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‘Door is Now Open’ For Cannabis Companies on the Isle of Man as it Seeks to Home 10 Businesses This Year

The Isle of Man, a UK crown dependency, has been clear about its intention to welcome medical cannabis businesses, announcing in 2020 that it aimed to represent the ‘gold-standard global regulatory regime for the cannabis export sector’.

Four years later, with a concrete business-focused regulatory structure now in place, the island is now actively searching for opportunities in cannabis to diversify its economy.

Ahead of his attendance at Cannabis Europa in London later this month, where he will be hoping to speak to Europe’s leading cannabis businesses, the CEO of Business Isle of Man, Tim Cowsill, says the ‘door is now open’ for the island.

He told Business of Cannabis: “We are coming to Cannabis Europa, this is the first show we’ve done with the door open on the Isle of Man, because we now feel that we’ve got the expertise and the understanding to actively market the island.”

Open for business

In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Isle of Man government sought to diversify its economy beyond finance and e-gaming, the two major sectors that have supported its economy in recent years.

The government’s Department of Enterprise, of which the Business Isle of Man is an Executive Agency, was tasked with sounding out possible new routes that would fit within the islands’ existing regulatory framework and areas of expertise.

A member of the department’s private sector board with responsibility for the island’s biomed industry, saw the emerging medical cannabis sector as a perfect fit.

Mr Cowsill explained that they ‘brought the opportunity of medicinal cannabis to the government and said if you want to diversify and you want to add to the existing biomed sector here, we should definitely have a look at this.’

Given the Isle of Man’s reputation as a well-regulated jurisdiction for financial services, and its unique ability to be ‘nimble’ and adjust its framework to suit business needs, the organisation determined that it could use its expertise in other sectors to create a unique offering for European cannabis companies.

In 2020, it launched a public consultation exercise, stating that launching a medical cannabis industry could create 250 jobs, generate £11.5m in annual wages, and boost government tax revenues by £3m a year.

Since stating its intention to welcome cannabis companies in 2020 and legalising the cultivation, distribution and export of cannabis in January 2021, a move described as ‘the dawn of a new economic sector’ in the territory, progress has been relatively muted.

In 2022, the island’s Gambling Supervision Commission (GSC) announced that it had issued its first letter of approval in principle to British cannabis company GrowLab Organics (GLO), granting it a comprehensive licence to cultivate, manufacture, import and, for the first time, export medical cannabis from the Isle of Man. Mr Cowsill states that this slow progress has been entirely intentional.

“We have been quite cautious about the development. We knew that it’s much easier to develop a proposition if we’ve got a business that’s gone through it.

“Although we’ve been a little slow to establish the market, in essence, we wanted to make sure the regulatory structure was strong enough to hold up.”

Now that this has been established, and the island has determined its ‘unique selling proposition’ for businesses, Mr Cowsill says his organisation ‘feels confident’ about moving forward.

As such, the government is now hoping to bring 10 cannabis businesses to the island by the end of the year.

A unique offering

The island has a long history of exporting and is accustomed to creating bespoke, niche products such as watches and aeroplane landing gear.

These areas of expertise are now being put to use creating ‘high-value medical cannabis’ for export.

“Our USP is more small, bespoke cultivators and smaller businesses that are focused on that top-quality product,” Mr Cowsill continued.

“We know that we’re not going to compete with the likes of Canada or California in terms of output, but a high-quality niche product is where we think those opportunities are. The best thing I can relate it to is a craft beer brewery.

“There’s only so much flat land we can develop. So we are looking for the sort of businesses that will grow indoors. We know that we can have six or seven of those on the island.”

Given the island’s location, Mr Cowsill suggested that cultivators will benefit from a lower chance of cross-pollination and that a number of R&D companies looking to bring biomass onto the island and develop it into product have expressed their interest.

Alongside its unique landscape, the island’s regulatory system is also ‘different in structure from everyone else’.

“We will tell you the rules of the game. We gave a conditional licence to GLO and said if you do all these things, we will give you a licence for exporting.

“That’s very different from the other regulators that that have a bit more of a chicken or egg proposition where you have to build your facility first. Before they’ve even put a spade in the ground to build the facility, we would have set all that out.

“If you get your product right, and we tell the people coming to the island what the rules of the game are, it should be pretty clear for them to develop a proposition.”

Cannabis Europa is set to bring over 1000 influential leaders from the world’s largest cannabis companies to London on June 25-26, where the latest developments in regulation and research will be discussed in detail. Get your tickets here now. 



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