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UK is world’s largest medical cannabis producer, says UN – but patients still locked out



The UK is a major producer of medical cannabis, according to the UN

The United Kingdom has been singled out as a major producer of medical cannabis by a UN report – but patients are still locked out of proper access.

An in-depth report by the International Narcotics Control Board estimates that the UK produces about 320 tonnes of cannabis for pharmaceutical purposes.

The UN body described the UK as a ‘major’ player in the industry but the Government is accused of hypocrisy by campaigners over the how few patients can actually access the products.

Drug reform pressure group Transform said patients are being forced to self-medicate with cannabis obtained on the black market despite huge quantities being grown legally domestically.

The UN report also slammed the Government for not providing full data when requested, leaving the report’s authors needing to devise estimations of UK production.

Despite the law on medical cannabis changing in 2018, obtaining products is still extremely difficult in the UK.

Medical cannabis prescription in the UK are still rare

Just two cannabis-based medicines are available on the NHS (Sativex, which is used to treat multiple sclerosis and Epidiolex, used for two severe forms of epilepsy) but they are only prescribed as a last resort.

A survey by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis earlier this year found as many as 1.4 million patients have accessed cannabis illicitly to treat health conditions.

The UN report concluded: “The United Kingdom is a significant manufacturer of pharmaceutical preparations containing cannabis extracts, and as validated date were not available at the time of finalising the present report, projections made on the basis of available data series indicate that about 320 tons of cannabis were produced in 2019, largely for pharmaceutical preparations containing cannabis extracts.

“The Board calls on the Government of the United Kingdom, in view of its obligations under the international drug control treaties and bearing in mind its importance as a major manufacturing, importing and exporting country, to submit timely and reliable data to the board.”

Around 468 tons of medical cannabis production could be accounted for globally, the report found, but this figure is likely lower than reality due to a lack of data collection at the state level in the US.

Jane Slater, Transform’s deputy CEO, called for greater access to the country’s wealth of raw material.

She said: “If the data from the UN’s drug control board is accurate, then the UK government has serious questions to answer from 1.4 million people relying on the criminal market to self-medicate with cannabis.

“Over 50 years of criminalising people for using cannabis for medical and recreational purposes has paralysed vital research into the potential benefits of cannabis-based medicines, and led to stigmatisation of people who rely on it.

“The government owes it to the 1.4 million forced to rely on the criminal market, to provide a safe and regulated supply of cannabis for their medical needs.

“It is simply cruel and misguided that these people are demonised and criminalised for seeking help.

“Countries with proper access to medical and recreational cannabis do not have this problem, with  standardised cannabis products available through doctors, pharmacists and licensed retailers to all who need them.”

The Home Office has been contacted for comment.


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