Canada versus the United Kingdom – an overview of the cannabis market

17 June 2020

The medical cannabis market continues to grow in the United Kingdom (UK). However, the cannabis markets in other jurisdictions, and in particular Canada, are developing at a greater rate.  We take a look at new developments in Canada against a comparison of the current industry in the UK.


A fortnight ago the Canadian healthcare technology company Cannalogue announced its new medical cannabis referral service for Canadian medical professionals.  The aim of the program is to assist doctors and other medical professionals to offer medical options for therapies with cannabidiol (CBD).  The referral service offers specialised assessment and targeted dosages of cannabis depending on what the individual is referred for. 

Canada legalised medicinal cannabis in July 2001 and since that time the market has changed dramatically with Canada subsequently legalising recreational cannabis in June 2018.

Various market predictions indicate that the Canadian cannabis industry could be worth between C$4.9bn and C$8.7bn (approx. £2.8 to £5bn) annually from 2021 with some predicting the market size will be worth C$97.35bn (approx. £56bn) by 2026.

United Kingdom

Remarkably given its relative youth, the cannabis market in the UK is predicted to be worth nearly £2.31 billion by 2024.  If this growth materialises, we can expect rapid development in the industry, which currently faces strict and it would seem, unchanging regulation.

At present, medical cannabis only (and not recreational cannabis) is legal in the UK having been legalised from 1 November 2018, a period of 17 years since it was legalised in Canada.  Despite this, many still find that they are unable to access medical cannabis as specialists must be satisfied that it is the right option for a patient having exhausted all other available treatments. Further, GPs are not permitted to prescribe medical cannabis, such prescriptions can only be made by specialist doctors who are required to consider each patient individually.

In November 2019, a year after medical cannabis was legalised in the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (“NICE”) published guidelines for the first time on prescribing cannabis-based medicinal products.  The NICE guidelines capture those who have intractable nausea and vomiting, chronic pain, spasticity and severe treatment-resistant epilepsy. 

While it is unlikely the UK will see technology companies such as Cannalogue entering the market in the next few months, there is clearly a gap in the market for such companies given specialists continue to express difficulties in obtaining medical cannabis for their patients and many do not know how to access or prescribe it. There also remains a lack of research into its effectiveness for a variety of conditions.


The UK market is clearly not on the same trajectory as Canada and other similar jurisdictions, but there is still growth and opportunities for investment. There is certainly industry support for wider patient access to medical cannabis. Nonetheless, individual entrepreneurs and corporates need to make careful decisions with the assistance of advice to best place themselves in the cannabis market to avoid the potential pitfalls that come with it.

Medical Cannabis Legal Expertise

We advise on all aspects related to the cannabis industry.  This includes advising corporates and individual thinking about entering the medicinal/pharmaceutical cannabis industry in the UK or advising those based in the UK who are considering investing in cannabis industries in other jurisdictions.

About the authors

Shannett Thompson is a Senior Associate in the Regulatory team. Shannett has a  keen interest in healthcare with her experience extending to the regulation of cannabis based medicinal products and the CBD market.

Sophie Bolzonello is an Associate, Australian Qualified, in Kingsley Napley’s Regulatory department.  Sophie specialises in advising regulated professionals on compliance, in investigations and in respect of enforcement action. She also advises regulators on policy, governance, prosecutions and litigation. 


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