A new initiative is giving patients the opportunity to ‘own their grow’ and invest in the UK medicinal cannabis sector for the first time.
British cannabis company, Grow Lab Organics (GLO) is collaborating with cannabis patient group, Cancard, to establish the first ‘community-owned’ medicinal cannabis facility in the UK.
Having already secured £1m in seed funding, GLO is looking to raise a total of £5m and is giving patients the chance to invest in the company for a minimum buy-in of £100 through the community fundraising platform Seedrs.
The company has successfully obtained a conditional licence to produce medicinal cannabis products on the Isle of Man, where the Government introduced its own regulatory framework, governed by the Gambling Supervision Commission (GSC) in 2021 to allow companies to grow, manufacture, distribute and export cannabis products.
Unlike the mainland UK, where licences are issued by the Home Office only once a facility is EU-GMP compliant, companies on the island can be granted a conditional licence before the facility is operational.
Construction on GLO’s facility will take place in two phases, with phase one expected to take around 12 months to complete. Once fully operational, it will house 30 cultivation rooms – of which 22 will be 200 square metre flowering rooms and six drying rooms – where it will produce a number of unique cannabis strains.
In the meantime, the company has secured a Wholesale Dealer Licence (WDA) from the Department for Health and Social Care in the Isle of Man to trade medicinal cannabis products from third parties.
GLO’s CEO Alex Fray, who is also a director of the Isle of Man Government Department for Enterprise Business Agency, commented: “Medicinal cannabis has attracted a huge amount of investor interest in recent years as the sector develops rapidly.
“When we began the GLO journey, we recognised the importance of having investors who share our vision and values. We are committed to enabling the medicinal cannabis community, who sit at the heart of what we do, to have a voice and share in the opportunity as we begin to build our facility.
GLO has also developed a proprietary blockchain technology which enables consumers to trace how each plant has been grown and processed.
Fray added: “Together with our proprietary technology, this collaboration provides a huge opportunity to open source learning that can be shared with patients and doctors, building further evidence for therapeutic value and making new discoveries.”
Giving patients a seat at the table
According to polling undertaken by Cancard in 2021, a large majority of respondents said they wanted the opportunity to benefit from the sector.
Speaking to Cannabis Health, Kirsty Morrison head of relationships at Cancard, said: “Cancard represents a patient community of over 70,000 people, and when polled one of the highly agreed upon suggestions was access to a community-owned cultivation opportunity with 91% in firm favour.
“This was such an important aspect of patient needs we couldn’t not do anything. They felt they had been involved in the progression of this industry for years and were being left behind. Even if they had the money, there was no way for them to get involved.”
She added: “One of the best feelings was seeing so many small investments come in – those £100 or £150 investments – because every single one of those is a little show of faith.”
Cancard members were given priority access to purchase shares in the company, with the funding round opening to the general public 48 hours later.
Those who invest will get a share of any profits, as well as a say in how the business is run, with Cancard founder Carly Barton, joining GLO part-time as chief community officer and responsible for ensuring the views of patients are heard by those at the helm.
“We truly want to empower a historically disenfranchised group of amazing people with bags of potential. This is about bringing everyone together and no matter how many shares you own, you have exactly the same say in the business,” said Barton, who was one of the first people in the UK to obtain a legal cannabis prescription.
“We know that most patients are as passionate about ‘Grow your Own’ as we are. In the current climate with the laws as they stand this is as close to that as we can get. Patients can now, because of this initiative, ‘own their grow’.
Barton added: “We have been inundated with messages of support and love from the community, and I would like to congratulate all of our members taking part – they are now part-owners of a cannabis company and that is a pretty incredible bit of movement.”
Over 200 people have invested in GLO since the campaign launched last week, with seed investors including Chase & Status star, Saul Milton, and DJ Mark Wilkinson.
In a press release Milton – a cannabis patient and Cancard holder himself – said: “I understand the challenges many in the community face every day. To date the legal market has been predominantly dominated by large players focused on making money, rather than serving patients.
“GLO is doing something totally different, bringing together medical experts, scientists, the legacy market and patients in a model that is designed to enable the community to have safe and secure access to quality medicine whilst also furthering medical understanding of the capabilities of this plant. GLO will benefit all its stakeholders and that is why I am so excited to be involved in this project.”
1/5— Cancard (@Cancard_UK) June 5, 2023
It's here! GLO is the first community-owned #cannabisfarm in the British Isles. You can become a part-owner by investing in the project today.
Head to https://t.co/c1wsYwwoLO to find out how you can be part of the revolution.
Let's GLO! pic.twitter.com/Hc4fAfe21B
Reaction from the wider cannabis industry
As a novel initiative for the UK cannabis industry the collaboration has garnered some mixed reaction.
President of cannabis reform group CLEAR, and executive committee member of the Cannabis Industry Council, Peter Reynolds, voiced initial concerns about the video which was shared on social media to promote the raise.
“I think it makes the whole thing look much simpler and ready-to-go than it actually is,” he told Cannabis Health.
“The way the licensing system works in the Isle of Man is different to the UK. You get your licence straight away, but it’s a conditional licence until you have built the facility and been through the various testing procedures that need to take place. It’s a bit like getting a provisional driving licence; you still need to learn to drive and pass your driving test.
“Additionally, if they want to sell medical cannabis in the UK, they must produce it under GMP standards and go through the process of getting GMP-certification. Most people have no idea how expensive that process is.”
Following a meeting with Fray, Reynolds says he is supportive of the idea to the extent that he has invested himself. But he remains concerned about the fact that it is targeting ‘potentially vulnerable people’ and ‘naive investors’.
“I do think it’s a very good idea and I have been reassured that they know what they are doing and that they understand the complexities and difficulties involved in producing medical cannabis,” he admitted.
“But I’m inside the industry and I know what is involved. I worry it gives a false impression to people who are naive investors and may also be very vulnerable as medicinal cannabis patients.”
Reynolds added: “Anybody who is thinking about investing their money needs to understand that growing GMP-certified cannabis is much more challenging than the video suggests.”
Well-known campaigners and industry stalwarts, Professor Mike Barnes and Hannah Deacon, who co-founded the cannabis consultancy Maple Tree Consultants, are listed as advisors to GLO.
They told Cannabis Health that the initiative is a welcome way for patients to benefit from the industry, comparing it to shareholder models operated by companies such as Waitrose, where staff benefit from shares and bonuses based on performance.
“The initiative is good way to get to people involved in the cannabis space rather than just the usual ‘big cannabis’ investment community,” said Professor Barnes.
“It is time for the people who will benefit to get involved in the companies in a real and meaningful way as shareholders. Obviously people need to be aware of the risks of investing in a startup company (as with any investment) but I can see no other problem.”
Deacon added: “This opens the sector to patients and gives them a chance to feel invested and involved. I think it’s a great move from GLO and I hope others take interest. It’s a more social way of running a business and I am all for that.”
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