Are you hoping to break into the UK medical cannabis industry? Here’s everything you need to know.
Cannabis has been legal for medicinal purposes in the UK since 2018 and the last few years have seen an influx of new cannabis-related businesses tap into the market.
It’s not hard to see why. This emerging industry holds considerable potential for economic growth, with our previous estimates showing that if just half of those thought to be using cannabis illegally for medicinal reasons were able to access a legal prescription, there could be around 900,000 potential patients in the UK, representing an economic value of over £2 billion. However, this is not to say it will be easy. Breaking into the medicinal cannabis sector is not a straightforward task.
The legal cannabis industry is tightly regulated, and medical cannabis businesses must navigate complex and ever-changing rules and requirements in the cultivation, processing, and distribution of cannabis-based medicines.
So, where do you start? While there's a wealth of information for US and Australian cannabis companies and marijuana business available online, businesses entering the emerging domestic medical cannabis sector may find it challenging to find information on the right business licenses for the UK.
Maple Tree Consultants has provided this overview to support businesses as the cannabis industry continues to develop.
Can I start a cannabis business in UK?
This rapidly growing sector is seeing new businesses emerging every month, so do your research. Make sure you are well-informed about the current legislation surrounding medical cannabis in the UK and the regulations for the manufacturing and distribution of cannabis-based products for medicinal use (CBPMs) and keep up to date with developments in this area.
Cannabis products for non-medical use remain a Schedule 1 drug, meaning there are strict guidelines which must be followed, often spanning various government departments, including the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Care and Defra.
Spend some time researching the existing market and current landscape, as well as identifying who your potential competitors would be—perhaps through attending industry events and reading recent industry reports.
While exactly what you need to know will depend on the focus of your business, it’s important to have a good understanding of the sector as a whole.
Build your cannabis business plan
Just like any other business, if you want to start a successful medical cannabis company or sell CBD products, you should start by developing a comprehensive business plan that outlines your business’s goals, strategies and financial projections.
Your plan should also address the specific market conditions in the UK and the unique challenges that cannabis-related businesses may face, such as regulatory hurdles, the licensing process, banking issues and environmental considerations.
If you thought starting a cannabis business was going to get you rich quick, think again. On top of all the usual budget requirements that come with starting a company, the licensing application process is lengthy and expensive, and your facility, whether a cannabis farm, medical cannabis clinic or cannabis dispensary or pharmacy, must be ready to be inspected before these can be granted.
In other words, starting a cannabis business can be very capital-intensive, and you may need to secure financing through investors, loans, or other funding sources before you can begin.
Decide on a location and build your facility
If you are planning to manufacture, process or dispense cannabis for medical purposes, you will need to consider the location and necessary requirements of your facility carefully. If you aim to cultivate and manufacture products you will need to ensure your facility is ready and meets all the necessary safety regulations before you apply for a Home Office licence.
Depending on the location, you will likely need to apply for planning permission from the relevant local authority and ensure you comply with any local regulations.
There are also environmental considerations, as cultivation of cannabis can be an energy-intensive process, especially in the UK where it is often grown indoors due to the environment and climate conditions. Ensuring your business is energy efficient should be a key area of early consideration.
Can I get a licence to grow cannabis in the UK?
As cannabis remains a controlled drug in the UK, to handle and manufacture cannabis-based products you will need to obtain the appropriate licences from the necessary regulators.
Companies which want to manufacture CBPMs or active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) must obtain both a Controlled Drugs Licence and Manufacturing Site Authorisation.
A Controlled Drugs Licence is required for the cultivation, production, supply, and possession of cannabis and is issued by the Home Office once an inspection has been carried out to ensure your facility and procedures are safe.
Manufacturing Site Authorisation or API registration, is granted by the MHRA after inspection to verify the facility, staff, and pharmaceutical Quality Management System, including process and analytical validation.
Get your team together
Once you have secured authorisation, you will need to make sure you have the right people around you to ensure your cannabis business can perform effectively and efficiently.
Manufacturing high quality medical cannabis requires a specific skill set, so make sure you employ people with expertise in the area you wish to operate, such as research and development and cultivation. You will also need a wider team to handle sales and distribution, PR & marketing, and compliance to ensure the success of your business.
Get support from the experts when starting your cannabis business
As you progress through the various stages of creating your cannabis business, it’s crucial to stay up to speed with the latest regulatory requirements.
We recommend consulting with legal experts, insurance providers and professionals with expertise in the UK industry to help you navigate the specific requirements for your business.
Maple Tree Consultants is the leading expert in the UK’s medical cannabis sector, ready to guide you through every step of building a successful cannabis business with our deep understanding of the market and its regulations and with strong strategic relationships across the sector.
Whatever your end goal, we can help you grow your medical cannabis business to its full potential.