GPs in the UK could be permitted to prescribe medicinal cannabis within the next 12 months, Releaf Group chief executive Gary Mackenzie has predicted, as the cannabis franchise makes it first foray into the British market.

Under current UK regulations, only specialists can prescribe medicinal cannabis, a framework the industry is anxious to change.

Lobbying is underway to ease the restrictions with campaigners arguing the system is denying patients potentially life-changing medication.

Mackenzie, who opened Releaf’s first wellness dispensary in the UK in February under a brand called Verday, said any reforms that broaden the availability of medicinal cannabis could see Releaf accelerate the expansion of its UK business.

For the time being, it will focus on wellness dispensaries, with 25 high street locations planned under a franchise model.

But clinics could follow once cannabis is more widely prescribed.

“Essentially we’re rolling out a high street pharmacy model in the UK,” Mackenzie said. “They’re wellness pharmacies focused on plant-based medicines and hemp protein-related products.

“We’re not setting up physical bricks and mortar clinics as we have in Australia, but we may do that in the future.”

Asked if he thought reform was on the cards he said: “There’s a lot of lobbying going on to move it {cannabis] into the GP realm and I would be confident that in the next 12 months there could be some change there. That’s probably when we’ll focus more on building physical clinics. But I didn’t want to invest money into a market there where we can’t really operate like we can in Australia.”

He said the initial plan is for a consulting specialist to work out of the Verday dispensaries. The company will also partner with clinic services and “and start dispensing that way”.

“We’ve spent two years working on this,” Mackenzie said. “We’ve got deals with all the wholesalers and some staff over there, so it’s a UK start up, leveraging off the knowledge and relations we have built in Australia.

“I would say 99.9% of the dispensing in the UK happens from a warehouse, a virtual pharmacy. But we’re moving into the high street, focusing more on wellness [and] plant-based medicine. It’s not set up specifically to do cannabis although that will be one of our product lines.”

Mackenzie said the Verday name was chosen as another group is operating under the Releaf name in the UK.

“It’s a very common name. There’s also a few Releafs in the US so we thought [of] another name we could use while keeping the same sort of branding and colour schemes.”

Steve has reported for a number of consumer and B2B titles over a journalism career spanning more than three decades. He is a regulator contributor to health journal, The Medical Republic, writing on...

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