A private equity firm linked to Imperial Tobacco is helping to fund End Our Pain, the pressure group representing Alfie Dingley and others in their fight for medicinal cannabis, in a sign that ‘big tobacco’ – whose core product is in decline – is making serious moves into the cannabis industry.
The FTSE 100 tobacco giant has taken a reported £10m stake in Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies (OCT), of which Sir Patrick Stewart is a patron and a member of its advisory board.
The Times reports that OCT is owned by Kingsley Capital Partners (KCP), which also has large stakes in Equinox and Forma Holdings, which have both signed a deal with the heirs of the late celebrity drug trafficker Howard Marks and are preparing a push into the consumer market under the brand “Mr Nice Cannabis” in territories where cannabis is legal.
Kingsley Capital Partners (KCP) has helped to drive the successful campaign by the family of Alfie Dingley, 6, from Kenilworth, Warwickshire, for a licence to treat his epilepsy with cannabis oil. It has given £50,000 since last September to End Our Pain, a pressure group for which Alfie’s mother, Hannah Deacon, is an ambassador and spokeswoman and which is giving the Dingley family logistical and media support. Through End Our Pain, KCP also funds the secretariat of a new all-party group of MPs seeking the legalisation of medicinal cannabis.
According to the Times, KCP has “big interests in recreational cannabis”, leading to accusations from Craig Mackinlay, Tory MP for South Thanet, that the company is using medicinal cannabis as a “Trojan horse” for commercial interests.
Lady Meacher, another key figure in the Dingley campaign and co-chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform, is an unpaid member of OCT’s advisory board. She reacted to the Times revelation by saying that she was “a bit worried”, adding: “It’s very important in the political sphere to keep them [medicinal and recreational cannabis] separate.”
A spokesman for End Our Pain told the paper that its sole purpose was to campaign for medicinal cannabis. “[KCP] fund the campaign but we own the campaign,” he said.
And KCP itself said: “We do not envisage – and neither are we pushing for there to be – a legally recognised recreational drug market in the UK.”
Which is a shame – the campaign for medicinal cannabis can only be stronger if it combines with those who want regulated recreational use in order to undermine street dealing and the dangers it presents. It shouldn’t be so far out there to suggest tax money from recreational sales could subsidise the cost of medical cannabis through the NHS – more people use it recreationally than medicinally.
The UKCSC was initially asked to be a part of End Our Pain in 2016 when in the National Cannabis Coalition but declined due to ethical issues when the campaign team Tendo refused to declare who was funding it, which ultimately lead to the fracturing of the cannabis organisations in the UK working together.
UK Cannabis Social Clubs Founder Greg de Hoedt said: “We knew corporate money was behind the campaign so I’m not surprised. There are big names sniffing around. Cannabis is much healthier than tobacco and the world is on a health conscious mission at the moment. I am not sure consumers want tobacco companies in control of the cannabis market though!
“Ultimately it is sad that these mothers have had to rely on big business to get them what the Home Office have been denying children like Alfie and Billy – who HAVE been dying in the UK for the last 20+ years because they have not had legal access. Companies weren’t there to step in because the profits weren’t possible for them yet and MPs were too cowardly to stand by desperate mothers and dying children. Theresa May knew full well that this medicine was going to work for these children as they were already using it – she didn’t want to end the monopoly for GW Pharma, who her husband’s firm is largest shareholder in. So don’t let The Times deflect any wrongdoing here – we know who the real problem is.
“If you want to see less big business involved with cannabis call up your MP and tell them we should allow people the right to grow their own at home for personal use – it’s time to decriminalise. But more practically, support your local cannabis social club.”
On the subject of big business encroaching on the recreational market, Greg added: “It might seem scary to many that big business is getting involved with cannabis in the UK already as many Brits want to be able to have the chance of starting their own cannabis business. People in Britain already see cannabis as a craft or cottage industry. Those growing and selling it for commercial reasons just need some regulatory guidelines for consumer safety standards. Cannabis Social Clubs should wake up to the fact there are people/businesses that want the whole pie and aren’t compassionate to the grassroots beginnings we all had; they have the money to start at the standard that you would expect the Home Office to require of a legal cannabis business. Time to step it up!”