Medicinal cannabis makes strides in the UK but access to treatment needs improvement

In November last year, the government announced the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in the UK for patients via NHS prescription. Since then, the UK’s medicinal cannabis market has boomed, attracting media attention and international investment.

The move prompted the opening of the UK’s first cannabis clinic in the Greater Manchester area earlier in March, offering treatments for patients suffering from chronic pain and other severe neurological or psychiatric conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana.

Even more unexpected sources have shown interest in entering the booming cannabis market: the FT has reported that the Church of England is considering investments in medical marijuana and relaxing existing bans. The CofE has a 12.6 billion pound investment portfolio.

On 24 January 2019, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations recommending that cannabis and associated substances be rescheduled in the international drug control framework to facilitate the trade of these substances for medicinal and scientific purposes.

At least 30 countries and 33 US states have now legalised medicinal cannabis, a trend which continues to spread globally. Research by Prohibition Partners and the Davos World Economic Forum pointed towards Europe’s medical cannabis market doubling in size in 2019.

The European Union has been one of the institutions at the forefront of making medicinal marijuana available. Over two years ago, the German parliament approved the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use. This marked the beginning of a Europe-wide wave of legalisation following in Germany’s footsteps.

In Germany, around 40,000 patients have already been prescribed cannabis-based prescription drugs, which amounted to more than 30 Million EUR revenues in the first half of 2018, making the country one of the three largest medical cannabis markets in Europe, along with the Netherlands and Italy.

Malta, one of the most innovative nations in Europe, has implemented some new laws and now allows the licensed growing and export of cannabis to other European countries.

The latest nation to embrace the opportunities offered by medicinal cannabis is Gibraltar. In a recent announcement, the government revealed it wants to establish a “world class ecosystem” for medicinal cannabis research in Gibraltar and will consider licensing “a select, highly reputable and well-resourced” group of investors in the sector.

While European countries seem to be progressing in the sector, eight months after formal legalisation, the reality does not quite match up to expectation. Patients in the UK are reportedly experiencing numerous problems accessing medicinal marijuana, as despite legislation being in place, the system is not yet fully responsive to patients’ needs.

Since the legalisation, many NHS patients have been denied access to cannabis treatments, blamed on slow bureaucracy. Official figures are not available but the number of NHS prescriptions has been low, perhaps less than 100, reported the Independent.

Currently in the UK, there is no dedicated medicinal cannabis regulatory system, making the drug harder to access. Cannabis products are only available on the NHS labelled as “specials”, which can only be prescribed after other types of treatment have been tried. The pharmacies distributing cannabis medical products also need a special licence, further narrowing the avenues of access.

These barriers highlight the lag between the different set of legislations involved in bringing cannabis-based medicines to the hands of patients. “We knew there would be a period where the education system needed developing for health professionals — but this has not yet been rolled out, and we don’t know how long it will take, or how responsive they will be,” said Henry Fisher, chief scientific officer at Hanway Associates, a cannabis consultancy firm, to Wired UK.

Nonetheless, this seems to be a common pathway countries go through when they change their regulation on the matter, until we bridge between policies and user access: “We’re hoping that individual doctors will prescribe, and see that once they’ve done it once, and it’s worked, so it’s a useful medicine. Then it will pick up: for example, in Germany, it took two or three years for the medical profession to catch up,” added Michael Barnes, a neurologist and cannabis expert.

The Medicinal Cannabis opportunity

As the benefits of medicinal cannabis becomes more evident and more countries are legalising its use for medical purposes, the cannabis market gains more prominence. Cannabis can be alleviate symptoms and aid treatment of many conditions. At least 30 countries and 33 American states have legalised medicinal cannabis.

In the investment side, cannabis companies and licence-holders have become one of the most-watched sector in the market, the so-called 'pot stocks'. because legalisation happened in the UK only in November 2018, the market is still young, leaving room for more opportunities.

Cassiopeia compiled key information for you to start your research and be in the know about the developments in this promising sector.

Malta: Capital of Innovation in Europe

Malta is positioning itself as a leading European hub for innovation and openness to technology. Its reputation stems from a number of business-friendly regulations put in place to attract investment and spur economic activity in the Mediterranean island.

Malta was once a British colony — gaining independence in 1964. The island nowadays leverages its language and cultural heritage to support business and trade — alongside a prominent set of regulations which bring value to the national economic activity.

“Innovation is the key for future economies. Additionally, for a long time, crafts and trade were sidelined but innovation plays a role here too to revitalise them. The global economy is becoming more innovative and it is the responsibility of our country to be at the forefront of that innovation,” MEP Miriam Dalli recently said, outlining the country’s commitment to taking its ‘economy to the next level’.

Clear evidence of this prosperity is Malta topping the European Commission economic growth list for 2019 and 2020, after the Maltese economy presented growth of 6.6 per cent last year.

The innovative mindset is reflected in diverse sectors, from personal healthcare to financial technology. Malta has been the European gateway for many policies, including the legalisation of cannabis and embracing crypto and gaming projects.

