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An introduction to the UK cannabis industry: shares, companies and regulation - IG


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An introduction to the UK cannabis industry: shares, companies and regulation - IG

What is the future for cannabis in the UK?

The UK’s approach to medicinal cannabis is more complex than most other nations. It is happy to produce and sell it to other countries but is less keen to give it to its own citizens, which for now are mostly having to pay for pricey private prescriptions if they want to get access. The country has taken a tentative step toward legalisation – but only because it was forced to. For now, it has only legalised medicinal cannabis in name.  

But attitudes are still moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. Before moving to his new role as chancellor, Sajid Javid, the then-home secretary, said the government’s position on medicinal cannabis 'was not satisfactory'. Legalisation has featured prominently in electoral campaigns by the likes of the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. And even the institutions that have so far proved a roadblock to widespread access, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has said it is willing to reconsider its view.  

Still, there are concerns that progress in the UK could stagnate, especially whilst all the political energy is being consumed by Brexit. However, if ignited then the flame could catch quickly. Germany was in a similar position to the UK three years ago but has now grown into the largest medicinal cannabis market in Europe since legalising it in 2017. Last year there were over 185,000 medicinal cannabis prescriptions issued in the country to up to as many as 80,000 patients. It has allowed big North American companies, like Aphria and Aurora, to set up shop in the country and cultivate cannabis. While the UK has established a large production base, it has concentrated it among a handful of businesses, meaning other countries could become manufacturing hubs for the European market rather than the UK. Germany offers both a domestic market and the potential to export, while the UK only offers the latter. The same is true for investors and financiers which, keen to tap into the momentum building before it’s too late, will flee to where the regulatory environment is more favourable.  

The UK is at a crucial stage. As a priority, it should look to establish a clearer framework for medicinal cannabis to operate and take a more-balanced approach between allowing business to produce cannabis and allowing patients to access it to remove the ambiguity in the market – not only for users and companies, but for investors that fear they are operating in grey area.  

The opportunity on offer is huge. Prohibition Partners estimates the UK’s medicinal cannabis market could be worth over £7.8 billion by 2028. Plus, whilst there are no signs that it is about to be made legal in the country, estimates show a recreational market could represent a bigger opportunity with a forecasted value of £8.5 billion. That means the total value of a fully-legalised cannabis market in the UK could be over £16 billion within less than ten years.    

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