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From “criminal to licensed cannabis dealer”- the full story behind the new UK dispensary

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The company recently announced plans to launch its first store in Preston

In 2017, Michael Dobson was sentenced to 14 months in prison for growing a small number of cannabis plants. Four years after being released, he is now distributing cannabis legally through his dispensary, Cannabliss. Here he shares the full story.

In 2016, Michael Dobson took the home secretary, Amber Rudd, to court. He was fighting for a licence to cultivate and produce cannabis.

Having grown his own plants for many years as he sought to produce a “better-quality product” than what he could find on the black market, Dobson set up a Cannabis Club in his hometown of Preston, Lancashire.

Established as a not-for-profit business, the Preston Cannabis Club approached the Home Office to request a licence for the company to produce its own plants and for all members of the club to be allowed to possess cannabis legally.

Michael recognised that the law did not have any statutory restrictions on who could or could not be granted a licence. This was purely down to the discretion of the Home Secretary, he says.

“If Parliament had never thought that it would be any benefit to the public to be able to get licences to grow, produce or possess cannabis, they never would have voted for that piece of legislation [the misuse of drugs act] to contain that provision,” he says.

At this time, it was still two years before Alfie Dingley received the UK’s first permanent medical cannabis licence and the Home Office was reluctant to engage with Dobson. His request was rejected.

In her defence statement, Amber Rudd stated that there would be “no circumstances” under which the Home Office would consider issuing licences for personal use. But Michael didn’t stop there.

“We said to the Home Office, ‘if you don’t provide evidence, we’re going stand up for our rights and we’re going to take you to the High Court under a judicial review’,” he recalls.

As the Home Office failed to provide evidence, this is exactly what he did. This time, he was acting under his company, Cannabliss, which he founded in late 2016.

The request for a judicial review was dismissed, however Michael was able to engage with the Home Office for the first time and received a response from the government.

“It was never my intention to drag anyone through the courts; I was only ever doing that to stand up for my rights and the rights of the people that I was helping to protect,” he says.

“We went through that long, protracted process which went on all the way through 2017.”

Throughout this time, Michael was also embroiled in a legal battle over a small number of cannabis plants that he was growing for personal use. The prosecution ended with him pleading guilty to the cultivation of 12 cannabis plants for which he was sentenced to 14 months in prison.

“Having your liberty taken away from you is the worst thing you can do to any man or woman,” says Michael.

“This is what we’ve had over the past 12 months and look at how many people are suffering as a result of it.

“You don’t have the freedom to choose to go out and breathe your own air, to go out and walk up a mountain or to just go and visit friends and family.

“When you have that taken away and when you’ve seen it from that side and you’ve seen how it does affect people, it’s tragic.”

Michael had been a regular cannabis smoker in his teenage years, during which time he says he became reliant on the drug. As he got older, he developed a healthier relationship with the plant as he dealt with his personal mental health and past traumas.

Now, he no longer uses cannabis at all.

Although he acknowledges the potential dangers of the drug if misused, he believes that throughout his life, when he used cannabis correctly, it helped “level” him.

“For people that use cannabis regularly, there are usually a lot of underlying issues that they are dealing with – usually psychological or mental health issues,” he says.

“Some people may say it’s not going to actually deal with the problem, but if I hadn’t had it in my life, I would have maybe turned to something else that could have gotten me in far more trouble.”

For Michael, cannabis consumers are often unfairly judged by society. Although he believes daily use of the drug can be a “serious problem”, he thinks branding recreational cannabis users as criminals is the wrong approach.

“I’ve grown up with a lot of good friends and family who use cannabis for social and recreational purposes and they’re all remarkably lovely people,” he continues.

“They work in good jobs, they’ve got families, they pay mortgages. They are really good, upstanding citizens.

“The view that they are some horrendous criminal because of something they choose to do privately just never sat right with me at all.”

Michael remained involved with the legal proceedings against the Home Office from behind bars, then in 2018, Cannabliss was able to take a step back as Alfie Dingley received his licence and set the country on its path towards widening access and availability to legal cannabis.

“There was never any need to change the law to legalise cannabis. All it required is the Home Secretary to sign a piece of paper. And that’s exactly what happened in 2018 when Sajid Javid issued the first license. It was purely down to the discretion of the Home Secretary,” he says.

“As soon as that first licence was issued, the rest was history. We had basically achieved what we set out to achieve. Our litigation wound up because we didn’t need to pursue it any further.”

The original vision for Cannabliss was for it to become a licensed grower, producer and supplier of licensed, regulated cannabis products.

