On the 2nd of October 2018, investors and industry stakeholders trooped to London for Europe’s leading cannabis investment conference, Cannabis Invest, held in the Mayfair Hotel. Presenting companies at the conference have total of nearly $30 billion of market cap, representing almost two-thirds of the world’s publicly listed cannabis industries.
It was a strange thing to hold in a country that still largely criminalizes the cultivation and production of cannabis. The official stance of the government is that “cannabis is a very harmful, very dangerous drug, that can cause huge mental health problems and addiction”, and that “cannabis has no medicinal benefits in herbal form”.
The conference discussed investment opportunities, research and development of cannabis medicine, and the evolving nature of drug regulation. It came as a harbinger ahead of another event poised to transform how the world viewed cannabis consumption: Canada’s imminent legalization of cannabis/marijuana as a consumer product.
Canada would be the first among the G20 nations to outright state that “criminal prohibition has failed to protect our children and our communities” and rather than take the road of suppression, aim to regulate and tax the use of cannabis both for medicinal and recreational purposes.
And people are left wondering at the stark contrast: what’s good about the UK’s present attitude about cannabis anyway? While going full-tilt legalizing it may be a step too far for many people, surely a first-world nation like the UK makes use of legal medical marijuana. Drugs, after all, are just synthesized or concentrated chemicals from natural sources put to more useful forms and purposes.
The Problem with UK’s Cannabis Medicine
But in reality there is only one true cannabis-based pharmaceutical licensed for sake in the UK, GW Pharmaceutical’s SATIVEX.
Contrary to what most people may think, SATIVEX in particular is not meant as a general pain relief alternative pharmaceutical, but recommended for multiple sclerosis patients to relieve their symptoms. It can relieve spasticity, or muscle stiffness, in patients that do not find relief with other drugs or experience bad side effects with them. Only specialists such as neurologists or pain consultants are allowed to prescribe the drug, which comes in the form of oral spray.
It is also ungodly expensive. Primary care trusts and health authorities are refusing to fund SATIVEX because of its extreme price compared to other similar medication. The problem is that multiple sclerosis patients that can find no relief elsewhere, this is unfairly depriving them of medical care for no real good reason save moral panic and pandering for votes.
Some doctors in the UK instead give prescriptions to those who can travel elsewhere in Europe, where they may then obtain the legally-prescribed BEDROCAN in the Netherlands which costs only about five to twenty percent that of SATIVEX.
Unfortunately, while non-UK EU residents that travel to the UK with their prescription may do so, UK residents may not enter their own country with medical cannabis that is legally obtained elsewhere.
So Why is Legal Cannabis-based Medicine So Expensive?
The answer likely comes in two parts. First, the rather effective monopoly that GW Pharmaceuticals holds, allowing them to dictate the price.
Second, is administrative indifference towards drug policy reform. Perhaps even a resistance to the acknowledgment of cannabis as a valid medical treatment after so many decades of demonizing it. The case of Billy Caldwell and other children has brought to stark relief the inflexibility of current laws with regards of cannabis-based substances.
The laws of supply and demand hold. So extreme is the need that people may find themselves having to grow their own herbal cannabis or purchase it without prescriptions – which is of course against the law. Oddly enough the possession of seeds is not actually illegal, but any attempt to cultivate them immediately becomes so.
Cannabis as an Investment Opportunity
There is clearly great demand for the product. There is a monopoly, and that is anti-consumerist. If the UK deliberately closes itself off from beneficial medical cannabis research and distribution, it is simply everyone else who will benefit while those in the UK continue to mutter in dissatisfaction at the unfairness of it all.
At the May Fair Hotel conference, Cam Battley of Aurora Cannabis told investors “Make no mistake, “Make no mistake, this is going to become a large global industry – bigger than global brewing. And, I’ll tell you why. Beer has no legitimate medical applications, no matter what we tell ourselves on a Friday evening.”
Alcohol. Tobacco. These things influence the user’s mental state, are forbidden for minors because they may cause developmental issues, and may cause as much physical damage as cannabis when overused – yet are open for consumption. If one must think of the children, what exactly is the problem with the present restrictions on underage drinking and smoking that cannot be applied to cannabis products?
