A landmark moment for the UK’s cannabis industry occurred this week when the first bulk shipments of marijuana were imported into Britain since legislation changed in November.
In a development that would surely make Howard Marks (RIP) nod in approval, British medical cannabis start-up Grow Biotech, investors European Cannabis Holdings (ECH) and unlicensed medicine manufacturer IPS Specials announced on Friday that 800 grammes of medicinal cannabis was legally brought in from The Netherlands.
Under strict manufacturing and pharmaceutical standards, 400 grammes of Bedrocan cannabis and 400 grammes of Bedica grown by Dutch biopharmaceutical firm, Bedrocan, was imported by IPS Specials following prescriptions issued for chronic pain at a cost of £695 per private patient.
(In case you were wondering, Marks, at his peak, claimed to have been smuggling 30 tons of the drug in each consignment.)
Aurora Cannabis Inc announced Monday that it had completed its first commercial export of medical cannabis oil to the United Kingdom from a certified pharmacy.
The Canadian company, which is currently building out its UK operations, said the product was successfully dispensed from Canada under the UK’s new legal framework.
“Being one of the first Canadian companies to commercially supply cannabis-based medicines into the UK under the new legal framework reflects Aurora’s ability to do business in international markets that have complex and evolving regulatory systems,” said Neil Belot, chief global business development officer, in a company statement. “Aurora continues to grow its international footprint, which now includes the UK, a country with a population of approximately 66 million people.”
“We are thrilled to have successfully navigated the complexities of the UK’s new regulatory framework to be able to supply high quality, pharmaceutical grade cannabis-based medicines into the UK from one of our EU-GMP certified facilities in Canada,” said Dr Shane Morris, senior vice president of product development and regulatory affairs for Aurora.
Aurora, headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, is one of the world’s largest cannabis producers and has a funded capacity in excess of 500,000 kilograms a year and sales and operations in 22 countries across five continents. It has 15 wholly owned subsidiary companies.
The Grow Biotech/ECH/IPS Specials shipment represents about 30 patient prescriptions for a month and there are currently four patients whose prescriptions will be fulfilled, the trio said.
“If manufacturers and producers are willing to take a measured approach, we can and will continue to navigate a pathway for medical cannabis in the UK,” said Ashok Patel, Founder and Executive Chairman of IPS Specials.
Until now, the very few people given permission to access medicinal cannabis in the UK (as in, you can count them on one hand and not include your thumb) actually had to travel to the Netherlands to claim it. And even then they risked having it seized at customs.
Grow Biotech’s team of specialists worked alongside doctors to address their concerns regarding quality assurance and compliance for the prescriptions they have written, bridging the gap between existing cannabis medicines and accepted pharmaceutical standards.
The shipment has been exported by the Office of Medical Cannabis of the Netherlands and will be delivered directly to the patients from a pharmacy in the UK, with additional stock retained to ensure continuity of supply.
The stock includes Bedrocan Flower Afina, and Bedica Flower Talea, which are used to treat a range of conditions including chronic pain and multiple sclerosis.
“The fact that we are now in a position to write prescriptions that can actually be fulfilled is a huge achievement,” said Dr David McDowell, who sits on ECH’s medical board said. “Patients no longer need to worry about how they can access their medication, which will mark a positive step change in their journey and finally provide the relief that they are looking for, and we can now finally provide.”
The group say it will “lay the cornerstone for the British medical cannabis industry’s international supply chain” and proves that challenging regulations can be adhered to through innovation and creativity.
“We are building a team that will help take the UK medical cannabis industry’s infrastructure to the next stage, constructing a scalable and reliable system to meet patients’ needs and to support doctors’ understanding of medical cannabis as a potentially valuable treatment for particular conditions,” added Dr Henry Fisher, R&D Project Manager at Grow Biotech.
Last November, the UK government gave specialist doctors permission to prescribe medical cannabis to patients with certain conditions.
Individuals with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, severe childhood epilepsy and those undergoing chemotherapy may be eligible, however they must be assessed on a cas-by-case basis.
Debate is continuing to rage over medical cannabis and CBD in Britain after two severely epileptic children made headlines last year when their families revealed their struggle to access cannabis oil.
The drug significantly improved their condition, the families said, however they were continually denied access to medical cannabis and fighting with UK authorities.
The Home Office eventually changed rules to allow prescriptions, but there has been little movement until now.
Somewhat perversely, despite it’s draconian stance and unfriendly customs attitude, UK is the largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis in the world, with British Sugar growing about 20 tons a year.
Lobby group Health Poverty Action predicts a legal cannabis market could make the UK government between £1bn ($1.29bn) and £3.5bn ($4.50bn) a year in tax revenues, meaning legalising the drug could be a significant boost for the national economy.