An army of 200 people descended on central London at the weekend to hear speaker after speaker extol the virtues of cannabis. There was not, however, a stoner in sight: the audience was almost exclusively men in suits or chinos.
Welcome to the Cannabis Invest conference 2018. Woodstock, it was not. The most exotic items consumed were bottles of mineral water, and the audience of institutional investors had travelled to the five-star Mayfair hotel to hear about the financial opportunities in the burgeoning international cannabis market.
In nine American states marijuana can be bought and sold legally for recreational use. In a further 13 states the drug has been decriminalised and in all bar a handful it is legal for medical use. Later this year Canada will become the first G8 country fully to legalise the drug. The era of prohibition is slowly but surely ending.
Officially, the conference was organised to encourage UK investors to plough money into corporate cannabis but hidden behind the slick presentations was another motive: to organise a British campaign to legalise medical marijuana.
The only high was in confidence that it will happen here sooner than many think.
“In three to five years you will see a medical system in the UK,” Cam Battley, chief corporate officer of Aurora Inc, a Canadian cannabis supplier, said. “Not long after that legalisation will happen. Guaranteed. You guys will look back and think, ‘What was the big deal?’ In the meantime massive new wealth will have been created.”
Many at the conference base this analysis on the case of Alfie Dingley, six, who has a type of epilepsy that means he suffers thousands of seizures a year. When Alfie was treated with cannabis oil in the Netherlands his rate of seizures fell from 30 a day to one a month. The oil is legal in much of Europe but British users face 14 years in jail.
Alfie’s parents, Drew Dingley and Hannah Deacon, have toured daytime TV shows to make their case to be allowed access to the drug. They have applied to the Home Office for a licence, supported by a 370,000-strong petition. Ms Deacon said: “It’s a big decision and if they say no, they’re condemning our son to death.”
Steve Moore, of Volteface, a drug policy think tank, believes that the government will have to help. “Post the Windrush saga, the Home Office’s authority is weakened,” he said. “They do not want a death on their hands. Alfie’s case is compelling and hundreds of thousands are watching.”
If the Home Office issues a licence, many at the conference believe that it will open the floodgates.
“Once one licence is issued, how can they deny others? A precedent has been set,” one executive said. “And when a medical system is safely in place, and people see the benefits, legalisation is the inevitable next step. That is the pattern established across the Atlantic and that is what will happen here.”
Medical marijuana has been used by some in north America as a “smokescreen” for recreational use but the potential of the drug to help to treat people with chronic conditions does appear to be huge.
The British company GW Pharmaceuticals is already selling a scientifically proven multiple sclerosis treatment derived from cannabis. It is one of the reasons why the UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal marijuana. Mr Moore is now organising a lobbying group in Britain called the Council for the Advancement of Medical Cannabis that will be funded by north American businesses.
There is no shortage of cash to pay for the project: the three biggest cannabis companies listed on the Canadian stock exchange have a collective value of more than $10 billion. The cash flow likely to be generated by a legal market in north America is huge. In Canada cannabis sales are forecast to bring in up to £5 billion by 2021 — almost as much as beer.
Mr Moore said: “This is the first year that business, not activism, is driving the agenda. Everything is about political advocacy for medical cannabis and nothing else. That is how these guys changed things in north America and that is how it will happen here.”
Campaigners do not appear to mind. Peter Reynolds, of Clear, the cannabis reform group, said: “UK citizens are denied access even though their country produces and exports vastly more cannabis than countries such as the USA, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands and Italy, which have legitimate and well-regulated medical provision. Against this backdrop, the UK still prohibits even medical use and is stubborn about discussing the evidence.”
Mr Moore added: “The situation in the UK is absurd. You’ve got the Home Office denying that medical marijuana works while you have traditional Tories in this room investing in it.”
Where flower power has failed it seems financial muscle might just work.
Source: The Times. Article available here