An annual report released by the International Narcotics Control Board last week says the United Kingdom is the world’s number one producer and exporter of cannabis both for medical purposes and scientific research for the year 2016. INCB is an organization affiliated with the United Nations and its report examines global drug control.
Statistics gathered by the UNCB shows that in 2016, the UK produced a total of 95 tons of cannabis. This represents 44.9% of the total global production, thus making it the largest legal medical cannabis producer in the world. Canada fell right behind the UK with 80.73 tons.
The UK’s 2016 production is more than double its 2015 total production of 42 tons.
The UK was also the year’s top legal medical cannabis exporter worldwide, exporting a total of 2.1 tons or 67.7% of the global total. In second place is the Netherlands, which exported 16.4% of the world total.
Cannabis is illegal in the UK, so why is it in the lead?
Given that the UK has no legal medical weed framework and that the British government constantly refuses to allow medical cannabis on the basis that the drug “has no therapeutic value,” landing the top spot came unexpected.
However, UK does allow Sativex (Nabiximols), which is a cannabis-based mouth spray product developed by GW Pharmaceuticals Plc to alleviate neuropathic pain, overactive bladder, spasticity, and other multiple sclerosis symptoms. GW Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Cambridge UK, is also developing Epidiolex, a CBD-based liquid formulation that will treat rare childhood-onset epilepsy disorders.
According to Stephen Murphy, managing director of Prohibition Partners, a U.K.-based cannabis industry consultancy, Sativex accounts for the majority of UK’s production. However, a considerable amount of production has also been developed for Epidiolex, while product development and research represents a large portion of it, he explained.
Other medical cannabis products, including those licensed in other countries, remain prohibited in the UK.
Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at lobby group Transform, contends that the UK government is “scandalous and untenable” for maintaining that cannabis does not have medical uses while also licensing the largest government-approved export market and medical cannabis production in the world.
“Patients in the UK are either denied access to medical cannabis and suffering needlessly, or are forced to obtain cannabis from the black market,” Rolles added. “Countries with proper medical cannabis access do not have this kind of problem as doctors and pharmacists have control over standardized cannabis products.”
Rolles further stressed that denying people access to doctor-prescribed drugs is “profoundly unethical” and is a violation of their fundamental right to health. “The government should relax restrictions that grant a single company the monopoly for a single product and should allow access to cannabis-based drugs that serve the needs of patients.”
“What patients do not need is a cruel and misguided war waged by the government against people who use drugs,” Rolles said.
How about Canada?
Murphy pointed out that it is likely that Canada will quickly leapfrog to the top of the production charts again, especially once the statistics for 2017 are taken into account. Canada placed first for 2015.
Canada’s production data for 2017 is not yet publicly available, but the cannabis industry has been rapidly ramping up to meet the demand of recreational cannabis legalization in the country.
It can be noted that by the end of 2016, there were less than 40 licensed cannabis producers operating under the country’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. However, by the end of 2017, this number more than doubled, with more than 80 producers.
Moreover, according to data from Health Canada, the number of Canadian medical patients went up by 60,000 in the April-September 2017 period alone.
Canada could also be vying for the top spot in terms of medical cannabis exports once data from 2017 have been taken into account. It should be noted several of the biggest Canadian cannabis companies had entered Germany’s market last year when the European country legalized medical cannabis and allowed cannabis sales in pharmacies and reimbursement via public medical insurance programs.