The ‘Green Rush’ the UK might be missing out on

Published by Dan Goldstraw on

It’ll be Christmas time again soon enough! All the old adverts will be on the television. No doubt Coca-Cola will have a new one, complete with all their usual hallmarks. Their red lorries driving through the cold winter’s night. The cosy chanting of “Holidays are coming… Holidays are coming.” Santa Claus, dressed in green, rather than the more familiar red. A rosy smile, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils. Is it the Christmas spirit, or that massive joint?

Well, maybe they won’t be quite like that. But the past couple of weeks have seen Coca-Cola approach the Canadian legal cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis with the aim of getting into the legal cannabis business; triggering a spike in shares in Aurora Cannabis and other so-called ‘pot stocks.’ It’s not just Coca-Cola either. Numerous drinks companies are also becoming involved in the business; with other big names being the Molson Coors Brewing Co., the makers of Corona, and the makers of Guinness.

Coca-Cola is looking to produce a new range of drinks infused with CBD – the non-psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. They aren’t about to start bringing out a range of drinks that get you high, CBD being purely the element used in pain relief and treating pain. However, it nevertheless demonstrates an increasing acceptance of the drugs medicinal use by big name companies, despite it’s still dodgy legal status. Many parts of America class it in the same category of harm as drugs like heroin, and any wide scale production or distribution of it would probably be hampered by UN rulings on drugs. However, the market for it in those countries and states where it is legal is growing at a massive rate. Here in the UK, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid has recently announced that doctors will soon be allowed to prescribe it for medicinal uses.

Is this the future then, or just an attempt by Coca-Cola to remain relevant? Some have speculated that this is Coca-Cola attempting to look ‘trendy’ after recent plummeting sales. There has been less interest over the past few years in their traditional soda drinks, and the talks with Aurora Cannabis shows a desire to tap into a new line of products. The legal cannabis market is a massive one, and only seems to be on the rise as more and more countries continue to legalise. Canada, the home of Aurora Cannabis, is among the leaders in legal cannabis production. Not only has cannabis been legal for medicinal use since 2001, but recreational use was also legalised last month by Justin Trudeau’s government. This has led to ‘insatiable’ demand across Canada that Aurora Cannabis has struggled to meet.  And this demand is only going to increase as other countries make similar moves towards legalisation.

In Europe, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Greece and Poland are all taking steps towards some form of legalisation. Recreational use of marijuana is legal in four US states, with four more making moves to legalise. Medicinal marijuana use meanwhile is legal in thirty states, including Washington D.C., marking a massive turn around in attitudes held during the so-called ‘War on Drugs’. Indeed, much of this may well be due to the perceived failure of the War on Drugs, as well as how it was seen, as unfairly targeting African Americans and Latino’s. Marijuana sales amount to around $50 billion and appears to be set to rival sales of alcohol and tobacco.

It is easy to see therefore why drinks companies are looking to get in on this increasingly lucrative market. It’s looking more and more like this is going to be an increasingly important and respected business. Whereas the War on Drugs saw over 400,000 people getting jailed for non-violent drug offences, today many commentators are arguing that such strict rulings against the sale and use of cannabis could actually be harmful to the economy. Writing for The Independent, Ben Chapman argues that the UK’s criminalisation of cannabis could mean that the British economy loses out on as much as £56 billion, it being unable to capitalise on the ‘green rush’ much of the rest of Europe is set to be profiting from. Many see it as only a matter of time before it is fully legalised, arguing that the only reason it hasn’t already been is an irrational stigmatisation of all ‘drugs’ no matter how different cannabis might be to other substances.

Sajid Javid’s new commitments to medicinal use of marijuana clearly comes off the back of a campaign which, following the cases of children with epilepsy like Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, attracted huge support; including from public figures and celebrities like Patrick Stewart. The Liberal Democrats became the first major political party to openly campaign for decriminalisation during the last general election, and they have since been joined by other notable political figures, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

However, despite Sajid Javid’s U-turn on not prescribing it medicinally, it is still uncertain whether we are genuinely seeing the rise of something that could become the ‘new’ alcohol, or tobacco. Even with the growth and recognition of companies like Aurora, it still seems like it’s still a long way off becoming as publicly accepted as either of these are. The current government may have moved much closer to permitting the acceptance of marijuana, but they have been very clear that this is strictly on a medicinal basis, arguing against recreational use on the basis of the harm it can cause, and the perception that it is a gateway drug to other harder substances. Even this legalisation of a medicinal use is probably only a reaction to the high profile support for certain epilepsy cases. The fact is that it remains a Class B drug in this country. Furthermore, whilst a huge number of countries are condoning it medicinally, there is still comparatively few places where recreational use is permitted. Even in those countries where it is legal, it is still seen as a ‘drug’ in a way that alcohol and even tobacco are not particularly, and this is perhaps the biggest obstacle to its mainstream recognition.

Whilst the evidence suggests that actually, users are more likely to try other, harder drugs like heroin when both are illegal, and therefore seen as being similar in nature; there is still a highly common view that legalisation would send out “the wrong message” in regards to drug use, and marijuana is still associated with the same stereotypes of ‘potheads’, ‘stoners’ and criminality. Recreational use therefore is still seen as ‘dodgy’, as ‘drug-taking’ rather than ‘normal’ in the same way as alcohol or cigarettes. Dan Sutton, the founder of Tantalus, the so-called ‘Tesla of cannabis’, believes this is due to a “lingering social conservatism” around drugs. He seems to believe, on the basis of this, that this feeling is one that will fade. The moves towards the legalisation of cannabis and its medicinal use would seem to show he’s right, but at the same time, this is very different to the legalisation of recreational use. In many ways, it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps it is only criminalised due to this supposed conservatism, but at the same time, its Class B status lends credence to the arguments of its dangers and side effects.

There’ll be no high Santa adverts by Coca-Cola then. However, whilst recreational use has lost little of its old image, the increasing legalisation of its medicinal use does seem to show a massive shift in attitudes on this particular use of it, and it seems inevitable that the so-called ‘green rush’ is coming. The market does appear to only be increasing in size. This is particularly true considering the potential shift in the legal status of cannabis in Europe. Due to the funding that is given to the publicly subsidized health care systems of Europe, there is likely to be much greater demand for medicinal uses compared with America, where there will be much more of a focus on recreational uses. There may still be some way to go before cannabis truly threatens to out-compete traditional alcoholic beverages, but it is likely we will soon be seeing a whole new range of drinks, by the likes of Coca-Cola, that are indeed incorporating cannabis. The legality of the drug may not be about to change as much as some would expect, but the market is nevertheless one that is becoming increasingly lucrative.


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