil and attracting industry to the region. The Consortium for the Industrial Development of Southern Lazio (Cosilam) conducted a pre-planting analysis and the soil will be assessed after one farming cycle this year.

Cannabis bioaccumlative

As well as the production of fibre, hemp plastic, concrete and biofuels, hemp can also be used as a bioaccumulative. It can draw unwanted toxic material out of the soil helping to heal polluted areas.

Nitrogen-fixing plants such as hemp, alfalfa and peas can extract nitrogen from the air for fertilization which then results in higher amounts released into the soil. Soil can be damaged by heavy metals, toxins and pesticides used in farming.

Soil regeneration may help to make the land suitable for farming other crops. Hemp could also contribute to the carbon targets set by European countries including the UK, by capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. For every tonne of hemp produced, 1.63 tonnes of CO2 is removed from the air. Hemp can absorb 15 tonnes of CO2 per hectare.

Examples of hemp fibre and fabric

Fabric made from hemp

Italian intuitive

Roccasecca is just one of many Italian cities considering hemp processing and planting.

Umbria, a neighbouring region to Lazio, has also started planting hemp with the aim of creating a hemp fibre and hurd supply chain. The city is also interested in the phytoremediation, and Phyto-purification of water in the region through hemp.

An increase in hemp farming and also an investment into infrastructure would allow Italian companies to start developing hemp-fibre-based bioplastics and biopolymers. It could also serve the textile and fashion industries where alternative fibres are in high demand.

Hemp cultivation has been legal in Italy since 2016. Until the second world war, Italy was the largest producer of hemp but the move towards synthetic fibres meant that production was scaled back.

During the pandemic, Italy proposed a law change regarding personal grows to allow medical cannabis patients to cultivate up to four plants at home. A petition on medical cannabis circulated last year gathered over 500,000 signatures which may trigger a referendum on legalisation.

Katya Kowalski, head of strategy at Volteface said: “The introduction of hemp farming across Italy is a welcome initiative. Hemp is a high value, sustainable and versatile crop. In the midst of economic and environmental turmoil, hemp is a viable crop from widespread job creation to offsetting carbon-intensive building.

Hemp is an excellent demonstration of how cannabis reform is a much broader and varied area of policy than simply recreational drug use.”

She added: “I hope that these positive changes continue to reframe the reform sector and that hemp farming is taken up further across Europe and in the UK.”

Hemp: Italy plans to increase hemp production

English production

When it comes to English hemp supply chains or production, Katya notes that changes would need to be made to THC levels to allow farmers more freedom.

“In order for the UK to capitalise on this, changes need to be made to the outdated restrictions on hemp farming. As per recommendations in Volteface’s report, Pleasant Lands allowing hemp seed varieties with a THC percentage above 0.2 per cent and up to 1 per cent would improve the health of the plant and increase the yield of CBD per acre.

Alongside this, investment into the sector and moving hemp farming under DEFRA as opposed to the Home Office to streamline this industry more”

Could the UK produce more hemp?

Hemp designer Laura Bossom, founder of Cultiva commented on what it would take for the UK to increase hemp production.

“As an industry, What we are waiting for is the government to put forward farmer incentives such as making policy changes that would allow farmers to benefit from growing hemp. Last year there were conversations happening [remove: at the moment] around building facility centres in the UK for processing. As a nation, we are only growing 1600 hectares a year and we must grow more to make it viable.” she said.

“There were initial talks about importing fibre from Europe but that doesn’t seem economically viable or sustainable in terms of emissions. I’m sure the government is aware of the information coming from research and other projects being put forward by a lot of associations. We are waiting for the government to give us the go-ahead and back it completely. They are protecting the Pharmaceutical CBD markets by making it difficult for farmers to grow. They don’t actually benefit much from growing hemp as the CBD margin on their crop is not there due to a ban on processing CBD in the UK.”

She added: “We need to be building our local industries and I don’t see why the government won’t do it. I think it’s just a matter of when.”

When it comes to private investment, Covid has caused disruption in the market and the hardiness of hemp could mean sturdier equipment is needed. However, government backing could secure private investors who may feel nervous about the sector.

