Could COVID-19 Lead To UK Cannabis Legalisation?
Saying that COVID-19 is changing life as we know it could be the understatement of the century. The British public is masked, sanitised and dealing with an economic recession. However, there are a few silver linings—one of them being that the pandemic may drive the UK toward cannabis legalisation.
To be clear, any legalisation of the herb would not be a result of a profound change of heart. Any changes to the law will not happen because our lawmakers feel all warm and fuzzy after a lockdown spent soul-searching. Legal cannabis may become a reality because the government needs money and lots of it.
A Boost For The Economy
In April, not long after the lockdown began, it was reported that the UK might face a deficit of as much as £200bn by the end of the pandemic. According to Morgan Stanley, the country’s GDP will see a 5% drop.
In August, CNN reported that the UK was experiencing the worst quarterly slump since quarterly records were introduced in 1955. The 20.4% shrinkage of the economy makes the UK’s recession the worst among the world’s major economies.
CNN’s report came a month after Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak revealed a £30bn package. Sunak hoped these funds would kickstart the economy after months of stagnation, save jobs and lead to job creation for younger people. The package was a welcome and much-needed lifeline, but any positive effects it offers are likely to be a while in coming.
The UK’s economy is not going to bounce back overnight. The government and ordinary Britons on the street are going to have to find ways to stimulate the economy. The good news is that’s not impossible.
Brits could keep calm and carry on if the country’s lawmakers rise to the challenge and legalise cannabis. Given the number of huge cannabis farms, grow projects, and labs bust by police in 2019 alone, there’s a lucrative market ready and waiting.
Legalising cannabis in the UK could be a significant injection for the economy; one that offers the government easy, significant revenue. After all, the market for the herb already exists.
If conservative estimates are to be believed, a whole 7% of the UK’s adult population used cannabis in the last year. Those estimates probably aren’t to be believed, and the number is likely to be much higher. Legalising the herb would simply bring the market into the light and make it taxable. According to a Prohibition Partners report, a legal cannabis industry in the UK could be worth as much as £3 billion by 2024.
The legal cannabis industries in the US states of Colorado and Washington are good examples of what can be achieved simply by legalising the cultivation and use of the plant. Those two states were the first to legalise recreational use of the herb, which happened in 2012. In 2019, Colorado reported cannabis-related tax revenues of $303 million, while Washington reported revenues of $400 million.
Legalised Cannabis And Job Creation
The tax revenues enjoyed by US states with a legal, taxable cannabis industry are not only generated by dispensaries that sell dried buds. They make up a large portion of the industry, but it goes beyond that.
The legalised herb has inspired medical and recreational products, cafes and other eateries and cannabis-infused beverages. There is also a proliferation of head shops – retailers that specialise in paraphernalia associated with cannabis consumption and culture.
Even so, the UK and the US are different, and the model used in America cannot be imposed in cookie-cutter fashion on Britain. For starters, cannabis is not legal in all 50 US states. Those where the plant has been legalized all approached the issue differently.
For example, Arizona legalized the medical use of cannabis, while its recreational use remains illegal. Medicinal and recreational marijuana are both legal in California, although it’s illegal to sell it unless you are a licensed dispensary.
US neighbour Canada legalized medical and recreational cannabis. This saw stores open in most provinces and a whopping CA$2 billion spent on legal cannabis products in 2018 alone. When it comes to home grows, provinces have different laws. In some, it’s illegal, and in others, it’s legal but subject to various requirements.
Whether we consider Arizona, California, Canada, or anywhere else that has legalized the plant, there’s evidence that it’s a boon for the local economy. That’s likely to be the case in the UK, should the government change the law.
A legal industry in the UK would have a stimulating effect on other industries. For example, if legal, more people would try their hand at cultivating cannabis plants at home. There would be an increased demand for grow tents, grow lights, heaters for indoor grows and other related products. In light of this increased product demand, jobs would be created, and tax revenues generated.
Growing Support For Legalisation
The legalisation of cannabis in the UK is no longer the pipe dream of a few die-hard activists. Growing support for the cause shows that it’s an idea whose time is coming; if it hasn’t arrived already.
A YouGov survey conducted in 2019 revealed that 53% of Britons are in favour of legalisation, while only 32% were opposed to it. The remainder were undecided. According to the same survey, 77% of respondents believed that medical cannabis should be legalised in the UK, something that the UK took a step closer in 2018. A change to the country’s laws saw cannabis reclassified as a Schedule 2 drug, which means that doctors can prescribe it for limited medical use.
Support for a legalised cannabis industry is not only growing among the public. It’s also finding champions among Britain’s politicians – yes, even among the Tories. Jonathan Djanogly was one of the Conservative MPs who travelled to Canada last year specifically to take a closer look at the country’s legalised cannabis industry.
The visit obviously gave Djanogly food for thought. On his return from Canada, the MP made it clear that he wasn’t quite towing the party line on the subject. Instead, he announced that he would like to see the UK’s cannabis market legalised and regulated so that criminal gangs no longer control it. He added that he would like to see properly labelled and organised cannabis products with decreased potency made available.
British Business Involved In Cannabis
Cannabis legalisation in the UK would no doubt be welcomed by big business, some of which are already involved in the wider cannabis industry. For example, Associated British Foods subsidiary British Sugar used to grow tomatoes at its facility in Norfolk.
However, sometime around 2015, British Sugar began phasing out the tomatoes. In 2016, its tomato plants were replaced with cannabis, which it grows under license in conjunction with GW Pharmaceuticals. The company sells its cannabis into the US and other jurisdictions with legal markets.
GW Pharmaceuticals is a leader in developing medicines based on cannabinoids. The company is responsible for Epidiolex, which became the first drug derived from cannabis to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes. In July, the FDA approved the drug for treating seizures associated with tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC).
In June 2019, Vice reported that the UK was the world’s largest producer of cannabis destined for medicinal use. According to the publication, one grow operation in East Anglia produces as much as 90 tonnes annually. This follows reports that in 2016 alone, the UK exported more medicinal cannabis than any other country globally, once and for all cementing itself as a top producer.
Time For Change
The UK is ready for legalised cannabis, and given the green light, it would see an entire industry spring up overnight. The plant, which has been illegal in Britain since 1928, would no longer profit small-time growers and dealers, black market merchants and criminal gangs.
Instead, it would help stimulate an ailing economy. It would provide Britons with job opportunities, the government with tax revenue, and, quite frankly, give the police something better to do – even if they’ve adopted a more lenient approach to cannabis possession of late.
This guest editorial was written for ISMOKE by Alex Neil from DrCannabis.io