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Savills rolls out cannabis plans for UK farmers looking to export

By Simon Neville, PA City Editor

Property giant Savills is teaming up with cannabis specialists to launch a one-stop-shop for growers in the UK looking to cash in on exporting the drug to countries where medicinal versions are widely available.

The estate agent, better known for selling mansions in Mayfair, has joined forces with cannabis consultancy Hanway Associates and greenhouse builder CambridgeHOK.

A new joint venture called Crop17 will offer advice for growers on how to find the best land for the crop, sourcing equipment and navigating the legal minefield of the Class B drug.

Savills is better known for selling homes, than growing cannabis (Ali Waggie / PA)

Although cannabis is illegal in Britain, several countries and states across the world have legalised it in recent years, leading to a boom in exports from the UK.

Bosses at Crop17 hope the new service will allow others to turn their hands to growing the crop, which is more lucrative per gram for British farmers than strawberries.

Alex Bragg, a director at Savills, explained: “The UK agriculture sector is embarking upon a period of unprecedented change.

“A phasing out of subsidies, a new dawn for trade, adapting to meet climate change targets and a huge growth in agtech presents the industry with huge challenges and opportunities.

“For the forward thinking and innovative farmer and grower adapting into new markets is a key priority. This turnkey solution is the type of innovation we expect to see more of within UK agriculture.”

BDS Analytics has forecast that the worldwide legal cannabis industry generated revenues in the region of £11.5 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to around £35 billion by 2024.

The total number of medical cannabis prescriptions issued in the UK could surge from a few hundred in 2019 to more than 185,000 by the end of 2023 if the country follows a similar path to Australia, whose medical cannabis programme has grown rapidly since the government relaxed restrictions in 2018.

George McBride, co-founder of Hanway Associates, added: “Growing cannabis legally in the UK is difficult, but far from impossible.

“Extensive barriers to entry guard lucrative opportunities in the nascent medical cannabis industry.

“Crop17 greatly reduces the risks involved in developing a commercial cultivation operation.”

Alfie Dingley, his parents Drew Dingley and Hannah Deacon petitioned Downing Street in 2018 asking for Alfie to be given medicinal cannabis to treat his epilepsy (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Setting up a cannabis farm in the UK can be tough, with farmers needing to find the right land, producing the best crop and navigating a myriad of rules.

The active ingredient in cannabis – Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – is illegal in the UK.

But Cannabidiol (CBD) is not illegal, leading to a surge in popularity with several big-name pharmacy and beauty chains stocking CBD products.

However, all CBD products sold in the UK have to be imported typically from the US, Canada and Columbia.

Campaigners have called for changes to the rules – in particular allowing medical cannabis more readily available to patients.

It led to the Government agreeing to allow medicinal cannabis for a limited number of patients, after the parents of Alfie Dingley, who has epilepsy and used the drug to relieve his symptoms, marched on Downing Street in 2018.

Steve Hinch, finance director at CambridgeHOK, added: “We see the medical cannabis sector as a high potential growth area offering attractive returns for our customer base.

“We believe this collaboration offers a truly unique offering to the marketplace giving growers and investors a lower risk market entry.”