In this article, Eleri Williams, Associate at Hill Dickinson Life Sciences team, sets out an overview of the current legal and regulatory position on the import and export of medical cannabis to and from the UK.
While doctors are now allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis in certain circumstances, many patients, particularly those who seek prescriptions through the NHS, still face an uphill struggle in obtaining this medicine, which can effectively treat or alleviate the symptoms of some medical conditions.
One of the many hurdles to overcome is the slow and bureaucratic process of importing medicinal cannabis, which runs paradoxically to the UK’s position as the world’s largest exporter. In recognition of this difficulty and the detrimental effect on patients, in March 2020 the UK government alleviated some of the import restrictions to allow patients easier access to medical cannabis once medically prescribed.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 prohibits and criminalises various activities relating to controlled drugs in the UK, including the importation and exportation, production, supply and possession of cannabis and associated products. These activities can, however, be undertaken with an appropriate licence from the Home Office.
A definitive list of the different types of licence available is contained in the Misuse of Drugs (Licence Fees) Regulations 2010, which sets out the fees to be paid in respect of the different types of licence. Individual licences for the importation and exportation of cannabis can be obtained, though applicants may also be required to hold a domestic licence. Home Office guidance is available to applicants on the process for applying for import/export licences – National Drugs Control System – Guide for Users (October 2017).
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