Tory insiders are confidently forecasting that the process of making recreational Cannabis legal will begin in about two years.
They say Prime Minster Boris Johnson sees it as a “legacy issue.” And for many MPs and adviser its not so much a legacy as an economic necessity to switch the revenue from soft drugs from criminals into the hands of the state.
Blair Gibbs, a long time campaigner for medical cannabis has been confirmed as drug adviser to No 10, and behind the scenes many in the new government are working hard to bring in quick reforms to could be an important industry that benefits the exchequer by £750m to £1 billion per year.
Backbencher Crispin Blunt campaigns for legalisation of medical marijuana (thought to be used by over a million patients in the UK according to a YouGov poll). Daniel Hannan, an MEP, wants to decriminalise recreational use. New MP Danny Kruger is associated with the Centre for Medical Cannabis, a trade body fighting for acceptance of the drug by the NHS.
And in the world of fully legal products, there are moves to deregulate Hemp extracts in farming, food and manufacturing, as well as tighten up the rules on CBD additives for food and wellness to close loopholes that have allowed untested brands onto the market.
“All these areas are due for common sense reform, using evidence-based policy,” Crispin Blunt told me the day after the 2019 election.
The first item on the agenda is CBD – Cannabidiol, the non-psycho-active part of the cannabis plant, which has seen sharp sales growth on the High Street. Sales of food, drinks, wellness product and cosmetics containing CBD are rising in Britain, and predicted to reach sale sof more than £750m next year. The food products include “hemp pasta”, toffee muffins, gummy bear sweets, and high protein supplements.
UK regulators worry that CBD in food is not properly monitored and may be interacting with prescribed medicines. And some of the regulations are vague, leading to confusion because people don’t know what’s legal and what’s not.
The National Pharmacy Association has called on the Home Office to update and clarify its guidelines on what can or cannot be sold over the counter, and to bring manufacturers into line.
But Tory sources tell me Health Secretary Matt Hancock is unwilling to act because it may damage small and medium sized companies, and slow the building of valuable brands.
Among those who have actually admitted to taking cannabis (NOTE TO ED: SOURCE the Daily Telegraph) are Jeremy Hunt who once had a cannabis lassi, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and former Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, who both admitted to recreational use.
A likely key figure in cannabis law reform is new MP for Devizes, Danny Kruger, who also happens to be son of Bake-Off star Prue Leith. He was a Cameron speechwriter and now helps craft lines for Boris. He thinks that despite its dangers, keeping pot illegal criminalises millions of ordinary people and enriches gangsters.
Backing for this approach comes from the Adam Smith Institute, a right-wing think tank. The Institute’s Morgan Schondelmeier, says “by legalising the drug and moving sales into the regulated economy, you remove power from drug gangs and ensure quality control of the product.”
Current policy is contradictory with some police authorities ignoring it altogether.
The Conservative Party Drug Reform Group (CPDRG), a think tank, issued a briefing paper on drug policy which has caught the attention of No 10 policymakers: Cannabis possession arrests are down 40% in a year. And police forces are diverting resources away from cannabis. Of the country’s 42 police authorities, seven have lowered, or are about to lower, the priority attached to cannabis possession says CPDRG. This decriminalisation allows an easier market for drug gangs, so further measures re neccessary.
CPDRG wants the government to monitor the progress of legalisation in Canada last year and pick up lessons to determine British cannabis policy.
There are also calls for control of medical cannabis to be moved from the Home Office to the Department for Health.
Last year, while still Home Secretary, Sajid Javid rescheduled Cannabis to allow for the prescription of medicinal Cannabis.
The reform was criticised at the time for raising the hopes of would-be medical Cannabis patients. Only a handful of medical Cannabis prescriptions have been written since the change. And it costs some patients hundreds or thousands of pounds to import it through private clinics Now Crispin Blunt still wants it moved from Schedule 1 (along with Opium) to the more lightly-controlled Schedule 4.
One drug, Sativex has been recommended by NICE – which means it ought to be available on the NHS, but patients are still being forced onto the black market and the legal defence team for a patient from Carlisle with MS has asked the DPP for new guidance on prosecution, which may lead to a loosening of rules for those who can prove real need.
Hemp is often seen as equivalent to CBD oil, but is regulated differently. Hemp is a source of CBD, and is also used to make everything from cloth to suitcases, food supplements to soap. It is even mixed with concrete to build houses.
Hemp is already grown all over the UK, under license from the Home Office. There are moves to shift control over to the farming ministry.
The main change the industry is expecting in the UK is a shift in regulations preventing some farmers from processing the flowers and the leaves (instead of just the seeds and stalks) – this would allow the UK to develop its own supply of CBD oil instead of importing it from abroad. Our booming CBD industry is making foreign farmers rich, but our own farmers are excluded.
As with CBD, the government must decide whether to follow along with EU regs, or gain a competitive advantage by forging its own path. That means law reform is bound up with the Brexit negotiations.
“Hemp should be a fantastic crop for farmers to grow and extract CBD “says Rob Wilson, CEO of CDPRG. “It should be possible for UK-grown hemp to supply the industry, but its over-regulated and overcomplicated. Medical cannabis is potentially a massive industry in the UK, bringing high quality jobs in the Life Sciences. Its what the British economy needs.”