Cannabis on the Tickets in the Coming UK Elections

By Bill Griffin, Special Contributor to New Frontier Data

As voters in the United Kingdom prepare to head to the polls on December 12, political conversation revolves mainly around the Brexit question, though there are other issues on the ballot. While cannabis does not lead the agenda, it has gained sufficient social traction for inclusion in most party manifestos, marking an historic first in UK politics.

References to cannabis cover medicinal and recreational use, if without mention of either CBD or hemp, mainly because CBD is already readily available (and perceived despite legal uncertainties as fully legal) while hemp remains off the general electorate’s political radar.

Conservative Party (Tories)

Cannabis is noticeably absent from the Conservative and Unionist manifesto, and is seemingly an issue the party would prefer not to directly address. As the party in power, it did reschedule cannabis a year ago to allow for its medicinal use, though in practical terms it has not materialized (to date, only 18 prescriptions have been issued for cannabis-based medicinal products [CBMPs] via the National Health System [NHS]).

An Innovative Medicines Initiative exists for treating  cancer, autoimmune disease, or certain rare diseases among children; GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidyolex to combat childhood epilepsy became the UK’s first approved cannabis-derived medicine.

Meanwhile, recreational cannabis seems an unlikely issue to win over the typical Tory voter; the sole reference to “drugs” in the Conservative manifesto is in a pledge to tackle “drug-related crime”.

Labour Party

As the main opposition party, Labour does specifically address cannabis. In its manifesto is included a “clinically appropriate prescription of medical cannabis” in regard to health care, though its definition remains unclear: A not-for-profit organisation named Cannabis Patients Advocacy and Support Service (CPASS) joined Health Europa in suggesting what “clinically appropriate” cannabis might include.

Beyond a pledge to establish a Royal Commission to develop a public health approach to substance misuse, Labour has not defined a position on recreational cannabis.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats are more progressive among the mainstream parties regarding cannabis. In their manifesto, they pledge to disrupt criminal gangs by introducing “a legal, regulated market for cannabis.” They intend to introduce limits on potency levels and permit cannabis for sale through licensed outlets to adults over the age of 18, in a model similar to Luxembourg’s.

Per medicinal cannabis, the Liberal Democrats support and encourage more clinical trials “to establish a clear evidence base.” While gathering such data, the party would “allow those who feel that cannabis helps to manage their pain to do so without fear of criminal prosecution.” It has not specified whether medicinal cannabis would be distributed through the NHS or permitted through home cultivation, nor has it clarified whether mental health issues would be covered.

Green Party

The Green Party offers the most progressive platform for cannabis. In the Greens’ manifesto, they propose “ending the war on drugs” by repealing both the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act. They would also pardon and expunge the criminal records of all individuals previously convicted for possession and small-scale distribution of drugs, invest in education, and treat problematic drug use as a health issue rather than a crime.

The Green platform does not specifically extend to medicinal cannabis, but does pledge to enable medical scientists to conduct research on psychoactive drugs for developing new treatments for mental and physical illnesses.

Per adult use, they Greens propose to regulate cannabis “labelled according to laboratory-tested strength” and available to adults from licensed small businesses, sold subject to minimum unit pricing with plain packaging.

They would also allow for licensed cannabis social clubs (like those operating in Spain) where adults could collectively cultivate and consume the plant, while also permitting adults to privately grow a limited number of plants at home.

Those respective positions described, the current consensus among bookmakers seems to favour the Conservatives.