However, after Sajid Javid issued the nation’s first licence and NICE released its guidance on medical cannabis one year later, Michael made the decision to change direction.

Having experienced for himself both the benefits and risks of cannabis, he wanted to help people access the drug safely.

However, as it became clear that producing GMP-certified cannabis products would be outside the company’s budget, he decided to reposition Cannabliss as a specialist pharmacy for medicinal cannabis, launching its online service in 2019.

“As cannabis was now available on prescription, we saw that there was another way for the consumer to possess cannabis where they would no longer need a licence,” he explains.

“We realised that there was a better route for us to go down, which was to try and establish ourselves as a go-to provider for dispensing.

“I’ve gone from prison to pharmacy, so I’m actually now a licensed cannabis dealer.”

Despite the change of focus, he has not ruled out making a return to producing licensed cannabis later down the line.

“Personally, I would like to produce cannabis at some point in the future.” Michael adds.

“But now I’ve got to look at the bottom line in terms of what is most beneficial for us as a company and our patients.”

Horticulture is a passion that runs through his family. His parents both spent time working for the Ministry of Agriculture and his mother later worked for a firm that pioneered the process of micro-propagation, which has now become a buzzword in the cannabis sector.

“It’s always been something that I’ve been very interested in and when I started growing myself, I just fell in love with it – the application of technologies and all the different aspects of growing it – it became a passion of mine,” he says.

It was this passion that became the driving force behind Cannabliss and his experiences with the law that galvanised him into taking action.

Michael adds: “I already knew that there was provision for doing what we set out to do, I just never really had the compulsion to do it.”

As of February 2021, Cannabliss is now a registered pharmacy, providing cannabis prescriptions and over the counter CBD products.

The company is now opening its first brick and mortar site in Preston in April, where it will sell legal cannabis-based products and offer advice and guidance to patients who are seeking a medical cannabis prescription.

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Six big cannabis sector stories you might have missed this week

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It’s been another week of big news in the cannabis world.

At Cannabis Health, our in depth coverage of the ongoing growth of cannabis as a medical and wellness product continues

Meanwhile, over at Cannabis Wealth, we’ve been following all the big industry and policy news in a week which has seen some important developments..

Been busy and want to get caught up in a hurry?

Here are the six things you need to read to stay in the loop this week.

1. Reprieve for medical cannabis patients

The Department of Health has reached an agreement with Dutch officials to extend the supply of medical cannabis oils to existing patients in the UK until 2022.

Medical cannabis patients, living with severe, life-threatening epilepsy were left without access to medication when the UK left the EU at the end of last year.

Medical cannabis

Families, whose children are prescribed Bedrocan oils in the UK but must obtain their prescription through the Transvaal pharmacy in the Netherlands, were given two weeks notice that their medication could no longer be dispensed following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31, December 2020.

Read the full story.

2. UK largest’s medical cannabis trial reports back

The first findings from the UK’s largest medical cannabis patient study show quality of life improved by more than 50 percent.

Preliminary results from Drug Science’s Project Twenty21 study, have found medical cannabis significantly improves quality of life for people with life-limiting conditions such as chronic pain, multiple sclerosis (MS) Tourette’s syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Published on Tuesday 11 May, the report is the first real-world data to be collected on medical cannabis in the UK.

Read more here.

3. Harrowing first-hand account of medical cannabis user
Diagnosed with a personality disorder and experiencing debilitating anxiety which left him housebound, Craig – whose name has been changed – had exhausted all treatment options and was losing all hope.
He speaks about how medical cannabis helped save his life here.

4. CBD market set to shrink

The UK’s CBD sector looks set to shrink significantly as the roll out of new regulations continues to batter the industry.

The FSA has confirmed to Cannabis Wealth it received applications for 803 different CBD products – but only 42 have been advanced to the next stage of the process so far.

More than half of all applications (445) were ‘incomplete’ and a further 41 have been withdrawn altogether.

Read the full story here.

5. CBD not linked to single doping case

CBD has not been linked to a single failed drugs test in UK sport despite fears about the undeclared levels of THC in some products.

The World Anti-Doping Agency removed the cannabinoid from its banned substances list in 2017 and since then several high profile athletes have publicly endorsed CBD products.

Even though CBD – which has no psychoactive properties – is not banned, the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) still warns athletes to be cautious with treatments.

Read our exclusive report here.

6. School’s out for cannabis class

The first class on a pioneering university medical cannabis course have concluded their first year of studies.

The research programme at the Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin examines the medical and nutritional uses of cannabis, production and the legal and economic frameworks of the business.

It’s the latest sign that medical cannabis is becoming a part of the mainstream education offering and a positive indication that new industry leaders will emerge in the coming years.

