Cannabis Stirs Politics in Britain, the Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies

Cannabis Stirs Politics in Britain, the Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies

We often talk about global trends that make their way to Britain. In part, these explain why Britain, alongside other countries, finally legalized CBD when it saw that the public was ready to accept such a move.

Since 2018, the United States, Canada, the European Union, and Britain have legalized the production, manufacturing, and sale of CBD products as long as they only contain minute traces of THC.

Some countries have gone a step further. Canada, Mexico, and 19 US States have legalized the recreational use of cannabis. They were recently followed by the German government, which has now legalized recreational cannabis, its possession, and consumption. 

Britain still categorizes marijuana as a Class B drug, which makes it illegal. Only recently has Britain allowed for the medical use of cannabis. Only a few people have access to doctors’ prescriptions for marijuana, though.

It seems inevitable, that at some point, the public and pressure from other countries will push the British government to declassify cannabis and allow for its recreational consumption.

Already, this has stirred political battles within Britain, the Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. The reason is the big discrepancies already in place when it comes to the legal status of cannabis between these. Local governments are making laws that push British law to the limit or even contradict it.

Dependencies such as Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man have already moved away from following the letter of British law. The latest example is Bermuda, which wishes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Bermuda and cannabis

Bermuda is a British overseas territory with its own government. It also has a governor who is appointed by Britain. Britain is responsible for Bermuda’s foreign policy, defence, policing, and internal affairs, while all other affairs are tackled by the Bermudan government. The British-appointed governor must assent to all legislation passed in Bermuda.

Thanks to the Decriminalization of Cannabis Amendment Act of 2017, possession of up to 7 grams of cannabis is already legal in Bermuda. An earlier 2016 ruling has also made the medical use of cannabis legal.

In 2020, the government in Bermuda decided to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, its cultivation, and retail sale. The island population appears to support such a move. This led to the Cannabis Licensing Act of 2020.

The 2020 Act takes the 2017 Act one step further by allowing anyone 21 or older to possess and purchase up to seven grams of cannabis from retailers approved by a new Cannabis Licensing Authority. The 2020 Act also allows residents to apply for a personal cultivation licence.

Unfortunately, Rena Lalgie, the appointed governor, has refused to approve the law as voted by the government of Bermuda after careful deliberation with the British government.

Britain argued that the proposed law would contravene the international drug control treaties that Britain has signed and that also bind its overseas territories. Since Britain is responsible for Bermuda’s foreign affairs, this would put Britain in violation of those treaties.

There has since been a stalemate, with the local Bermudan government insisting on moving ahead with the new law, thus putting Britain in an awkward position. It remains to be seen how this will play out.

The Bermuda government argues that the proposed Act simply builds upon the already approved Act of 2017. It also points out the uneven legal status of cannabis in the rest of the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.

The British Virgin Islands and medical marijuana laws

A similar situation is facing the British Virgin Islands. In 2020, the British Virgin Islands government passed The Cannabis Licensing Act 2020, a law legalizing the medical use of marijuana, as well as its production and sale.

Governor Augustus Jaspert, who is appointed by Britain, has so far delayed the signature of the law without giving any explanation. In January 2021, he passed the Bill on to the UK’s Foreign Secretary for further consideration. No decision has been made since.

Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man

CBD, THC, and cannabis in Guernsey

Whereas overseas territories are struggling to legalize cannabis, British dependencies such as Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man have already taken similar steps.

This is thanks to the different legal status between territories and dependencies: dependencies have more legal freedom because the local governments have the final say.

As a result, Guernsey has adopted a more lenient legal framework for the cultivation of cannabis. Instead of the 0.2% limit in THC, Guernsey’s government allows the cultivation of hemp and cannabis as long as THC is under 3% of the CBD content.

This matters because cannabinoids develop when hemp matures and flowers blossom. CBD, THC, CBN, CBG, and other hemp cannabinoids develop their potential and reach maturity with sunlight, water, and oxygen.  

Hemp growers have to keep a close eye and test the flowers regularly, as the whole crop must be discarded if the THC content grows beyond the 0.2% threshold. The Guernsey law gives significantly more leeway to growers.

Guernsey legislators are also keen on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana within a legal framework close to the Canadian one.

