Lessons Learned in Foreign Lands

by Alastair Moore



Today our Editor-in-chief, Steve Moore, had the pleasure of being featured on Politics.co.uk. In a subtle salute to the day thats in it, Steve laid out some recent and upcoming developments that are shaking the cannabis world internationally. Here are some of the highlights from the article.

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The changing shape of the world of cannabis: from illegal smuggling to a booming legal industry.

Our Editor-in-chief told how within the space of a week he saw the polarised ends of the business of cannabis – the illegal and the legal.

Last week, on the same day that Britain’s best loved drug smuggler died, I received an invitation to a cannabis ‘industry forum’ in Portland, Oregon. There’ll be sessions on “product industry trends”, “national regional market sizing” and “market growth projections”, all informed by “rigorous analytics” delivered by the leading “big data” provider in the industry.

Cannabis is growing up. Howard Marks spent three decades as a fugitive, operating across three continents under dozens of aliases, to provide weed to millions of people. But in 2016, US investment companies set up in Park Lane hotels for three days, hosted dozens of meetings and left with millions of pounds to invest in a new legally regulated industry.

Advances in cannabis at a national and state level: new regulatory policies.

The past year has seen major advances in not just America, but Canada, Australia and even Germany. Germany, the unexpected leader in cannabis regulation, is moving towards a new regulatory programme.

In November, California will legalise cannabis in a long overdue state ballot, forty years after possession was first decriminalised. The state has seven times the population of Colorado, which legalised recreational cannabis two years ago. Last year operators there generated $1 billion in legal sales and $140 million in state tax revenues. Meanwhile in Canada, prime minister Trudeau is the process of implementing his manifesto commitment to create the world’s first nationally regulated cannabis market. Within months, Angela Merkel will announce that Germany will be launching the largest national medicinal cannabis programme in history. Italy and a centre-right government in Australia are on the same trajectory.

Frustrations and hope.

Steve is in New York at the moment, with the VolteFace team, observing and reporting the events of UNGASS. So far the overwhelming bureaucracy and slow, frustrating developments at UN level have been clear to the VolteFace team – who echo the thoughts of other activists, journalists and organisations swarming around the diplomatic peep show taking place in the Big Apple. Frustrations aside, Steve is hopeful, as he’s seen some glimmers of change.

In the immediate aftermath of this latest UN failure the only game in town right now is cannabis – by far the most popular illicit drug in the world . Its near-ubiquitous use has not gone unnoticed by the business world. As legal enforcement agencies focus increasingly on Class A drugs and public health authorities attend to alcohol and opiate abuse, investors have seized their chance. They are investing in state-of-the-art grow facilities, technology, branding and political advocacy. They have bet the house that national governments are not going to police cannabis out of existence and that the demand to consume is not going to wane.

Their trajectory is set. They are preparing to build a multi-billion dollar regulated consumer market. I spent the past two days at a $600 a day convention in Midtown Manhattan on the future of the industry. I left in no doubt that regulation in various forms is going to happen right across the US within the next five years. The next president will have little choice but to enact changes to federal law that are currently curtailing investment and market growth.

Closer to home: an analytical lens on the UK.

Compare this trajectory to that of the UK’s. The investors and the governmental engagement with cannabis may not be on the same scale, but some progress is being made. Steve notes what some have called a ‘stealth decriminalisation’ by Police and Crime Commissioners, and the recent regulatory model the Liberal Democrats have developed.

Against this backdrop of government ambivalence and changing market forces, the Liberal Democrats last month became the first UK political party to promote a model for regulating cannabis. It envisaged a market place comprised of small growers, cannabis ‘social clubs’ and licensed high street vendors all overseen by a new regulator that might have come straight out of a Magnus Mills novel: The Cannabis Regulation Authority. Their report weighs heavily on harm reduction, which given the ongoing conjecture about the health effects of excessive use is understandable, but it is light on economic analysis and shorn of any business input, investor insights or acuity that someone who had actually regulated something may have contributed.

The internet and Viagra.

One thing seen by many to be lacking in the UK, when cannabis in the context of a regulatory system is discussed, is the internet. One such example of a regulated online distribution system can be seen in Viagra.

Most critically it has almost nothing to say about the internet. If there is to be role for business in this ‘new market’ then it is almost certain to be built online. The market valuations of companies such as Meadow, the so-called ‘Uber of weed’, is eye watering even before they have ever delivered a capsule of the stuff.

In his illuminating new book, Drugs Unlimited, Mike Power sets out how market forces and the internet have combined to bypass laws and move way ahead of governments to build a hugely sophisticated, agile, international sub culture and marketplace. If any modern government is truly serious about facilitating the creation of a ‘regulated market’ in cannabis to eradicate black markets — and they ought to be — they must start by exploring how it can be regulated in the public interest and on the internet. The capital cost of building a national network of licensed dispensaries would require us to create something equivalent to two new national lotteries. It is not going to happen.

The inevitable and the future.

Steve finishes his piece by looking to the future – painting a picture of how developments might occur here in the UK. Changes are happening and the UK best not be left behind.

Civil society will make its contribution but in all likelihood it will produce the ‘craft brewers’ in a legal market. The government will, in time, be faced with a new and straight choice. To continue to countenance the existence of thousands of bands of thieves serving up to three million people with cannabis and driving 13,000 teenagers per year into rehab, or to engage with sophisticated, albeit nascent, new industry players. The existence of the internet and the emergence of new regulated markets in North America will make this decision difficult to dodge. Imagine trying to prevent Viagra coming to the UK. That’s basically the situation the authorities will find themselves in.

It appears one week in America has invigorated many, our team included. Stay tuned to hear more about their trip and what they’ve learnt.

You can read the rest of the article here and check out the rest of Ian Dunt’s fantastic Politics.co.uk here.

More to come from Steve Moore tomorrow, straight from the man himself, as he wraps up his week in New York.

Main photo for this article by Gareth Smyth.

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