The appointment of two advisors who are known to be pro cannabis legalisation to the top team of new UK prime minister Boris Johnson has increased optimism that the pace of legislative change in the UK could accelerate. The two advisors are Blair Gibbs and Danny Kruger. Both have previously made public statements in support of decriminalising and potentially legalising the drug.
Last year Canada fully legalised cannabis use for both recreational and medical purposes and 30 U.S. states have also made the same step for either medical or medical and recreational use. A referendum on the question of legalisation is due to take place in New Zealand next year several European countries have also relaxed laws in recent years with a handful more expected to follow within the next couple.
Comparatively, the UK has one of the stricter approaches to cannabis laws in the developed Western world. Last year the government did make limited concessions around allowing the prescription of cannabis and cannabis-derived drugs in the case of patients, such as those suffering from rare forms of epilepsy, that have failed to respond to other drugs.
However, there are continued complaints that restrictions mean those who say only cannabis has had an effect in treating their or their dependents’ conditions are still forced to buy it on the black market. Or are forced to go abroad to buy medical grade cannabis and smuggle it back into the UK.
It has also been recently highlighted that UK investors, both institutional and private, who have invested in cannabis companies listed on stock exchanges in Canada and the USA, could be breaking the law in the UK and potentially charged with money laundering the proceeds of crime if they were to realise returns at home. While it is practically unlikely that anyone would be prosecuted for investing in companies whose activities are legal in the territories where they operate, the fact that there is a theoretical risk is said to be putting off many UK investors – denying them the opportunity to gain exposure to a quickly growing market.
There are even reportedly incidents of banks closing the accounts of investors who have put money into cannabis stocks – wary of the risk of being held responsible for facilitating a crime despite the fact the FCA has said it has no official guidance on the topic.
A spokesperson for Boris Johnson responded to questions on the past support for decriminalisation by the two advisors with “these are comments made by individuals before they joined government and do not reflect policy”. However, advocates for legalisation are still hopeful their appointment to influential roles in the prime minister’s team could help pave the way for future legislative changes.
Mr Gibbs has been an advisor to Mr Johnson before, who appointed him as his advisor on policing during his time as mayor of London. He also advised Michael Gove during his time as head of the justice department and is head of policy at the industry group Centre for Medical Cannabis. Last month he tweeted:
“When the UK gets round to legislating to regulate a legal market for recreational cannabis it will need to learn from other models but also devise one that fits its own culture and institutions best.”
He was also last year quoted by The Times newspaper as saying:
“Prohibition is no longer seen as the smart and responsible policy.”
In 2017 Mr Kruger wrote in an article for The Spectator magazine that he believed the government should examine “the potential for a regulated [cannabis] market”.
The UK has a number of promising biotech startups in the medical cannabis and cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals space. However, current legislation means that they are forced to carry out R&D at foreign labs. GW Pharmaceuticals is a British company that was the first to receive FDA approval for a cannabidiol-based drug but is publically listed in the USA, at least partly as a result of the UK’s legislation on cannabis meaning capital markets are less enthusiastic about companies in the space.