Medical Cannabis Capital

In March 2018, Malta officially legalised medical cannabis. A month later, with the Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Research Purposes Act in place, Maltese entities were able to cultivate, import, process and produce cannabis intended for medical and research purposes under a controlled and supervised environment.

These policies led to the Malta Medicines Authority gaining international reputation and prestige for its patient-centric work in the regulation of medicines. The strategy seems to be working so far: according to statistics from Eurostat, a 75% share of the population in Malta perceived their health as good or very good.

Last November, Malta hosted the Medical Cannabis World Forum, which brought together the policymakers, business leaders and healthcare practitioners who are shaping the global cannabis industry today.

“One would think that a small country like Malta would follow suit; instead, Malta is a dynamic … leader. The legislative measures enacted with respect to medicinal cannabis are not some transposition of provisions implemented everywhere else. Many in the field are cognisant that Malta has floodlit an area which may still be quite hazy elsewhere,” said Parliamentary Secretary Dr Deo Debattista at the Forum last year.

Gaming, blockchain and technology hub

Following recent advancements made in the legislation for Gaming operaters in Malta, the island has received over 20 applications from new companies looking to direct business in Malta. Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri, who announced the surge of applications to the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) at the ICE London 2019 edition, the leading global gaming conference, identified the island as the ‘home of gaming excellence’.

This was clear at the event itself, as Malta had the highest number of stands at ICE London , with 11% of exhibitors being Malta-based operators.

Prompted by the uncertainty around the post- Brexit scenario in the UK, Malta has seen an influx of businesses moving part of their activities to the island, such as big UK-based gaming and betting companies — 888 Holdings and Ladbrokes’ parent company — announcing it would be moving some of its operations to Malta because of looser regulations and lower tax rates.

Regarding Malta’s openness to disruptive technologies such as blockchain,

high-profile exchanges like Binance, Bittrex, Okex, Bitbay, and Zebpay, have moved or extended operations from stricter regulatory jurisdictions to incorporate their businesses in crypto-friendly Malta.

Stefania Barbaglio, blockchain consultant and technology PR says: “Malta has become a role model in Europe, highlighting the role of positive legislation to boost economy and business activity. Outdated regulations and closed attitudes towards innovation can lead to elite nations — such as the UK and the US — losing their spot in the international investment scene. It is important that new regulations are centered around innovation and the social value of technology, so that the digital economies can flourish and develop.”

Malta AI & Blockchain Conference

The Malta AI and Blockchain Conference Spring Edition is approaching, giving stage to over 300 exhibitors and welcoming over more than 5,000 guests. Among the list of speakers, there is prime minister of malta Joseph Muscat and parliamentary secretary for financial services Silvio Schembri.

Last November, three innovative bills were launched during the event. In this 2019 edition, the Maltese Government will enact a world first: a fourth bill, giving a D.A.O. its own legal personality. In addition, a task force is also working around the clock on a set of incentives that will support businesses in Artificial Intelligence.

With Brexit uncertainty still ongoing, businesses look forward and focus on growth

For the past three years, we have witnessed a carousel of Brexit-related ups and downs. Endless trips to Brussels and votes in Parliament have exhausted not only politicians but also the British people and business people who need to keep on working on shaky territory.

In the latest episode of FinancialFox, James Bevan, asset manager and Chief Investment Officer at CCLA shared his insights about Britain’s divorce from the EU, and the post-scenario for the UK and business.

James Bevan talks to PR Guru Stefania Barbaglio in the latest episode of FinancialFox.

Having been in the public sector for many years, James Bevan shares valuable insights about finance, investment, technology, employment and opportunities. He believes that despite diverging views on how to handle Brexit, an orderly exit with a deal is still the best option, as agreed by the majority of Members of Parliament. “I believe a positive deal with the EU might lead to a significant pick-up of investments. I don’t think it is fanciful to suggest that in 2020, the UK could be the fastest growing economy in the G7.”

Nevertheless, there are many challenges which could hinder such growth. James points out that the UK economy is largely reliant on the services sector, and if Britain wants to keep its competitive edge on the global stage, it has to increase internal productivity and entrepreneurship.

In practical terms, the uncertainty around how post-Brexit Britain would look is the same now as it was three years ago. Much has been said about the slowing of the economy as an immediate result of Brexit. Analysts do 2019 to be slow in terms of activity; growth should pick up again next year. According to PwC’s UK Economic Outlook report released in March, UK growth is to dip to 1.1% in 2019 and to strengthen only moderately, to 1.6% in 2020.

Data from PwC UK Economic Outlook March 2019

Fintech continues to boom

While no decisions are made in Westminster and political battles make for a gloomy outlook, in the City of London ̶ and more specifically in Shoreditch’s Tech City ̶ businesses continue to flourish.

