IN July this year Elisabetta Faenza was appointed chair of the recently-formed UK Cannabis Industry Council’s (CIC) Standards Group, whose 39 members drawn from CBD, hemp and medicinal cannabis companies, the legal profession and researchers, have been tasked with creating a level playing field for the country’s legal hemp and cannabis industry based on clear guidelines and consistent legislation.
Here Elisabetta – tells BusinessCann what legislative changes the CIC’s Standards Group is looking to influence here in the UK.
‘BEING appointed chair of the Cannabis Industry Council’s Standards Group has been first and foremost a huge honour – but also one that holds a personal resonance.
I was born with a rare genetic condition – so exceptional it doesn’t even have a name. My parents were told I wouldn’t reach adulthood and that I would suffer from painful, life threatening conditions.
Fifty six years on and I have beaten the odds. But it has come at a cost – financially for my parents and emotionally for myself and my siblings.
Having defied the medics gloomy predictions I made a vow, to create a world where people’s health outcomes aren’t based on their ability to pay, and where parents aren’t forced to sell or mortgage their home to secure life-saving treatment for their child, as mine had to.
A side effect of my condition is that I naturally produce more endocannabinoids than normal people. It is this quirk I believe that has helped me recover from multiple strokes.
But it also means I can’t take off-the-shelf drugs and have to rely on alternative medicines.
Early on I discovered how variable those alternatives can be.
Harmonised And Robust Regulatory System
This has fed my interest in raising standards and achieving a harmonised and robust regulatory system that creates a workable, fair and equal chance for those involved in the legal cannabis industry.
Cannabis is one of the world’s oldest medicinal drugs. But a century of prohibition means we are now witnessing the birth of an entirely new sector bringing with it uncertainty, misconception, taboos and often poorly thought-out legislation and guidelines as governments across the globe try to get to grips with cannabis reform.
The CIC launched in the summer with the aim of driving meaningful change within the UK’s cannabis and CBD sectors. A big part of that involves modernising the UK’s conflicting and outdated cannabis legislation.
It won’t be easy. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the wheels of government turn slowly.
Three Key Areas
But the Standards Group has already identified three key areas its wants to focus on as the CIC begins to move forward with its plans to foster a sustainable cannabis industry.
These are production, supply, and testing and analytical standards. Long-term targets will include environmental and fair trading standards, international trade, sector specific values and guidance, compliance and procedures.
Within those three areas we have set ourselves a number of goals. The first is to clarify the existing standards within legislation or the official guidance documents and make those available, where possible, in plain language to members. One of the things we see is that the wording can be ambiguous and people can put their own slant on it to suit their idea of what they want to do, rather than the reality.
We also want to identify areas where standards either don’t exist, conflict, are ambiguous or are unworkable. I think that will be where the bulk of our work lies.
The third point will be to open talks with agencies and other stakeholders to discover the evidence base for contentious legislation or standards.
It allows you to ask the regulator why they have decided that 1mg or 0.3% is the threshold? What was the evidence that led to that decision? What you often find is that the data is old, has been superseded or was never based on anything peer reviewed. It was someone’s opinion back in the heyday on the war on drugs and has become Gospel.
CIC To Commission Research
We plan to commission research if we find evidence is out of date, non-existent or debatable, to support legislative or administrative change.
Aside from the key areas we know there are other questions troubling the CIC’s 100-plus members, such as the import of goods for the supply of patients.
It has gone from a named patient basis to requiring an agreement with the prescriber that the product is needed before it can be imported. This is leading to supply chain issues.
Getting import and export permits takes many months and patients can find if product is destroyed or lost in transit they can’t easily get it replaced. That could mean a patient suffering for weeks or months with the possible return of their symptoms.
As a group we will, in due course, be making recommendations to both the CIC’s Lobbying and Media committees to organise campaigns and petition open-minded parliamentarians and specific decision makers.
CBD And Novel Foods
There is also urgency in terms of what is happening around Novel Foods and CBD and seeking clarification from the FSA on its approval process. There has been talk of CBD becoming a schedule 5 over the counter medicine, which is a different signal to what is coming out about Novel Foods.
We need clarity. Is this something that the MHRA is looking to do? Is this something that is just a proposal? Is the FSA looking to shift this across to the MHRA?
Then there is the pressing need for hemp licensing to move from the Home Office to Defra. Having these licenses locked up in so much bureaucracy and growers being treated as if they are producing a highly dangerous product, which they are not, means the UK is slipping behind other countries when it comes to developing a robust hemp industry.
You won’t get businesses investing and the value adding of hemp-based products unless red tape is cut, allowing industry to invest with confidence.
For those wondering if all this is pie in the sky and if the CIC will actually make a difference, you just have to look at the successes notched up by the national advocacy body, Medical Cannabis Industry Australia.
Emulate Home Country’s Success
Since launching in February 2019 – three years after the Australian Parliament passed legislation allowing the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes – it has been instrumental in helping overcome early objections to this new sector through its united voice and developing a good relationship with government and the regulators.
Early wins have included more compliance, monitoring, down-scheduling of CBD, and gaining the confidence of the regulator that this is not a crackpot industry, that people want to do the right thing, want to hold patient welfare at the centre of everything they do, and want to work with government to develop sensible guidelines and communicate in an effective way.
It takes a while to gain traction, but the CIC has already attracted a bigger and broader membership than the MCIA. There is a lot of energy, astute people, commitment, diversity, professionalism, legitimacy and credibility.
It is exciting to be part of such a dynamic group – both with regards to Standards and the wider organisation – bringing a strong voice to the sector and a commitment to making positive change.’
Elisabetta Faenza is the founder and CEO of Australian headquartered LeafCann Group – a botanical extracts company which specialises in products ranging from functional food-based activated oils to prescription-based medicinal cannabis.
She is also on the board of Medical Cannabis Industry Australia (MCIA), which acts as the voice for the country’s licensed medicinal cannabis sector.
Along with her colleagues in the MCIA she has been instrumental in successfully addressing many of the regulatory challenges facing the medicinal cannabis industry in her native Australia.
This is the latest in a series of articles for BusinessCann from the heads of the Cannabis Industry Council’s sub-groups