The United Kingdom is the largest exporter of cannabis in the world, according to a new report by the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). The UK produced 95 tons of legal weed in 2016, accounting for 44.9% of the world total. The country's total production of legal cannabis has more than doubled since 2015, when 42 tons of marijuana were produced.
This fact may come as a surprise, given that almost every form of cannabis is banned by the British government. One specific cannabis-derived treatment, Sativex, accounts for virtually all of the country's cannabis production and exports. This medicine, which is available via prescription in the UK, uses a mix of THC and CBD to treat muscle stiffness and spasms associated with multiple sclerosis. The British government does not even classify Sativex as a cannabis product, but the INCB does, hence the UK's inclusion at the top of the list.
GW Pharmaceuticals, the company that created Sativex, is also working on a second cannabis-derived medication, Epidiolex. This new drug, which is currently undergoing trials to be approved in the UK and the US, would be used to treat rare forms of epilepsy. The cannabis plants used to create these two medicines are grown in one greenhouse on the grounds of British Sugar in Norfolk, where most of the country's sugar beets are also grown.
The INCB report notes that Canada is the second-largest producer of cannabis in the world. In 2016, Canada produced 80.7 tons of weed, but may soon become number one on the list, as the country is still planning to fully legalize cannabis later this year. Portugal was third on the list, producing 21 tons of pot in 2016, followed by Israel at 9.2 tons, and a tie between the Netherlands and Chile, at 1.4 tons each.
Notably absent from the list of top cannabis exporters is the United States. The UN report notes that “statistical information was furnished” for American cannabis production in 2016, “but data were not submitted for this specific item." Because the report only takes “licit” cannabis production into account, and cannabis is still federally prohibited within the U.S., it is likely that the organization was unable to collect a clear figure regarding the amount of medical cannabis legally grown in America.
Cannabis advocacy groups have pointed out the irony that the UK government still claims that cannabis has no medical value, even though it is the world's largest exporter of medical marijuana.
"It is scandalous and untenable for the UK government to maintain that cannabis has no medical uses, at the same time as licensing the world's biggest government approved medical cannabis production and export market," Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for drug reform advocacy group Transform, said to The Telegraph. "It is profoundly unethical, and a violation of the fundamental right to health, to deny people access to medicines that are prescribed by their doctors."