The first full week of September 2022 has been one of celebration, shock, and mourning. Not only has the country welcomed a new Prime Minister, but it has also saluted the passing of the longest-reigning monarch in Britain’s history. Just two days after swearing in Liz Truss as our new Prime Minister, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at her home at Balmoral surrounded by family. At this sad time, many are looking to the past, as well as to the future.
This week, the ruling Conservative party finally elected its new leader – who has also replaced Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Liz Truss, who has been an MP for over 10 years, has been elected by her party to lead the Conservatives and our country as we face numerous obstacles and crises. But, given the need for preparations for the introduction of a new monarch, in addition to the obvious preoccupation with the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, can we expect the change in the premiership to spell any changes for the UK’s cannabis industry?
Recent Developments in the UK Cannabis Sector
Since the Conservatives, under guidance from then-Health Secretary Sajid Javid, legalised medical cannabis back in November 2018, little has changed in the UK. Almost four years into legalisation, many patients are still struggling to access medical cannabis with the vast majority doing so through private clinics. In comparison, only a handful of patients have been able to gain a medical cannabis prescription via the National Health Service. While many Conservative MPs have expressed sympathy for the current situation, few meaningful changes were pushed through during Boris Johnson’s two-and-something years in office.
Outside of medical cannabis, however, perhaps the only other major development concerning UK cannabis laws relates to CBD. As of January 2022, CBD companies in the UK are required to apply for Novel Foods certification for their products – the first major regulation on the industry since its recent boom in popularity. When it comes to the question of recreational cannabis, the potential for any kind of meaningful reforms remains a pipe dream – at least for now.
Having said that, the idea of cannabis decriminalisation gained some headway with the re-election of Sadiq Khan at the beginning of this year. As part of his campaign, Mr Kahn had vowed to assess the potential and effects of cannabis decriminalisation in London. However, Boris Johnson and other members of government insisted that the London Mayor does not have the power to introduce new laws or change existing ones. Furthermore, it clarified that there were currently no plans to decriminalise or legalise the recreational use, possession, or cultivation of cannabis.
So, now we have covered the recent developments, let’s look to the future.
Who is Our New Prime Minister?
Mary Elizabeth Truss – known as Liz Truss – has been an MP for South West Norfolk since 2010. Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Ms Truss held various roles in cabinet throughout the leaderships of the last three Prime Ministers, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, and David Cameron – her most recent role being Foreign Secretary. Before becoming an MP, she held various positions, including being the Deputy Director of the think tank Reform.
While Ms Truss has been a member of the Conservative party since 1996, Ms Truss was the President of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats during her time at the University.
What is Liz Truss’s Record on Cannabis?
A claim that came to the surface during Liz Truss’s campaign to become Prime Minister might have got many cannabis legalisation advocates and campaigners a little excited for the future. During her Oxford days, it has been said that Ms Truss was quite the supporter of cannabis reforms – apparently even wanting to post ‘Free the Weed’ posters all over a stall. However, just as Liz Truss moved on from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives, it appears she also left behind her opinions on cannabis legalisation.
This was confirmed in an interview with NME during the run-up to the 2001 election. When asked, “what’s your opinion on the legalisation of marijuana?”, Truss replied simply: “I don’t agree with it. Where do you stop?”. Her anti-cannabis legalisation stance was confirmed in 2017 when Ms Truss absented herself from a vote on cannabis policy.
Hints for the Future
Obviously, the likelihood of meaningful reforms on cannabis scheduling is extremely low. When it comes to medical cannabis and industrial hemp, however, the picture is less clear. It is highly unlikely that Liz Truss would attempt to stand in the way of furthering access to medical cannabis for legitimate patients. On the other hand, there are no signs that this would be a priority for her government.
Nonetheless, Truss’s reputation as something of a “policy nerd” – one that has inherited a damaged economy as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine – may lead some to hope that cannabis reforms may be considered, in the name of profit. Some estimates have suggested that the UK economy could benefit from an annual boost of between £1 billion and £3.5 billion in tax revenues should cannabis legalisation be approved.
The General Feeling in the Conservative Party
It seems this sentiment is something of a trend among Ms Truss’s appointed cabinet members. Our new Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has previously referred to current drug policy as “excellent”. It is, then, unlikely that any push for reform will come from this corner of the government. Historically, the Conservative Party has taken an anti-cannabis stance, with the majority of MPs voicing objections to drug policy reforms.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Perhaps most notable, Crispin Blunt MP has become an outspoken advocate for drug policy reform, including wider access to medical cannabis and the legalisation of recreational cannabis. Mr Blunt is the Chairman of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group as well as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform. Still, pro-cannabis reformers remain few and far between in the Conservative party, making it unlikely that we will see any significant changes in the near future.
The Influence of a New Monarch
The passing of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday evening shocked many around the world, but the sadness was particularly felt – and will continue to be felt – in the UK and across the nations of the Commonwealth. While the Queen and the Royal Family are famously unable to express political opinion or favour, the last issue of Her Majesty was to not assent to Bermuda’s (a self-governing British Overseas Territory) proposed Cannabis Licensing Bill – a Bill that would essentially legalise cannabis on the island.
This move could give us a hint at the Queen’s feelings on the subject of cannabis legalisation. Whether or not this sentiment will be carried forward by her son, King Charles III, remains to be seen. In recent years, King Charles III has expressed a passion for environmental reforms. Given the green credentials of cannabis as a crop, the more hopeful among us may expect an influence on future hemp policy.