Legal cannabis: A quick business guide

Some predict the drug will be legalised for recreational use within the next three to five years.

by Johnny Aldred
Last Updated: 22 Oct 2019

How do you solve a problem you haven’t yet got? If recreational cannabis becomes legal in the UK within three to five years, as predicted by cannabis consultancy Prohibition Partners, the glittering prize, it suggests, will be a market worth £16.5bn.

Medicinal cannabis was made legally available last year, with the proviso that it can only be prescribed by a doctor if other forms of treatment have been exhausted, a caveat that has strictly limited its use. Legal recreational production, distribution and use could follow – as has already happened in Canada, Uruguay and some US states. So the race is on for a piece of the market and the search for business solutions is well under way.

It’s not every day somebody suggests you look to Luxembourg for inspiration but within two years it is likely to be the first European country where citizens will be able to buy cannabis completely legally (while cannabis use is famously tolerated in the Netherlands, it remains illegal). With around 200,000 people entering and leaving Luxembourg each day for work, there will be challenges integrating its regulations with those of the other European Union member states, so they, in turn, could look to the 11 US states where recreational use is legal.

Jobs in this nascent market are, for now, being filled mostly by people skilled in areas such as alcohol, fashion or packaged goods. But expert help will soon be at hand – at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, you can now study cannabis: biology, society and industry; or how about medical cannabis science and therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy?

For some British firms, the watching and waiting is already over. On the high street, the likes of Boots and Holland & Barrett are already stocking CBD products, such as skincare and oral sprays. The two key active cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD), which has a calming effect and is useful medically for treating epilepsy, for example; and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive part that can give the euphoric high sought by recreational users, as well as pain relief. CBD in its isolated (less than 0.2 per cent THC) form is currently legal in the UK.

Five Canadian companies have been importing cannabis legally into the UK since the end of 2018, while the world’s largest publicly traded producer, Canopy Growth, recently bought UK skincare brand This Works for £43m. London has begun to establish a reputation as a centre for market research and is attracting cannabis-related finance through the likes of Canaccord and European Cannabis Holdings. High times indeed.

Image credit: RASHIDE FRIAS/AFP via Getty Images

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