Let’s talk economics—I know it’s dry, so I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. Not to state the obvious but a large proportion of the Earth has been hit hard economically by the COVID-19 pandemic—the UK is no exception. The magnitude of the latest recession caused by the pandemic in the country is unprecedented in modern times. The UK saw a gross domestic product (GDP) decline of 9.8 per cent in 2020, the steepest drop since consistency records began in 1948. And going off estimates, some predict it was the hardest blow to GDP in over 300 years. This hasn’t been made easier by the pandemics’ timely appearance smack-bang in the middle of the country’s messy divorce we call Brexit, but let’s try and forget about that for now…
Such a knockback has led the Treasury desperate for new growth in industries, in a bid to kickstart post-COVID recovery and get this increasingly insular island back on its feet. And one of the few striving industries is the legal cannabis medicines and CBD wellness industry. It’s a relatively new sector already worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and, if the government plays its cards right, the UK could be the next big player in the field.
It’s no surprise that the CBD and medical cannabis market has the potential to bring in a lot of green—and when I say green, I mean cash. The CBD market alone is currently worth around 300 million pounds a year, according to Savills, with experts predicting this could rise to a whopping 1 billion pounds a year by 2025. Likewise, the medicinal cannabis market in the UK is expected to rise to the 1 billion pounds a year mark even earlier, by the year 2024. These figures, as well as the rising recognition that medicinal cannabis and CBD bring legitimate value to patients, is what has led the sector out of the weeds and into the mainstream.
The numbers speak for themselves. But if you’re still not entirely convinced, a new report by the cannabis entrepreneur network First Wednesday, released this week, revealed that the UK is now “Europe’s most active market for investment deals into cannabis start-ups, making up more than half of all-time investment volume in the sector.”
Moreover, the industries have recently been listed for the first time on the London Stock Exchange, a significant moment in which Anthony Lehane from Volteface, a third sector organisation that seeks to reduce the harm drugs cause to society and individuals, believes the push for legitimacy includes CBD and medicinal weed needs. “Now that the level of credibility is boosted in medical cannabis companies, it brought a lot of foreign public investment into the UK,” he told Screen Shot.
Instead of “large legislative reform,” Lehane is pushing for the government to “relax certain areas and encourage investment through very small hurdles” in order to bring the country ahead of the curb compared to its competitors (in particular across the English Channel). He continued, “For example, the farmers aren’t allowed to extract CBD in the United Kingdom, which is completely redundant. You can grow hemp but you then have to burn it—it makes no sense whatsoever.”
And it’s clear the UK has already started to act in order to reap the rewards of the successful medicinal cannabis and CBD market. The Taskforce for Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGGR), recently recommended a set of simple measures that would encourage investment, boost growth and ultimately manufacture taxable income.
One such recommendation called for over-the-counter CBD and pharmaceutical cannabinoid research markets to be moved from the Home Office and into the Department of Health and Social Care. It has also been recommended that the UK relaxes regulations related to the cultivation of hemp and extraction of CBD.
But is it just a pipe dream? When will it actually come to fruition? When asked, Lehane drew attention to a scheme Volteface ran in 2018 where they took three MPs—David Lammy, Jonathan Djanogly and Norman Lamb—to look at a regulated market in Canada. “Each of them agreed that we’re looking at a time frame of around five to ten years but I believe, with the post-recovery we’re looking at, we might be looking at five years tops.”