UK Government officials, including Prime Minister Theresa May, look set to make massive profits from legislation that will legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes. The  case of 12 year old Billy Caldwell, who needs Cannabis oil to treat his epileptic seizures, made the headlines after the Home Office confiscated his medicine, and has reignited calls to legalise the class B drug in the UK.

The cannabis was taken from Billy’s parents at Heathrow Airport as the family returned from a trip to Canada, where the drug is cleared for medicinal use.

After the medicine was confiscated, Billy suffered two seizures that could not be controlled by any other medication and was driven to Chelsea and Westminster hospital by ambulance. The Home Office then decided to return the cannabis oil to the family, so that Billy could be treated. The reason for the government’s U-Turn on what has been a strictly enforced policy for decades, remains unclear. Other children with similar conditions to Billy’s in the UK have in the past been denied treatment with the drug. 

Prime Minister Theresa May has now vowed to put legislation in place to make medicinal cannabis available to those who need it.

The government move, likely to have been years in the making, is not an altruistic one.

Prime Minister May’s husband’s company, Capital Group, is the largest investor in GW Pharmaceuticals, which has been mass producing cannabis in the UK, for the foreign market. GW chairman Geoffrey Guy is also a Conservative party donor.

A UN body report published in 2017 found the UK to be the world’s largest producer, and exporter, of legalised cannabis.  The report confirms that the UK produced 95 tonnes of marijuana in 2016, accounting for almost 50% of the world total. It also exported 2.1 tonnes in that same year, which is around 70% of the world’s total. Several advocacy groups have called out the UK government on its production of cannabis, criticising it for its prolific output whilst banning the substance in its own country. Evidence exists which shows that the drug can relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy, glaucoma, and epilepsy in children.

The amount of cannabis seized in the UK every year, offers another incentive for the government to push on with legalising the drug, and make enormous financial gains from a change in the law. The latest figures tell us that over 123 tonnes of cannabis have been seized by the police, which is more than the total combined amount of cocaine, heroin and opium confiscated.  

But who is buying all this cannabis?

A survey carried out by The United Patients Alliance found that around 37% of patients in the UK use cannabis to ease their symptoms, with 72% of those surveyed saying they bought their cannabis on the street. This won’t be news to companies like British Sugar, which has had a licence to produce cannabis since 2016. Now, companies, along with the government, may be looking to profit from the demand. The two are not mutually exclusive, either.

British Sugar has serious political connections. The company is run by Paul Kenward, who is the husband of MP, Victoria Atkins. Atkins, a barrister and former criminal drugs prosecutor, was made a Home Office minister this year, in charge of crime, safeguarding and vulnerability. Whilst she has actively spoken out against legalising cannabis in the UK, she has at the same time chosen to recuse herself from debates looking into cannabis use. Campaigners in favour of legalising cannabis have called her decision, “hypocrisy on a grand scale.”

Peter Reynolds, who is the president of Clear, which campaigns for cannabis law reform said, “what is appalling is [that Victoria] doesn’t just want to support it for policy reasons, quite evidently, she wants to support it because her husband and family are directly benefiting from [the regulation of] it.”

Another controversial figure involved in the production of cannabis, is Dr George Hibbert, the disgraced  family court psychiatrist who surrendered his licence to practice after co-workers and patients made several complaints about his treatment of vulnerable mothers, including the allegation that he was deliberately misdiagnosing parents in order to allow social services to remove children from them and place the children in care.

Dr Hibbert, whose father, Sir Reginald Hibbert was the UK ambassador to France and counted several high level officials as friends, has been a shareholder in GW since its floatation on the stock market in 2001 – the company which Theresa May’s husband is also the majority investor in, through Capital Group. A piece in the Guardian tells us that, “documents filed at Companies House, show that GW was supported prior to its £175m flotation in June by a list of prominent people, many of whom saw the value of their investments surge five-fold in the public offering.” The Guardian story also mentions that GW’s flotation angered analysts and fund managers, who claimed that the offering had been hyped and over-priced.

These revelations are, of course, deeply concerning. Should the production of medicinal cannabis be legalised for UK patients, safeguards would need to be introduced to ensure that the cost of the cannabis was not inflated and those in greatest need were not priced out of being able to afford the medicine. It also can’t be right that government officials, either by affiliation or engagement, have a majority stake in the production of cannabis, certainly in the UK.

At Researching Reform, we are in favour of legalising cannabis, however we are not in favour of government monopolies. Billy’s case may have been just the headline grabber the government needed to put legislation allowing the consumption of cannabis in the UK in place. The more cynical might say that the government’s decision to confiscate the cannabis was calculated, callous, and designed to bring about a change in the law.

Very many thanks to Jane Doe for sharing Dr Hibbert’s involvement with GW, with Researching Reform.