A Tory-run group pushing for cannabis legalisation is being bankrolled by North American firms producing the drug.
Crispin Blunt MP, who has predicted cannabis will be lawful in the UK within five years, is chairman of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group which formally launches today.
Rob Wilson, a former Conservative MP, is chief executive of the venture which, despite its name, is not an official parliamentary group and has no affiliation with, or backing from, the Tory party.
Instead it is a private firm registered at Companies House with £400,000 funding from businesses selling cannabis for medical and recreational use in Canada, where the drug is legal, and the US, where some states allow it.
Mr Blunt is a director of the company but said it was a not-for-profit operation and none of the elected politicians or policymakers associated with it was paid.
Crispin Blunt MP, who has predicted cannabis will be lawful in the UK within five years, is chairman of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group which formally launches today
‘It is a group that is seeking drug policy reform to reduce the harm that drugs do,’ he added. ‘Medicines are drugs that do good and enabling wider access to medicines derived from cannabis will also reverse the harm done by the currently untreated conditions and symptoms that they can safely treat.’
Medicinal cannabis was legalised in the UK in November but the Government has repeatedly said it has no intention of doing the same with street cannabis.
Many North American firms however believe laws surrounding non-medical cannabis will be relaxed, leading to a ‘green rush’ bonanza.
The reform group’s brochure calls for ‘safe accesses to medical cannabis for patients who need it’ and also for Government reviews into whether the UK should follow the Canadian model.
Its board of directors includes four executives of Canadian cannabis corporations hoping to expand into the UK.
One is Ben Ward of the Toronto-based Wayland Group. It has a subsidiary selling super-strength cannabis that it advertises as ‘not for the weak’.
Another backer is the Supreme Cannabis Company, which also has subsidiaries growing high-strength cannabis. This week it announced the launch of a London-based medical cannabis investment firm called Supreme Heights.
Several of the group’s financiers took part in this week’s Cannabis Europa Conference, a major networking event.
During a discussion event, Mr Blunt was asked how long he thought it would be before cannabis was legalised and responded: ‘Five years is the time I’m going to aim for.’ He added: ‘Our drugs policy is simply not working. We need a public space where we can have a proper debate about drugs policy. Decriminalisation is coming into the mainstream of the parties. This conversation is coming into the mainstream.’
The MP, who has admitted to using drugs in the past, drew a round of applause from the audience when he condemned the treatment of the majority of cannabis users who ‘fess up and are branded criminals’.
Mr Blunt, who is also chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform, told MPs last month that a number of billion-dollar companies in North America were bringing a ‘tidal wave of investor money’ into the medical and recreational cannabis industry.
It is a private firm registered at Companies House with £400,000 funding from businesses selling cannabis for medical and recreational use in Canada, where the drug is legal, and the US, where some states allow it. Pictured: Drugs products made by Northwest Cannabis Solutions of Washington State
But Avon and Somerset police and crime commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, who also spoke at the conference, warned about merging the debate on medical cannabis with the one about street cannabis. ‘Legalising recreational cannabis versus medicinal cannabis are two very big subjects, and trying to conflate them together plays to a certain group’s agenda,’ she said.
‘They are circling the UK because they want to make money out of cannabis. That’s what it felt like having so many commercial companies at the conference.
‘I’m not saying I don’t want businesses to make money, but it needs to be done properly and transparently under a great deal of scrutiny.’
Mr Blunt last year received £6,282 from two US cannabis firms to cover travel and accommodation for himself and two staff on a trip to ‘understand the regulatory, licensing and economic issues around the cannabis industry in Washington State,’ according to a Commons register of interests.
Mr Blunt told the Daily Mail: ‘The names of all our investors will be listed on our website at launch. We are a transparent organisation and we will therefore always disclose who our supporters are and our objectives as an organisation.’
Mr Blunt said he discussed the formation of the group informally with Tory chairman Brandon Lewis and had reserved receptions at the party conference. He added: ‘The word Conservative is not owned by the Conservative Party, and our objective is to get the centre-Right in the UK to support an evidence based re-evaluation of our drugs policy. The party however currently dominates the centre-Right and its future policy is critical to deliver reform.’
He said the Electoral Commission advised that less than half of those associated with the group should be signed-up Tories.
‘Green rush’ cannabis investors flock to UK
By Sian Boyle, Investigations reporter
Representatives from the global cannabis industry have descended on Britain this week as London hosts the inaugural European Cannabis Week.
The two-day Cannabis Europa conference was peopled by slick marijuana producers, distributors and investors.
But at the Southbank Centre event, there was not a single joint in sight. Instead, hundreds of smartly dressed businessmen frenetically networked, rushed between panel discussions and arranged private meetings via the conference app.
Although the event on Monday and Tuesday was centred on the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, several recreational cannabis companies – including two of those funding the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group – were present.
The firms scenting a high return
Four directors of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group are executives of major Canadian cannabis firms hoping to expand into the UK.
Ben Ward is director of Canadian cannabis group Wayland, which has a range of subsidiaries including High Tide Cannabis, which advertises super-strength drugs which are ‘not for the weak’ – including a product called the Ghost Train Haze.
Wayland recently bought a small company in the UK, which it plans to use to import medicinal cannabis. It will pay the company £24million on top of its initial £3.8million if it secures a licence.
Anthony Dutton is boss of Canadian cannabis giant Cannax Capital, which boasts of offering ‘comprehensive solutions for emerging companies in the industry’. One of Cannax’s subsidiaries, Northwestern Cannabis Solutions, sells a range of cannabis products including the intoxicating Funky Monkey Cannabis Co buds which cater to ‘true cannabis enthusiasts’, brightly coloured cannabis edibles which look like children’s sweets and ‘clear cannabis distillates’ available with the psychoactive ingredient THC.
Barinder Bhullar is a vice president of the Supreme Cannabis Company which has a portfolio of cannabis brands including 7 Acres which ‘takes pride in growing High End Cannabis’ and sells cannabis strains with high levels of THC. Its 24 per cent THC ‘Sensi Star’ strain has ‘chunky, high THC buds’.
Its chief executive, Navdeep Dhaliwal this week spoke at the Cannabis Europa Conference with EU foreign ministers in a panel discussion on ‘Investing in Europe: Continental Shifts’.
It also announced the launch of a London-based medical cannabis investment firm called Supreme Heights.
Rick Brar is a co-founder of Zenabis, one of the largest licensed producers of cannabis in Canada with openly-stated ambitions to become one of the major global producers of the drug. It is also pursuing a Good Manufacturing Practice certificate from the European Medicines Agency.
This is the minimum standard required for companies that manufacture medicines to enter the European market.
It is a founding member of the UK-based Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, a non-profit membership body that aims to increase accessibility to medicinal cannabis in the UK.
It has contributed toward the UK Centre for Drug Policies.