Laura said: “The other issue we have is that it is quite a long process. When you look at other natural fibres, they are not as strong as hemp, so they are quicker and easier to process. Hemp is so hardy that it requires decortication with quaternized action and a lot of refining processes.

We need a facility centre that will cost a lot of money but will be profitable in the long term. It’s a big investment! A lot of investors during Covid have been wary of putting their money into a high-risk project when they aren’t seeing the government backing it or farming policy encouraging growth.”

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South African company planning to export cannabinoids to UK and EU

The company is the first in the country to receive a licence for the manufacture, import and export cannabinoids.

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South African company planning to export cannabinoids to UK

Green Engineering Solutions Ltd (GES Labs) has stated it intends to export into regions including Australia, Israel, EU, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and the US.

GES Labs is the first company in South Africa to receive the licence from the South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). 

The licence will allow the company to manufacture, import and export bulk active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) containing cannabinoids in accordance with the Medicines and Related Substances Act, 1965, and will last until 2026.

GES Labs, which is a licensed pharmaceutical manufacturer and exporter, has said that this will cover CBD Isolate APIs  at 98+ per cent, CBD API at 90+ per cent CBD, THC API at 90+ per cent THC and USP generic Dronabinol.

GES Labs stated publicly: “GESLabs has rolled out our product offering for 2022. 

“This quarter we will be focusing on our bulk cannabinoid product offering including CBD isolate, CBD intermediate, THC intermediate, and Dronabinol. 

“In quarter one we will be focusing on delivering sample amounts for prospective clients while our global stability program is underway for Quarter 2 commercial supply. 

“We will be looking to offer these products to Australia, Israel, EU, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, and US clients focussed on the pharmaceutical cannabinoid sector.”

On its website the company commented that: “The product certification ensures that all our cannabinoid APIs are of pharmaceutical quality suitable for medicine manufacturing.

“We use state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies to produce world-class extracts using high quality input materials from approved South African cultivators that have been approved through strictly controlled auditing programs.”

In December it said: “We have now been in production of cannabinoid APIs for a month and we will be finalizing our product validations with market-ready stability studies in the new year.”

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Thailand to propose removing cannabis from controlled substances list

Thailand was the first nation in Southeast Asia to approve medical cannabis in 2018

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Thailand: Thailand propose cannabis law changes

The Food and Drug Administration of Thailand is to propose that the narcotics control board remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances.

Under current law, cannabis is classed as a category 5 narcotic. It would also remove lengthy prison sentences for possession which can be up to 15 years. 

The measure would need to be approved by the Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul before the law is changed.

Thailand has been slowly liberalising access to cannabis although there are still many laws that restrict farming. Cannabis and hemp products are allowed in the cosmetic and food industries since 2020 with hospitals allowed to produce cannabis-based medicines.

Thailand was the first nation in Southeast Asia to approve medical cannabis in 2018. The county removed the stems, roots, leaves and sprigs of the plant from the Category 5 narcotics list in December 2021. However, buds and seeds remain on the list. 

Under the 2021 list update, Thai households can grow up to six plants for personal use and keep the parts of the plant with 0.2 per cent of THC. The flowers and seeds must be sent to a state medical facility for processing. 

Withid Sariddeechaikool, deputy secretary-general of the FDA told Bloomberg: “If we’re able to decriminalise marijuana, we will be able to benefit from all of the plant and not just parts of it. The flower buds and seeds could be used economically and in compliance of the law.”

Thailand: A collection of CBD oil in bottles and CBD flower

Thailand and medical cannabis

The Public Health Ministry in Thailand signed an agreement with Rx Leaf World Medica to establish an international medical cannabis research centre. The centre will combine doctors, scientists, pharmacists and cannabis experts to conduct research.

In a press event, public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul said that the ministry would promote medical cannabis to help people access treatment safely and within the law. He also highlighted that the ministry would aim to promote Thailand as a great location for cannabis production and development.

“In 2022, the Public Health Ministry will focus on promoting Thai herbs and wisdom in order to create jobs, generate revenue and improve patients’ quality of life.”
However, there have been some media reports which suggest that the formula that is available through the clinic is not of a high enough quality and that they have returned to the illegal market.

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