As a Class B drug, cannabis is illegal in the UK for both medical and recreational use.
But that could soon change – at least that’s what three listed investment funds focused on medical marijuana are hoping.
Sativa Investments, which takes its name from one of the most common strains of cannabis plant, High Growth Capital, which has the apt stock market ticker of HASH, and Ananda Developments all listed on the UK’s Nex Exchange earlier this year.
Each is banking on the idea that the Government will legalise medical marijuana use, triggering a modern-day gold rush as companies flood the new market.
Tom Stevenson, from fund manager Fidelity International’s personal investing division, says: ‘I think the potential for the market is absolutely enormous.
In Canada, which is the only G7 country to legalise cannabis both medically and recreationally, the market is read as being bigger than the market for wine. In America, more is spent on recreational cannabis than ice cream.’
Geremy Thomas, Sativa’s boss, was ‘staggered’ by the amount of money flowing through the Canadian market.
Convinced there was money to be made, his next step was looking into the likelihood government policy on the drugs might change. And there has been, he says, ‘a sea-change in public opinion’.
This has largely been down to six-year-old Alfie Dingley and 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who galvanised public opinion when it was revealed the cannabis oil used to treat their severe epileptic seizures had been denied by officials and confiscated at border control respectively.
After temporary licences were granted allowing both boys access to their medication, the Government announced a review into the use of medical marijuana, which will be published in October.
Thomas, who has been in conversation with the medicines regulator and the Home Office, says he has high hopes the review will recommend a doctor-led, prescription-based system.
Though there are signs legalisation is coming, there are few companies in the UK which will allow investors to get on board.
In the five months since it listed in March, Sativa has already sought out one example – making an investment in Phytovista Laboratories in Somerset.
Based in the village of Beckington, the firm tests products which contain hemp, derived from cannabis, and cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive marijuana compound which is already legal.
Malcolm Burne, the entrepreneur who chairs High Growth Capital, added that there will probably be other opportunities to invest in cannabis through distribution or cultivation businesses which pop up.
Some, however, may lump the companies in with the likes of tobacco and gambling businesses as ‘sin stocks’.
But Thomas argues that the cannabis businesses of the future will be different to the illegitimate-joint-in-the-park image marijuana is tied to.
Sativa has also created a foundation which awards grants to university research teams trying to fill the gaps in understanding cannabis.
But for those investors who can’t lay claim to a multi-million-pound bank account, Fidelity’s Stevenson advises caution: ‘These investment companies are very much one-product companies.
‘That increases the risk of investing in them, so they should be a very small part of any portfolio.’
All eyes will now, however, be on the Government as it prepares to make its next move.