From ”Soapbar” to Novel Laws: Cannabis in the UK
By Conor MacCleod- SCOTLAND, UK–A fourteen-year-old boy stands waiting on a front doorstep. His friend, Mark, waits at the end of the path, anxious to see what happens. The boy reaches out, hand shaking, ‘knock, knock, knock’. The door opens to a woman in her fifties, wearing a pink bathrobe, hair wet, smoking a cigarette. Nervous, the boy asks, “eh, do you have a quarter of hash?”
The woman pauses, frowns, takes a slow drag from her cigarette, and replies, “you’re looking for Jackie’s hoose, son. She’s next door,” before closing the door. The boy walks to the end of the path and looks at his friend, “it was the wrong hoose, dickhead!” before proceeding to knock on Jackie’s door, collect the hash and spend the rest of the night with his friend, blissfully stoned and giggling hysterically.
That fourteen-year-old boy was me and this was my first attempt at buying cannabis. My friend, Mark, had been told by his big brother where to buy the hash, and had given me the wrong address by mistake. An epic fail to say the least.
WHO’S THAT BOY?
My name is Conor Macleod, I am an author/illustrator/animator and YouTuber from Scotland, United Kingdom. My history with Cannabis is extensive but over the past few years, I have created the CANNAMANtv YouTube channel which includes the CANNAMANtv Podcast, where I interview professionals, academics, scientists, activists, patients, and creatives speaking about life and the wonders of the cannabis plant.
I have also created the CANNAMAN comics series, which was a precursor to CANNAMANtv and has now been adapted into the on-going and highly popular CANNAMAN animation series on the channel. My most recent work, The Productive Path, is a short semi-illustrated book, which highlights factors many encounter when engaging on a personal pursuit of productivity. You can find The Productive Path on Amazon.
A SHORT HISTORY OF SOAPBAR
The hash story mentioned above happened around 2004 and since then cannabis in Scotland, and in the rest of the UK, has changed significantly.
First off, the hash at the time was known locally as soapbar, imitation hash which had an embarrassingly low level of THC and not only came in the shape of a bar of soap but essentially contained the same ingredients. Bits of plastic bags were a regular occurrence to be found in soapbar.
Other more potent forms of hash, and flowered cannabis were available at the time, but for most of the younger generation back then, soapbar was the only option.
With a collective sigh of relief from the UK cannabis community, soapbar was phased out over the next few years as home growing became more popular with increased availability of grow tents on Amazon.
By 2014/2015 it was fully established that cannabis flower was the most predominantly accessible form available, either from friends or family who cultivated, a local grower someone knew, or through one of the numerous online vendors. You could still buy hash, by now in the form of ‘pollen’ or infrequently ‘squidgy black,’ but the favored product for most people was cannabis in its flowered form.
Although still illegal and regarded as a class B drug, the UK opinion of cannabis is far more tolerant than it has ever been, with 52% supporting legalization according to a YouGov survey, and this is down to several factors.
THE ERA OF CBD
In 2014, and as a direct consequence of the ground-breaking work conducted by the Stanley brothers in Colorado, CBD became widely available on the UK high street.
As of 2020, there were estimated 7.2 million consumers of CBD with that number now expected to be much higher. The growing popularity of CBD, along with growing evidence that the CBD market was not providing accurate labelling of expected CBD percentage, inevitably led to a regulatory clampdown in the form of the Novel Foods Act being implemented in the UK.
According to UK law, a Novel Food is any food that does not show a history of consumption before 1997. The Novel Foods Act has been subject to much criticism and rightly so, considering cannabis has been consumed for thousands of years meaning CBD has also been consumed for thousands of years.
The Novel Foods act came into action, March 31st, 2021, and requires an extremely expensive application (in the hundreds of thousands of pounds!) for a company to provide its authenticity to trade its CBD products.
Image of Dundee, Scotland
Due to the exorbitant price of the application, smaller family run businesses which established the CBD market in the UK in the early days, have been badly hit by this, with many going out of business or removing products entirely from their stock to avoid prosecution by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).
On April 1st, 2022, the FSA released its latest update on which products had been granted a license, which ones had been removed and which ones were still, ‘awaiting evidence’. Misinterpretations, inaccuracies and illegal levels of THC in products, which had been approved by the FSA were amongst some of evident failings of the most recent update.
Although, here in Scotland, we have a separate regulatory system from the rest of the UK, Food Standard Scotland (FSS), which has allowed CBD companies in Scotland to continue to trade and have been more flexible in their approach.
This has been aided with expert guidance from the Scottish Hemp Association, who are pushing for CBD isolate and synthetic CBD to be categorized as a Novel food, due to their manufacturing process only being established after 1997, but for broad and full spectrum CBD to be regarded as a food stuff, in the same category as hemp seed.
The ambiguity around CBD in the UK is on-going and will likely be so for years to come, but CBD has nevertheless brought cannabis conversation to the public domain alongside the legalization of medical cannabis in the UK.
STEPS TOWARDS MEDICINAL CANNABIS
Several high-profile cases involving children requiring cannabis oil for epilepsy led to medicinal cannabis becoming available in the UK, November 9th, 2018. But since then, this has led to only 3 prescriptions being given through the Government backed National Health Service (NHS).
Legislative barriers, regulatory hurdles and the absence of cannabis and endocannabinoid system knowledge amongst medical professionals, have all contributed towards a difficulty accessing medical cannabis in the UK.
Currently, there are around 30 private clinics in the UK, which allow medicinal cannabis to be prescribed, with an estimated six thousand private cannabis prescriptions thus far. This leaves millions of individuals still using the legacy market to acquire their medicine, as private prescriptions can range anywhere from a few hundred pounds to thousands of pounds a month.
A removal of legislative barriers and regulatory hurdles is of primary importance to the newly created UK Cannabis Industry Council (CIC), an organization of individuals, professionals, and academics, formed in 2021 and who represent the best interests of the UK cannabis industry and one which I am delighted to say CANNAMANtv is a member.
UK CANNABIS INDUSTRY COUNCIL
The CIC is the first attempt in the UK to create a unified structure where all the various aspects of cannabis can be addressed and directed by those who know cannabis best due to years of interaction and experience with the plant.
The CIC is made up of 7 subgroups: Environment Social and Governance, Hemp, Prescription, Plant Science, Research, Adult-Use and Standards. Each subgroup serves a vital role in representing diverse voices in cannabis, and is potentially the most exciting step in the UK cannabis industry in recent years.
A LONG WAY TO GO
My own journey into the world of cannabis was instigated, at first, by the desire to get high with my friend, Mark. Since then, however, my appreciation of the plant and what it contributes to humanity has grown exponentially, to the point where I am happy spending the rest of my life raising cannabis awareness and reducing the unjustified stigma which is associated with this healing plant.
Three years ago, my friend Mark was found dead. He was 31 years old. He had become an alcoholic and died from alcohol poisoning on the floor of his flat.
Instances such as this are a sharp reminder that we are in a Western society, which promotes the consumption of a known poison whilst a plant that has never killed anyone remains illegal and greatly stigmatized. This must change.
Highly Capitalized and Conor Macleod, © Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved. Conor is an author/illustrator/animator and YouTuber from Scotland, United Kingdom. He created the popular CANNAMANtv YouTube channel, the CANNAMANtv Podcast and the CANNAMAN comic series. His semi-illustrated book, The Productive Path, is available on Amazon.
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