The Isle of Man Looks to Become a Medical Cannabis Hub

Last year, the Isle of Man’s parliament (Tynwald) amended the Misuse of Drugs Act 1976, in order to provide a legal framework for the development of a cannabis industry on the island.  Specifically, the Act now allows the Gambling Supervision Commission (GSC) to except cannabinol, cannabinol derivatives, cannabis, or cannabis resin (other than a medical cannabis product) from the Act’s general prohibitions on the importation, exportation, production, supply or offer to supply, and possession of controlled drugs. Medical cannabis products may be excepted as well, provided the GSC obtains the consent of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Although no exception is allowed for cultivation, earlier this year Tynwald approved the Misuse of Drugs (Cannabis) Regulations 2020. Under the Regulations, the GSC may issue licenses for cultivation, as well as other activities, as specified in Schedule 2 and 3 of the Regulations. For example, a class 3 license allows the cultivation of high-THC (more than 0.2%) cannabis in order to sell biomass, live plants, and packaged plant parts. Class 3 licensees must be Isle of Man companies, with the responsible person being a Manx resident. First-year fees are £45,000, going down to £35,000 the second year. Licenses for import and export must be obtained separately, though fees for these are considerably lower, plus license fees are capped at £62,500.

As to why the Gambling Supervision of Commission is in charge of cannabis licensing, “it was agreed that regulating and licensing the new sector should be transferred [from the DHSC] to a function of government better placed to consider the aspects of licensing, vetting and supervision. The GSC was identified through its historic success in regulating complex emerging industries,” such as online gambling.

It must be noted that none of the licenses permit the sale of cannabis on the island. The GSC has made clear that “the new Regulations provide for the cultivation of medical cannabis for export purposes only.” Changes in Manx legislation “do not allow any conduct in the Isle of Man that is not already permissible in the United Kingdom under their Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (as amended).” While the Isle of Man is not a part of the United Kingdom, the drug laws of both are largely aligned, with some UK drug regulations given effect on the Isle of Man by Tynwald. Without a proper license issued by the GSC, the possession, supply, and production of cannabis remain illegal on the island.

With an area of 220 square miles (about one-fifth that of Rhode Island), the Isle of Man may not become a major player in the cannabis industry. It is however interesting to see even such a small jurisdiction taking note of the opportunities presented by cannabis. Furthermore, the Isle of Man’s model highlights the bespoke nature of cannabis legalization. The Manx may not be interested in the sale of cannabis products in the streets of Douglas, the island’s capital, but that does not mean they have to entirely forego the benefits of the cannabis economy.