The Legal Way To Invest In Cannabis

December 7, 2011, 3:21 pm James Longman Business Insider and CNBC.com

Used in the construction, textiles, energy, food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, hemp looks to be an environmentally friendly, alternative investment option.


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If you thought cannabis investment was only a teenage pastime, think again. Hemp and medicinal cannabis are both tried and tested money-making industries, and both are moving at a fast pace.

For those on the lookout for unusual investment opportunities-particularly in construction and pharmaceuticals-this could be a growing market.

Research into the commercial uses of hemp began in Australia some 20 years ago. Today the plant is farmed for its fibre which can be used in the production of clothes, paper and construction materials. Hemp oil is also used in cosmetics and as an ingredient in pet and livestock food.

Some 30 countries around the globe are cultivating the crop including China, Canada and France.

John Hobson, president of the European Industrial Hemp Association, explained the interest: "Ten years ago if you stopped somebody on the street and said, 'What is hemp?' they would probably think it was something that you smoked.

"But now with construction and hemp insulation taking off, I think that the general public are becoming much more aware of what hemp is," he said, adding that hemp has the added bonus of being cost-effective and environmentally friendly. (More from Yahoo!7 Finance: Six Investing Rules From The World's Top Investors)

"Hemp is low on input, particularly chemicals, because it has a zero chemical requirement. It doesn't suffer from any pests or diseases that would warrant a spray. And its quick growth in covering the ground would blot out any weed competition," he said. "It's a fantastic crop for cleaning up ground, and profitable for the farmer to grow."

About 15,000 hectares of hemp are being cultivated in the European Union, providing food, biodiesel and paints, paper and textiles and construction materials.

With a turnover of around $4 million, Britain's Line Technology is at the forefront of hemp development and demonstrates the versatility of the crop, producing everything from concrete blocks to panels for the BMW five series.

"It is a profitable product for the grower, the processor, the construction companies, and the people who will be living in those structures, because there are huge savings on energy to be had in hemp construction," said Hobson.

Cannabis is also increasingly popular in the pharmaceuticals industry, where it is used for pain relief for chronic illnesses. (More from Yahoo!7 Finance: Top Celebrity Investors And What They're Invested In)

Justin Gover, managing director of GW Pharmaceuticals told CNBC about the medicinal properties of cannabis and the science of 'cannabinoids':

"The cannabis plant has an extraordinary range of medicinal properties-it has had over many thousands of years a history of medicinal use."

Developed over the past 12 years, his company's drug Sativex is derived from two standardised extracts of specific types of cannabis to help multiple sclerosis sufferers.

Already available on the National Health Service in the UK and approved in four countries this year, Gover said he hoped by the end of next year nearly 20 countries should have approved the product.

Addressing concerns about costs of development in the current climate, Gover said, "The product costs about A$9 a day, which in the context of a lot of new medications coming onto the market is a significant discount. In particular, treatments for the disease of MS are significantly more expensive. (More from Yahoo!7 Finance: Australia's Hottest Suburbs Under 500k)

"We appreciate that this isn't as cheap as an old generic medication, but it is treating a patient population for whom those treatments have failed to provide adequate benefit."

Gover agreed that America was the market to crack for pharmaceuticals, given it represents half of the global market share. "It would be a significant inflection point for our company to be approved there," he said, adding that in two years he hopes GW Pharmaceuticals will be involved in the care of terminal cancer patients.

Gover believes that cannabis can help in not just pain relief, but the actual treatment of chronic illnesses such as cancer, epilepsy and diabetes.

The success of Sativex shows that cannabis based products do have a place in the global drugs market; commercial rights have been out-licensed to Novartis to sell to Asia, the Middle East and Africa, German based Bayer for the UK and Spain's largest drugs company Almirall.

So in the construction, textiles, energy and drugs industries, hemp is a truly diverse and versatile crop; an alternative investment that's looking evergreen.

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