European Recreational Cannabis Reform: Will Guernsey Go Next?

The Channel Island of Guernsey appears to be throwing its hat into the cannabis legalization ring as soon as next year.

For those watching the European cannabis discussion develop, one of the most interesting places to be right now is the island of Guernsey. Located between France and the UK, the island has been going gangbusters on the medical reform question for several years now.

Now, there is a call for the island to go whole hog on the recreational reform discussion—and even more interesting, the petition is being championed by a political leader who also, not coincidentally, just resigned from the island’s Home Affairs Committee over its cannabis laws. Apparently, Marc Leadbeater’s role as a director of a local hemp company caused other members of the committee to question his perspective on drug reform.

Leadbeater is now proposing a specific political process—namely a requete—to discuss full legalization. If put forward by seven of the States members, the issue must go before the Guernsey government.

This flurry of interest from government officials follows, within days, a statement by the former Chief Minister of the island, Gavin St. Pier. St. Pier shared that he believes cannabis should be legalized to better regulate, license and tax the industry for the benefit of the island’s economy.

Cannabis cultivation license opportunities have been available since July of this year. The island is also home to extraction companies.

The concept of cannabis as an economic redevelopment tool for the acres of empty greenhouses that dot the island has been hot here for a while. 

Why is the Furore Significant?

There are several reasons that the timing of these contretemps is so interesting. 

The first of course is that both Luxembourg and Switzerland are moving forward with recreational markets, even of the trial variety, within the next two years. As a small island, Guernsey could well follow this trend and at this point, have a major impact on the debate no matter how big its native market ends up being.

Here is why—beyond becoming potentially the third (or fourth if Portugal continues to also move forward) country in Europe to go fully recreational. The island is on the British side of Brexit. As a result, Guernsey would also become, if all of this pro cannabis fervor pans out, the first part of the UK to embrace adult use reform. 

That would be a truly major step.

The State of Cannabis Reform in the Guernsey UK

Sadly, despite a lot of noise, the government in the UK has not stepped up to the cannabis discussion in the same way that Germany has. While it is technically possible to receive medical cannabis (in very limited forms) under the National Health Service (or NHS), forward reform has come very slowly. Even patients who are approved for use (including those with MS) are not obtaining their cannabis.

On top of this, the main condition cannabis is used to treat in Germany, chronic pain, has been left out of the discussion so far by the British medical authorities.

The only disease (and population of patients) that has also managed to capture public and as a result political imagination, is children with epilepsy. And while this has been very good at moving political will, by inches, and highly reluctantly, in favor of more medical reform, this has not, so far, created a patient base on public health at least.

In Germany, in contrast, there are now an estimated 130,000 patients four and a half years after the government mandated that cannabis be covered under public health insurance as a drug of last resort and backed a domestic cultivation bid.

Germany’s cannabis discussion is far from sorted either—even on the medical front. However, in contrast to the UK, the country is light-years ahead.

The only sure-fire way to get access to medical cannabis in the UK right now is to see a doctor in a private medical clinic. Of course, this option is off limits to most just because of cost. So is the practice of obtaining a personal import license.

As a result, reform in the UK has been stalled, although not for lack of enthusiasm on the part of the budding industry. Cannabis conferences in the UK are selling out this fall. The CBD business has proceeded like gangbusters. There are private specialty cannabis clinics for those who can afford it. And, despite all the flurry and fervor, the British cannabis press is certainly making noise.

Regardless, real reform is unlikely to happen first on the mainland.

That is why this move on Guernsey is now so politically important—not just on the island itself—but set against a much broader backdrop of regional reform on both sides of Brexit.

No matter what happens, in other words, the horse has certainly left the barn—and is unlikely to be the last one to do so.

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