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Developing a Model for a Legal Cannabis Market in the UK

a Gavel next to some cannabis buds


Edward James, Thomas L Robertshaw, Michael J Pascoe, Fiona M Chapman, Andrew D Westwell, Mathew Hoskins, Jacob Barrow, Ben Sessa, Rick Doblin, Renee Rosky, & Andrew P Smith


August 3, 2021

This study was designed to generate a model for a legal regulated market for cannabis in the UK. The results were obtained from a sample of experienced cannabis users and healthcare professionals from many countries with the majority being from the UK and the US. The sample is inherently biased as the study was advertised via the MAPS social media sites and monthly newsletter and most of the participants will therefore likely have a significant personal interest in psychedelics and cannabis. Whilst this choice of participant recruitment may result in a pro-cannabis selection bias, these participants may be more informed about cannabis and policies in various international jurisdictions. Engaging this group in the research is useful for developing a workable regulatory framework which is accepted by cannabis users. This is important to prevent an illicit market from remaining in the case of a change in regulation. It should be noted that, whilst the majority had used cannabis at least once in their life, participant responses indicated that many had concerns about the potential harms posed by cannabis and did not support complete deregulation.

Background Despite rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule 2 and amendments to the law permitting legal availability of cannabis for the treatment of medical conditions, access to cannabis for medical use remains challenging for patients in the United Kingdom (UK). Recreational use is widespread despite laws stating users can be sentenced to prison for up to 5 years for possession.

Objective The aim of the study was to develop a model for a legal cannabis market in the UK building upon the results of a preceding study in which a UK population sample determined that pharmacies are the most suitable primary legal vendor of cannabis as opposed to regulated shops or the black market.

Methods An online survey was developed using Qualtrics software and advertised via the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social media accounts and monthly newsletter.

Results Three hundred and ninety-seven individuals, a majority having used cannabis at least once, consented to participate in the study. The participants concluded that there is enough evidence for cannabis to be prescribed to treat a range of medical conditions. In addition to pharmacies providing cannabis to patients with a prescription, a majority of participants supported cannabis being sold in pharmacies for harm reduction purposes and allowing access to medicinal cannabis in cases where supporting evidence is insufficient to merit a prescription. Participants supported greater integration between dispensing pharmacies and mental health services. Overall, the participants did not oppose a consultation or screening for potential cannabis users prior to obtaining access from licensed vendors. UK participants were supportive of the concept of a cannabis card, which users can present to licensed vendors such as pharmacies, with specific recommendations (such as strains relevant to a patient’s medical condition) being coded into the card. A majority of participants supported the existence of shisha-type bars for the purchase and onsite consumption of cannabis and determined that such vendors should not be part of a pharmacy chain of stores or regulated by pharmacy regulators. The participants generally preferred that laws regarding public consumption are in line with existing smoking legislation. Participants determined that it should be legally permitted to grow cannabis at home for personal medical and non-medical purposes but not to sell for profit.

Conclusion The results are suggestive of a regulatory system that medical and non-medical cannabis users can use which aims to maximise therapeutic applications, minimise harms and respect individual liberty.

This research was published in the Drug Science, Policy and Law Journal the definitive source of evidence-based information and comment for academics, scientists, policymakers, frontline workers and the general public on drugs and related issues

For open-access to the full report of this research, see below:

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