According to the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the United Kingdom is the biggest producer and exporter of cannabis in the world.
Alcohol has long been the UK’s drug of choice, and cannabis remains banned under UK law, so the report from the INCB that the UK produced 95 tons of legal cannabis in 2016–much of which ended up in the United States–comes as a surprise. The UK’s cannabis production now accounts for 44.9 percent of the world total.
The report puts Canada in second place with 80.7 tons produced.
However, cannabis production in the UK is almost entirely geared towards pharmaceuticals. GW Pharmaceuticals produces and exports two cannabis-based medications, Sativex and Epidiolex.
Sativex is used to treat muscle stiffness and spasms associated with multiple sclerosis. Epidiolex is a CBD-based medicine currently under review for the treatment of two rare forms of uncontrollable epilepsy and is expected to be approved for use in the US by the FDA.
Cannabis advocates in the UK have been quick to point out the double standard.
Steve Rolles, Transform’s Senior Policy Analyst, said, “It is scandalous and untenable for the UK government to maintain that cannabis has no medical uses, at the same time as licensing the world’s biggest government approved medical cannabis production and export market. UK patients are either denied access and suffering unnecessarily, or are forced to buy cannabis from the criminal market.
“It is profoundly unethical, and a violation of the fundamental right to health, to deny people access to medicines that are prescribed by their doctors,” he added.
An estimated 1 million people in the UK buy marijuana from the black market. There’s been recent controversy in the UK over a six-year-old Alfie Dingley, who suffers from a rare and treatment-resistant form of epilepsy. His family wants access to cannabis oil to treat Alfie’s severe seizures, but the request has been denied by the UK government.