Among world superpowers, the Canada has definitely led the way in the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis. The United States has certainly made strong strides over the past year as well. Many are expecting the UK to follow suit, but it’s been a slow burn.
The UK has been making strides with their legalization of medical cannabis last year, and Ireland’s five-year pilot program. However, they’re moving decidedly slower than other Western nations.
Perhaps the best representation of the UK’s sluggish action on cannabis is when it comes to medical cannabis. The first legal US use of medical cannabis was in 1996, when California passed Prop 215. It took twenty-two years for the UK to legalize medical use, and still, virtually no patients have access to it after more than a year of the law being in effect.
The UK’s legalization of cannabis moved the drug from Schedule 1, meaning the drug has no medical value, to Schedule 2. This means that cannabis is still a controlled substance, but, it can be prescribed under some circumstances.
There are some positive catalysts on the cusp for medical cannabis in the UK. Ireland just launched a five-year medical cannabis pilot program. The government is allowing companies into the Irish drug market to supply medical cannabis to specific patient cases.
The program is focusing on complications related to multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy, and epilepsy. The program has pretty tight restrictions. The prescription will have to be initiated by a consultant and all other traditional treatments must be exhausted. However, if these requirements are met, the government will reimburse patients for their prescriptions.
These developments from Ireland might look like a future path to legalization in the UK, or in Ireland at the very least. That might not happen under the current Irish administration as Health Minister Simon Harris said “It is important to state that there are no plans to legalise cannabis in this country,” when speaking about the program.
Why Are Most Patients Unable to Access Medical Cannabis in the UK?
General practitioners aren’t allowed to prescribe cannabis, but only specialists like neurologists or oncologists. Those granted prescriptions to the drug are still mostly unable to access their prescriptions because no cannabis had been imported into the UK to fulfill prescriptions.
UK’s CBD Laws
CBD is completely legal in the UK, “provided that it has been derived from an industrial hemp strain that is EU-approved,” according to NetDoctor. The CBD oil must have no more than 0.2% THC.
Epidolex Hitting the European Market?
GW Pharmaceuticals Plc (NASDAQ: GWPH) is attempting to enter the European cannabis market with their cannabis-based drug Epidolex. The company submitted a marketing authorization application (MAA) to the European Medicines Agency for Epidolex, which was accepted by the EMA for review. When a company submits an MAA, it is essentially asking permission to sell a drug in that nation’s market.
Epidiolex recently got FDA approval in the US for treatment of rare forms of childhood epilepsy. The drug was the first cannabis-based medication to get FDA approval.
Currently selling in the US, the list price for a 100ml bottle of the drug is $1,235, which comes out to a $32,500 weighted average gross price for the first year of use. The company estimates that they can get about 70% of this price from the European market. GW expects insurance to cover most of the cost, and provides a Patient Assistance Program to help patients pay for their prescriptions, provided insurance doesn’t cover the full cost.
If Epidolex gets approved for sale in Europe, it can provide GW with a competitive advantage in the UK market. With most UK patients unable to get their cannabis prescriptions, GW’s local production facility might give them a leg up on foreign competitors.
Article By: Patrick Crawley