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Battles over the legalisation of cannabis continue, in the UK and globally. In the UK this has resulted in muddles over the re-classification of cannabis to Class C. On the one hand there has been an apparent 'relaxation' of the law towards medical use -- but this has been coupled with police harassment and imprisonment of medical user Colin Davis, who opened a cannabis cafe in Stockport.
Certain companies seem to be fairly certain that one day we will see legalisation, and they want to be in on the act. Hemp Industries has estimated that cannabis/hemp has many possible uses, including fibres for textiles, analgesic and anti-nausea properties and highly nutritious seeds for eating. And there is, of course, the recreational value. What is worrying is the way that, in a corporate-led world, some of these benefits from herbal cannabis could be exploited in a way that goes along with conventional farming and industrial methods -- in other words, involving environmental and social damage while reinforcing corporate power.
The main company developing medical cannabis technology is GW Pharma, a UK based company that carries out research at the UK's chemical weapons research facility in Porton Down. It has been trying to get its product, Sativex, on the market for 'relief of symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and for treatment of severe neuropathic pain.' Since March 2003, Sativex has been under scrutiny by the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which has so far refused to license it for sale in the UK. GW Pharma is optimistic, however, and has already signed a deal with bio-chemical giant Bayer for the rights to distribute the product. This deal, worth an initial ?12.5 million, and possible further ?20 million to GW, makes Bayer the 'marketing partner' for Sativex in the UK, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and much of Europe. In June 2005, Sativex was launched in Canadian markets.
While the introduction of cannabis-based medicines might bring benefits to many, if these medicines are controlled by pharmaceutical corporations, then cannabis -- which could grow freely -- will be used to bring profits to companies such as Bayer and GW Pharma. Although the cannabinoids that GW uses are the CBD variety, rather than the more commonly used THC varieties, GW has the policy of seeking patents on the varieties of cannabis that are used in medicines, and this might one day extend to THC. This could mean that, in the event of legalisation of cannabis, home-growing could be prevented by companies holding patents on producing cannabinoids. It could alternatively mean that only production of the non-intoxicating CBDs would be legalised, leaving THC smokers to still fall foul of the law.
Ten to thirty per cent of MS sufferers in the UK already smoke cannabis for relief of their pain, and a non-corporate solution would simply be to legalise this practise, and make cheap, high quality cannabis more available.