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Jersey to tackle diversion of medical cannabis with stricter regulations for sector

Ministers want to reduce the risk of prescriptions being resold on the illicit market.

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Jersey officials have addressed calls for further governance and regulation of the island’s medicinal cannabis industry. 

Jersey is to establish a new ‘cannabis agency’ to improve regulation of the medicinal cannabis sector and reduce the risk of prescriptions being resold on the illicit market.

Officials in the Crown Dependency have addressed calls for further governance and regulation of the island’s medicinal cannabis industry. 

Speaking at a meeting of the ​​Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel on Thursday 8 June, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Karen Wilson, spoke of plans to establish a ‘Cannabis Agency’ to help tackle the lack of regulation in the sector. 

Responding to questions from Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel chair Deputy Rob Ward, Wilson said the agency would help officials understand the regulatory requirements of the sector in order to ensure high standards to protect both patients and the industry.

It comes following the launch of a petition calling for a medicinal cannabis ‘watchdog service’ to be established to regulate clinics on the island and ensure patients are receiving ‘optimal care’. 

Medicinal cannabis has been legally prescribed in Jersey since 2018, initially through private clinics operating on the mainland UK and now also through on-island clinics, with around 4,000 patients currently thought to hold prescriptions.   

Meanwhile, according to the Channel Islands Economic Development Minister, Jersey has received £60m in investment from medical cannabis businesses since 2016, with one of its most prominent, Northern Leaf, recently securing EU GMP certification to produce medicinal cannabis.

However, Ward went on to highlight concerns that this ‘unregulated’ industry is driving an ‘underlying market for cannabis’ on the island.

The diversion of medicinal cannabis to the illicit market 

The diversion of prescribed cannabis to the illicit market is a known problem in the Channel Islands, with pandemic travel restrictions affecting the amount of hashish which could be imported, limiting illegally-sourced supplies.

“The issue of the diversion of medicinal cannabis to the black market has been mentioned to me as a concern by several politicians since last year’s elections,” Simon Harrison, founder of End Cannabis Prohibition Jersey (ECPJ), told Cannabis Health. 

“The black market for cannabis has certainly changed since the pandemic. The restrictions on travel resulted in a dramatic reduction in the amount of hashish imported into Jersey, which hasn’t really recovered.”

Admitting that this was a concern, Wilson also proposed setting up a new review panel to focus specifically on cannabis and help establish a ‘more rigorous and robust’ regulatory framework. 

“We need to think about those who are engaged in the clinical practice of medicinal cannabis clinics, about what safeguards they require in order to practice safely and effectively,” she said.

“But I also think we need to put some wider regulatory consideration into how we control this issue of recreational use and the impact it’s having on health and wellbeing.”

Wilson added: “I don’t have the data, but we have seen an increase in the number of young people experiencing poor mental health as a consequence of the increase in recreational use, which is a concern.”

Better regulation for patients, clinics and cultivators

The news of a specific cannabis agency and review panel in Jersey has been welcomed by Harrison who has also been calling for greater regulation of the industry. 

In its own recommendations for reform, prepared ahead of the island’s 2022 general election, ECPJ proposed the establishment of a scrutiny panel to undertake a review of the use of medicinal cannabis in Jersey in order to ‘better understand the issues faced by patients and the medical profession’, and ‘advise Government accordingly’.

“We welcome the prospect of greater regulation and governance of cannabis through an expanded Jersey cannabis agency… and the suggestion by the Health Minister of a ‘special panel on cannabis’,” he said.

“Medicinal cannabis needs better governance and regulation in Jersey, for both the cultivation industry and the clinics and patients. Now that cannabis is established on the island, the government must now step forward and take ownership, so to speak.”

However, he questioned the statements made by the minister regarding mental health concerns related to recreational cannabis use. 

“While there have been anecdotal reports of mental health concerns amongst young people from several politicians, no data has as of yet been provided to quantify and support these claims,” said Harrison, who also referenced ‘neglected mental health services’ and increased numbers of young people reporting anxiety since the pandemic, as contributing factors.

“People in Jersey need to be educated and made better aware of cannabis use from a harm reduction perspective, including dissuading young people from using cannabis. Resources should be put in place to support those who do have poor mental health, whether or not that is a consequence of their cannabis use.”

He added: “I wouldn’t say that there’s been an increase in recreational cannabis use. The concern is primarily that the diverted medicinal cannabis is much stronger than the hash we used to get.”

The ‘many levels’ of diversion in the Channel Islands 

The neighbouring island of Guernsey has stricter policies around medicinal cannabis, with patients required to apply for an import licence in order to receive prescriptions from mainland clinics and the mandatory collection of prescription numbers. These have increased significantly, to 12,000 since the law was amended to allow GPs to prescribe. 

However, concerns have also been reported of prescription products making their way onto the illicit market here.

In 2021, Jersey police bosses suggested that the state take a similar approach, but there has yet to be any further mention of such a scheme.

“The issue of diversion exists because for many who may not qualify or do not wish to get a prescription, that is the only option available to them to access cannabis – other than personal production or importation, which are both risky endeavours,” Harrison explained.

“There are likely many levels to the diversion. Some patients will likely be profiting from selling their medicine, which we certainly do not condone. It is, however, difficult to quantify without data being collected and made public.”

He added: “One can certainly argue that it is better for people to be using cannabis of known quality than that of other illicit cannabis. The reduction in size of the traditional black market should also be looked at as a positive. Cannabis culture should also be taken into consideration. Cannabis users share their stashes.”

A ‘lack of certainty’ on government’s approach to substance use

For a number of years, ECPJ has also been calling for a new government strategy for substance use, following the conclusion of the previous BaSS [Building a Safer Society] strategy in 2019. 

Officials have also expressed concern that there is a ‘lack of certainty’ of the current government approach to reduce drug and alcohol misuse, with a proposed Drug and Alcohol Strategy having been delayed due to ‘recruitment issues’. 

“What we need is an effective substance use strategy that provides education and support, and that ideally includes the decriminalisation of the possession of cannabis – as well as home-grow – to resolve the issue of diversion,” Harrison added.

The new Drug and Alcohol Strategy has unfortunately been much delayed but should hopefully be released soon.”

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Home » Industry » Jersey to tackle diversion of medical cannabis with stricter regulations for sector

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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