And this has nothing to do with medical cannabis at all. It has been shown to be effective at treating the pain and symptoms of a wide range of diseases and conditions, from multiple sclerosis, to cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, and arthritis.
Aurora Cannabis, based in Edmonton, supplies medicinal cannabis to over 350,000 Canadians. They grow 430 tons of cannabis a year, compared to the 20 tons of GW Pharmaceuticals. Their value went from C$70 million (£42m) in 2016 to C$ 11.7 billion (£14 billion) in 2018.
What is most exciting about cannabis as a product is remarkable number of routes of delivery, Battley explained to the attendees. “How many ways can you drink a beer?” he asked. “Cannabis can be inhaled – we all experimented with that in college – it can also be drunk, eaten and applied topically,” he said.
Cannabis is a significant threat to the status quo of pharmaceuticals, to alcohol, to tobacco, and even hospitality industries. It can be packaged in many different ways, and will not cannibalize market segments. The great criticism of cannabis is that it is a low-class item. Even more harmful cocaine is a more upscale drug. But if properly and safely manufactured, cannabis products would be far less likely to provoke addiction and instead be just another consumable. It could improve appetites, it could be a far less malignant alternative to smoking, it could aid in de-stressing with the meditative nature of pipes and bowls, or consumed quickly in the form of pills and tinctures.
Users will not need to go stoned much in the same way few actually seek to get knock-out drunk in social situations. The stoner stereotype of the cannabis consumer will fade away as the product becomes industrialized instead of the ad hoc cultivation forced by the need to hide from the government.
Battley said cannabis can also deliver a greater range of experiences than beer, because its 483 compounds can be combined in different ways to produce different experiences. “Beer will get you drunk,” he said. “Cannabis is a different kind of animal. One combination may deliver a stimulating uplifting effect perfect for a night out with friends, another may make you relaxed and be perfect for a night in at home binge-watching a TV series. Another, may be perfect for a romantic evening with your partner.”
Why should Cannabis be More Accessible in a Non-Medical Context?
The long-standing fear that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder psychotropic experiences is at the heart of the traditionally repressive stance against cannabis and their cultivators and users. It is very hard cultural bug to shake. Who really wants to admit that they are wrong, and that besides biological factors it is actually the social environment that is most responsible for drug use? Or that it is marijuana’s illegal status that is actually responsible for its gateway effect?
This cultural veneer that locks away cannabis for medical uses is perhaps what drives the thrill for those who were susceptible to the gateway effect in the first place. If they were already breaking the law, going further isn’t much of a thing.
Prohibition Partners presented that £8bn rolls through black market cannabis exchanges in the UK alone, but if legalized the industry could be worth £16.5bn a year to the UK. Treating cannabis as just another consumer product would definitely be much safer than the heavy-handed enforcement against cultivation and distribution of grown cannabis.
Synthetic cannabinoids. That is the unintended side-effect of this war on something that is in high demand but inconvenient to hide, grow, and process. Synthetic cannabinoids have a devastating impact compared to marijuana, sold as “spice” and “black mamba”, and can even with some ease get into prison because lab-made cannabinoids are odorless. Symptoms included psychotic breaks, self-harm, and death – compared to the much more benign relaxant symptoms of consuming weed and hash.
SATIVEX itself is little more than highly concentrated processed cannabis leaf. Cannabis is one of the few drugs in which going natural is actually the best and safest way to consume the product for its health benefits.
Medical marijuana is already available in other nations, for much cheaper, and so far there has not been any signs that relaxing draconian anti-drug laws have provoked a decrease in public order. If Canada is ready to take the risk, then what exactly is so unique about the UK’s situation to fear that change?
The UK’s stance on cannabis medicine is actively detrimental to the welfare of its citizens that are demanding for medical relief and provides immense incentive for illegal activities. The war against drugs itself is fueling the profit margins of the criminal drug trade – trade that could be much safer, much more beneficial to those who actually need it for medical rather than recreational reasons, and can be taxed if done out in the open.
It’s 2018, what’s the worst that anyone expects to happen? A return to the sordid Victorian opium and laudanum age?
Perhaps the greatest danger about cannabis is ignorance itself.