The first bulk batch of medical cannabis imported into the U.K. since it was legalized for prescription last year has arrived from the Netherlands.
The shipment, exported by the Office of Medical Cannabis, will be sent directly to pharmacies to provide to patients under prescription for treating conditions including chronic pain and multiple sclerosis, according to a statement from British startup Grow Biotech. The company said it worked with investor European Cannabis Holdings and pharmaceutical importer IPS Specials to facilitate the delivery.
The U.K.’s Home Office gave specialist doctors the option to prescribe medical marijuana in November. They will be able to offer the drug on a case-by-case basis when other licensed products cannot meet the patients’ needs. That followed a shift in public attitudes toward cannabis-based medicines after two British children with epilepsy were prevented from bringing medication back into the country, sparking an outcry.
The regulatory outlook is also shifting in Europe. The European Parliament voted in favor of a non-binding resolution on Wednesday which will seek to encourage European Union countries to increase access to medical marijuana.
The World Health Organization has taken a similar stance, calling on Feb. 1 for marijuana and cannabis resin to be removed from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the most restrictive categorization. Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Gopal Srinivasan said the move by WHO would provide countries with “additional political cover” to reconsider their stances on cannabis.
Europe’s publicly traded cannabis industry remains very small but the industry is proving more lucrative than initially expected. Grow Biotech said in a fundraising announcement in July last year it intends to join the tiny group of marijuana providers on the stock market in the fourth quarter of 2019.
The number of listings in Europe pales in comparison to the boom in Canadian pot stocks born out of the legalization of recreational marijuana. Those names are also looking to a newly liberalized U.K. for expansion, including Canopy Growth Corp., which has partnered with a British cannabis therapies researcher with the aim of introducing products in early 2019. Aurora Cannabis Inc., another of the Canadian pot giants, made its first commercial export of cannabis oil to the U.K. earlier this month. That ingredient is used in wellness products like cannabidiol, or CBD oils which are now sold widely in U.K. pharmacies.
For Aurora too, regulation is key. “One of the things that we’re doing in Europe is making a very clear argument that Europe should move forward in harmonization country to country, so as not to disturb the common market,” said Cam Battley, Aurora’s chief corporate officer said on the company’s earnings call this week. If you want to “operate as a single market, you have to have a harmonized set of regulations.”