Jersey harvest hemp flowers

The most important legal step taken by the Jersey government is that it allows the harvest of hemp flowers.

Across the whole of the United Kingdom, hemp cultivation is permitted with specific licences and regulations. However, British hemp growers are prohibited from harvesting or in any way utilizing the hemp flowers. They may only harvest stems and stalks. These are great for fibres, textiles, and ropes—but do not contain any CBD or other cannabinoids.

The gist of the cannabinoid profile resides in the flowers. Accordingly, the flowers are the most financially profitable parts of hemp. Being unable to use them, Britain imports most of its raw CBD and then manufactures CBD products locally.

Jersey wishes to use the full potential of hemp, so Jersey hemp growers may process the full plant. As Jersey is moving ahead of the United Kingdom, there is a growing divergence between the two legal frameworks, probably leading to feelings of resentment among hemp growers in Britain.

The Isle of Man becomes a major cannabis grower

The Isle of Man is closer to the rest of Britain, as it has become a major cannabis grower. Cannabis may be grown and exported with the proper licence. It may not, however, be consumed on the island.

Britain is the biggest producer and exporter of cannabis

Britain in general resembles the Isle of Man. A UN report from 2019 found that Britain is the largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis for medicinal and research purposes, accounting for more than 60% of legal cannabis sold worldwide.

The main reason behind this astonishing achievement is GW Pharmaceuticals, which produces Epidyolex and Sativex. A lot of the cannabis it needs is grown locally in the UK.

GW Pharmaceuticals has also applied for other patents and is actively researching the potential of CBD and cannabis in general. It, therefore, makes sense that it requires immense quantities of cannabis for its products and research purposes.

Britain and medical cannabis

While Britain is such a major producer, the legal reality for CBD cultivation and cannabis consumption place it at odds with other countries and with the British population.

It is relatively difficult for patients to acquire the ‘cannabis card.’ It was estimated that at the end of 2019 there were less than 250 cannabis cardholders in the UK [1]. It is assumed that this number hovers around 20,000 today. Predictions are forecasting that there will be more than 330,000 patients with a ‘can card’ by 2024 [2].

Looking into the medical causes that make patients turn to cannabis, the majority of them take cannabis for Huntington’s disease, followed by schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, autism, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and insomnia [3]. Many of them take cannabis illegally.

As medical cannabis becomes more widely available and acceptable, it makes sense that ‘can card’ holders will increase drastically.

According to research, almost 2 million Britons are suffering from fibromyalgia and a little under half a million have rheumatoid arthritis [4]. These conditions often qualify patients for a medical cannabis card in countries like Canada and some states in the US.

Bearing in mind how the British population is getting older, neurological diseases, chronic pain, and other conditions associated with age will increase in frequency. This could explain people’s increased interest in cannabis’ potential: a whopping 77% of Britons would support some form of legalization of medical cannabis according to opinion polls and statistics.

The world is moving forward

Since December 2020, the UN has re-classified cannabis as a less dangerous substance that has medical and therapeutic potential. Although the UN didn’t classify it as a safe recreational drug, the new classification moved cannabis away from the Schedule 4 category. Schedule 4 drugs are those that display no therapeutic potential, such as heroin and some opioids.

The UN decision gives researchers and scientists more freedom to research cannabis and reach definitive conclusions about its potential.

Even before this move towards legalization, many government bodies and legislatures have already been moving forward. The United Kingdom has classified marijuana as a Class B drug. For a few years, marijuana was moved into Class C, alongside steroids and some tranquilisers, but it was then moved back to the stricter Class B in 2009.

A growing rift…

The latest dispute between Britain and Bermuda can cause rifts that go beyond cannabis. The Crown dependencies are articulating their autonomy and reaping the potential of growing and exporting cannabis. Jersey and Guernsey see in cannabis cultivation promising financial returns. These can be remarkably high, given that a recent Gallup poll found that more Americans use cannabis than smoke tobacco nowadays.

…And a renewed interest

With the world population aging fast, renewed interest will inevitably gather around cannabis. With regards to CBD, there is increasing research into its potential as an anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant and many Britons are already using CBD for pain management.

It remains to be seen whether THC—and cannabis in general—will draw the same scientific and medical attention.







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