Full story here.

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Science finds a way for medical cannabis to relieve pain without side effects

Researchers have developed a molecule that allows THC to fight pain without the side effects.

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Medical cannabis
Many people living with chronic pain have found that cannabis can provide relief. 

Scientists may have developed a molecule which could allow medical cannabis to provide pain relief without any side effects.

Many people live with chronic pain, and in some cases, cannabis can provide relief. 

But the drug also can significantly impact memory and other cognitive functions. 

Now, researchers have developed a peptide that, in mice, allowed THC to fight pain without the side effects.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) around 20 percent of adults in the states experienced chronic pain in 2019. 

In some studies, medical cannabis has been helpful in relieving pain from migraines, neuropathy, cancer and other conditions, but the side effects can present hurdles for widespread therapeutic use.

Previously, researchers identified two peptides [molecules which are made up of amino acids] that disrupt an interaction between a receptor that is the target of THC and another that binds serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates learning, memory and other cognitive functions. 

When the researchers injected the peptides into the brains of mice, the mice had fewer memory problems caused by THC. 

Now, this team, led by Rafael Maldonado, David Andreu and colleagues, has gone one step further to improve these peptides to make them smaller, more stable, orally active and able to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Based on data from molecular dynamic simulations, the researchers designed two peptides that were less than half the length of the original ones but preserved their receptor binding and other functions. 

They also optimised the peptide sequences for improved cell entry, stability and ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. 

Then, the researchers gave the most promising peptide to mice orally, along with a THC injection, and tested the mice’s pain threshold and memory. 

Mice treated with both THC and the optimised peptide reaped the pain-relieving benefits of THC and also showed improved memory compared with mice treated with THC alone. 

Importantly, multiple treatments with the peptide did not evoke an immune response. 

Reporting in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, researchers say that these findings suggest the optimised peptide is an ideal drug candidate for reducing cognitive side effects from cannabis-based pain management.

The abstract that accompanies this paper can be viewed here.

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Dutch Government to supply medical cannabis for UK patients until 2022

The Department of Health has reached an agreement to continue the supply of Bedrocan oils

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The Dutch Government will supply medical cannabis to UK patients until 2022

The Department of Health has reached an agreement with Dutch officials to extend the supply of medical cannabis oils to existing patients in the UK until 2022.

Medical cannabis patients, living with severe, life-threatening epilepsy were left without access to medication when the UK left the EU at the end of last year. 

Families, whose children are prescribed Bedrocan oils in the UK but must obtain their prescription through the Transvaal pharmacy in the Netherlands, were given two weeks notice that their medication could no longer be dispensed following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31, December 2020. 

After outrage from campaigners, the Dutch government agreed to continue supplying the life-saving products until 1 July, 2021 while a more permanent solution was reached.

This waiver period has now been extended until 1 January, 2022.

Health ministers promised to work with officials in the Netherlands to find a “long-term” solution, but according to those at the forefront of the campaign, there is still “some way to go”.

Hannah Deacon and son Alfie Dingley

Hannah Deacon’s son Alfie Dingley, who is prescribed Bedrocan products for a rare form of epilepsy, recently celebrated one year seizure-free.

In a letter to Deacon on Thursday 13 May, the DofH said it was working with the Dutch government, Bedrocan and the Transvaal pharmacy to proceed as “quickly as possible” with the UK production of these medicines.

It added that domestic production is “complex” and that manufacturing “unlicensed herbal medicines” comes with “significant challenges”. 

Deacon said that the UK production of Bedrocan products was the “only solution”.

While other cannabis-based medicines are available in the UK, experts have warned that there is ‘significant variation’ from one product to the next and switching an epilepsy patient’s treatment could be ‘life-threatening’.

“With the 1 July deadline for Bedrolite supply to cease from the Netherlands looming ever closer, we made it clear we wanted an extension to the agreement to stop the situation becoming dangerous for Alfie and the other patients receiving this vital medicine,” commented Deacon.

“The long term solution of Bedrocan products being made in the UK still has some way to go, but it can be the only solution and we thank everyone who is working very hard to achieve this. 

“This is still a long way off from being okay, but for now we have the pressure taken off on the supply issue.”

With limited access to medical cannabis on the NHS, families are still calling for the Government to help fund their children’s prescriptions, which can cost thousands of pounds each month.

Deacon added: “The ever-pressing issue of financial burden on the many families and patients wishing to use medical cannabis in the UK remains and this is a huge issue which needs dealing with.

“There are many ways in which the Government could step in and help access for very vulnerable people and we will continue working as hard as we can to make things better for all.”

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