Fintech is indeed one of the gems of the British finance sector, and rightly so: in the first six months of 2018 alone, the UK attracted a record high £12bn of investment in Fintech. London is quickly catching up with San Francisco, the global capital of fintech. City AM reported that, among the 29 fintech unicorns ̶ companies with a valuation of more than $1bn ̶ nine are in San Francisco, while seven are based in the UK capital. Last year, London received more than a third of the European fintech venture capital funding.

Will this trend continue to point upwards after Brexit? Some experts think so, as investments in digital banking projects continue to pour in in 2019. According to QZ, the chief executives of the payment app and fintech unicorn Revolut, and Clausematch, a compliance company, get five to six calls from investors each week. Revolut CEO Nikolay Storonsky claimed that Revolut may look to raise $500 million or even more in 2019 as the company’s valuation increases.

Data from Quartz, February 2019

Anne Boden, CEO of digital banking platform Starling Bank, says the positive outlook on UK’s fintech can be attributed to the uniqueness of the companies, and that not many new projects are being licenced.

Trade and New Partnerships

One of the main arguments of Brexiteers is that, once outside the EU, the UK would have more autonomy over its trade agreements and commerce partners. In the technology sector, we see that the UK has proactively looked for partners outside the European bloc. Closer relationships with emerging markets are particularly positive in this scenario, given the rapid growth of their digital economies and the market opportunities posed for fintech companies based in Britain.

International partnerships are crucial, given that most the UK’s trade agreements nowadays happen within the EU, rather than outside. In a quest to widen its outreach, British officials have started talks with other countries.

In March, leading members of the Thailand and Vietnam Fintech communities were in London to visit world-leading Fintech businesses.

“As we leave the EU, the UK is working harder than ever to build Fintech partnerships with others. We have put Fintech at the heart of the UK’s ASEAN Economic Reform Programme, which will focus on Southeast Asia and which aims to promote inclusive economic growth. This three-year programme will provide technical assistance and the opportunity to share experiences in support of the continuing development of Fintech regulation in Thailand, Vietnam and some other ASEAN countries,” said MP Mark Field about the deepening relationship with nations in Southeast Asia.

Preparing for 2019 EU Elections in the age of of fake news

Preparing for 2019 EU Elections in the age of fake news

In May 2019, the next European Parliament elections will take place. These will be the first such elections since a member has decided to leave the Union, while an ever-growing number of politicians with contrasting visions of national and international affairs disrupt/sway the public vote.

Every five years, over 500 million Europeans head to the ballot box to form one of the most important assemblies in the world. Seats are awarded according to the proportion of votes from member countries. The European Parliament governs the EU, approving annual spending plans, deciding on the leadership of the European Commission, as well as voting on trade agreements and matters of public interest.

The rise of populism across the continent over the recent years, fueled largely by nationalist speech, has created a very polarised political scene. In the UK, tiresome Brexit negotiations have led to a scenario where we are closer to a second referendum than an agreement between the relevant parties.

Such a tense environment promises to deliver a campaign characterised by two-way attacks and charged with propaganda tools, such as fake news and misinformation spread across social media.

Unfortunately, this crisis of trustworthiness is not confined to politics: the fake news phenomenon has helped spur a lack of trust in journalism and mainstream media, which has been repeatedly undermined by political figures in the efforts to promote their own agendas. This has resulted in a weakening of fundamental democratic institutions and necessitates a re-shaping of political strategy in order to re-establish confidence.

The current situation calls for urgent solutions to tackle the harmful effects of social media and other online misuse for political gain and abuse of power. Within such a poisonous online environment, people feel torn about who to believe and feel wronged by the lack of accountability that allows powerful figures to get away with lies and libellous claims.

Research by the European Commission showed that 85 percent of EU respondents believe fake news to be a problem in their country, with almost 83 percent perceiving false or misrepresentative information as a threat to democracy.

In light of this problem, innovative tech company Right of Reply has designed RoR Politics to counter misinformation and political propaganda online. RoR Politics is a platform that integrates political parties’ statements to allow responses from both ‘sides’ to be embedded in the same place as the original content, with the aim of establishing healthy political debate. RoR Politics is convenient and easy to navigate, making truthful information easy to reach, preventing bias and social media bubbles.

In the same way that social media has allowed a low-cost, fast and convenient means of communication, RoR Politics hopes to counter the malicious effect by creating a platform that is free and available for the general public to use, exploring debates that are usually exclusively accessed by to members of parliament.

Information displayed on RoR Politics is verified by an independent body, a partner of RoR with no political affiliation to ensure balance. More than enabling a fact-checking mechanism, RoR Politcs aims to create a first-of-its-kind platform where diverging political matters can be debated in a constructive matter and ultimately, fake news can be debunked.

Stefania Barbaglio, from Right of Reply commented: “Right of Reply is a socially aware company concerned about fairness and justice in all spheres. We harness innovative technologies to counter unfair content online and allow users to make informed decisions based on the truth. RoR Politics opens the gate to an era of accountability and truth in politics, re-establishing the balance of power in democratic societies in a time of weakening democratic institutions.”

Right of Reply is developing a range of platforms designed to improve debate online and manage online reputation. Visit the page https://rightofreply.news