Would it surprise you to know that a little-known greenhouse operation in rural Norfolk, England, is churning out nearly half of the world’s production of medical marijuana?
It’s true. The United Nations’ 2016 World Drug Report revealed that Britain is the global leader in the cultivation and distribution of legal marijuana plants.
That year, the small island nation produced 95 tons of pot which represented 44.9 percent of the world total. Britain is also the world’s largest exporter of cannabis: 2.1 tons in 2016, about 70 percent of total world output.
A significant amount of that tonnage came from a massive greenhouse complex covering roughly 45 acres of farmland by the River Wissey, on the outskirts of Downham Market. British Sugar owns the operation which was developed to grow tomatoes.
While no one was paying any particular attention, the British Home Office granted a special license to UK drug maker GW Pharmaceuticals. Since its founding in 1998, this company “has established a world-leading position in the development of plant-derived cannabinoid therapeutics through its proven drug discovery and development processes, intellectual property portfolio and regulatory and manufacturing expertise.”
GW markets CBD – purified cannabidiol – under the brand name Epidiolex lawfully in the U.S. under the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This medication treats two rare and severe early-onset, drug-resistant epilepsy syndromes (Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet).
GW also manufactures Sativex to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Ironically, cannabis use in the UK is strictly prohibited. Reform groups such as Transform point out that their own government is one of the world’s largest suppliers of medical marijuana even as national leaders “consistently refusing to allow medical cannabis in the UK on the basis that it has ‘no therapeutic value.’”
GW Pharmaceuticals stock trades on the NASDAQ Global Market (GWPH). The company operates in both the US and the UK. Over the past five years, its shares have gained in value from $9 to $143, turning corporate directors into multi-millionaires. The stock is considered to be a good buy by some analysts.
The bucolic Norfolk grow facility made headlines during the summer of 2018 when local residents began complaining about a ” strange and pungent smell wafting across the Fens just south of King’s Lynn.”
The odor – like burning leaves or freshly mown grass, according to witnesses – was notable in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, too.
Investigating officers eventually went door-knocking at the British Sugar greenhouses. They discovered a huge crop of marijuana was being cultivated there.
The Fenland District Council maintained that the stench came from marijuana, but British Sugar was not clearly to blame. Other possible culprits were local waste disposal plants.
The unintended side effect of this local grievance was to push GW Pharmaceuticals into the public limelight. It’s not every day that people living in a country where cannabis consumption is flat-out against the law find out that their country supplies almost half of the world’s medical pot.
Senior policy analyst Steve Rolles underscored the hypocrisy inherent in his nation’s economic actions which are limited by the current political opposition to this therapeutic product:
“It is scandalous and untenable for the UK government to maintain that cannabis has no medical uses, at the same time as licensing the worlds biggest government-approved medical cannabis production and export market.”
British citizens must either break the law and acquire canna products illegally or suffer without treatment.
Medical marijuana plants are bred to have small amounts of THC, the mind-altering psychotropic component in cannabis.
Pharmaceutical cannabis is big business. Sativex (GW’s first product) is a nasal spray introduced in 2010 for patients with multiple sclerosis. Sales have reached 87,000 “patient years.’” An annual supply of Epidiolex (the anti-seizure medicine) will cost each patient (or their health insurer) a whopping $32,500.
Canada is also vying for world cannabis production dominance. This G7 country made modern history by legalizing all marijuana use – medical or recreational or hemp (fiber) – on June 19, 2018. The Cannabis Act went into effect on October 17. Canada’s goal is to “become to world’s top medical pot exporter.”
In South America, Columbia and Uruguay are the two largest regional cannabis producers. Pot purchases from state-run pharmacies are legal in Uruguay. Brazil and Argentina are also being eyed by international investors for their economic growth potential.
Cannabis has come a long way, baby, from back-alley Assassin of Youth to nascent blue-chip stock.