Britain has a thriving ‘legal’ cannabis industry, writes Robert Jackman in The Spectator, which generates hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue each year. He cites a recent UN report, saying that Britain is currently the biggest producer and exporter of legal cannabis in the world.
So we delved into this report. And yes, in 2016, the UK was the main producer of "licit" cannabis accounting for 95 tons (44.9 per cent of the global total), followed by Canada (80.7 tons). After these two nations, third-placed Portugal only produces 21 tons. We also "continue to be the main exporter of cannabis, where our 2.1 tons accounts for two-thirds of global exports.
But it's not just cannabis. In the same year, the UK was the leading morphine manufacturing country, accounting for 76.5 tons or 18.1 per cent of total manufacture. This places the UK just ahead of France and then the US. No surprise, perhaps, we are also the biggest exporters.
Manufacturing 56.8 tons of codeine makes the UK the second-largest maker (behind France). And we are the second-largest manufacturer of dihydrocodeine (behind Japan), making 11.1 tons of the stuff. We continue to be the main exporting country of oxycodon, and the main global maker of remifentanil - a "short-acting synthetic opioid analgesic given to patients during surgery to relieve pain and as an adjunct to an anaesthetic. It is approximately twice as potent as fentanyl, and 100 to 200 times as potent as morphine." We are also the largest makers and exporters of buprenorphine, "an opioid agonist used as an analgesic and in detoxification and substitution treatment for opioid dependence."
And here's a kicker. "Over the past 20 years, the licit manufacture of heroin averaged 600 kg, with peaks of over 1 ton in 2003, 2012 and 2016. In 2016, a total of 1.1 tons was manufactured, mostly by the UK (56.8 per cent) and Switzerland (38.3 per cent). The main country exporting heroin continued to be the UK (534.5 kg of global exports, or 84.9 per cent), followed by Switzerland (77.2 kg, or 12.2 per cent).
Who knew how much pain this nation is alleviating around the world?
It's a very different drugs statistic to be talking about, argues Steve Rolles of the think tank Transform, quoted in this article. “Drug prohibition doesn’t get rid of drugs - it just hands the market to criminals and makes it vastly more dirty and dangerous. We know what effective regulation looks like - we only have to look at our world-beating legal industry...We have a choice: we can leave the trade in the hands of organised criminals and unregulated dealers, or we make them available through doctors, pharmacists or licensed retailers. There’s no third option where heroin and cocaine magically disappear.”