Insights from a UK Cannabis Legal Professional

Copy of Marketing Professional (3)

Insights from a UK Cannabis Legal Professional

Looking to get involved in the cannabis space can be overwhelming and difficult. Where do you start and how do you get going?

If you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to work in this space — or wondered how you can leverage your existing professional knowledge into a career in cannabis then keep on reading! In order to shed some light on these questions, we spoke with our good friend Anuj Desai, Founder of the Cannabis Conversation.

Cannabis Conversation is a podcast we send through too all candidates and anyone else Lumino comes into contact with as it gives a great insight into what is happening in the Cannabis space, particularly focusing on the European aspect on the industry.

How long have you been involved in the industry and what were you doing before you joined?


I was working as a media and entertainment lawyer up until the beginning of 2018 when I got involved in the industry.


What was the thought process that drove you to the industry?


I left a full-time role in Summer 2016 in order to start a health and fitness business with a friend, and whilst that didn’t completely work out, I loved the experience and it convinced me that I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world. I continued freelance consulting as a lawyer to keep some money coming in, but I also worked with various startups in a variety of advisory roles. During this time I bumped into an ex-colleague who is very active in the cannabis sector and he invited me along to Cannabis Europa 2018 in the Barbican. I was blown away by the talks I attended and the people I met — a diverse range of smart, motivated, and passionate people who were committed to changing perceptions of this plant. In particular, it was the patient stories that moved me most, and I resolved that this was an area I would like to realise my entrepreneurial dreams in.

Based on your previous experience — what skills and expertise have you bought forward with you that has been useful?


Being an in-house lawyer, you get to work with different teams and departments within a business, and this taught me a lot about dealing with a variety of people with individual needs and idiosyncrasies. This in turn has been very useful when dealing with a wide range of stakeholders within the cannabis industry including financiers, medics, scientists, lawyers, marketeers, patients, and many more. I’ve always been quite sociable so I’ve also really enjoyed just meeting lots of people, and as the sector is so nascent everyone is up for chatting!

What was the attraction to this space?

Whilst I enjoyed a lot of my time working in film and tv, I was searching for something with a bit more purpose. I wanted to be in an area that was making a difference to the planet, and one where there was plenty of opportunities. Cannabis ticks those boxes for sure, as the medical benefits are starting to become clearer, with the potential to help many millions of people, but also growing cannabis and hemp is amazing for the environment so the sustainability angle is compelling too. Overcoming the unfair stigma that has maligned this plant for too long provides ample motivation, and challenge, and the complexity and versatility of the plant provides a huge opportunity for constant learning.

What were your assumptions and expectations before joining this industry?


I must admit I did fall into the lazy stereotype trap and assume most people would be on the hippy-ish side of things, but as I said before, there have been a huge variety of different people I’ve encountered and learned huge amounts from.

Where did you get your information and research from before you joined?


I read a report by Ackrell Capital in 2018 which provided a great 101 on the basics of the plant, it’s cultivation, chemistry, uses, and economic opportunities arising from it across the world.

Now that you’re in the industry, what is it actually like? What are the actual challenges?


It’s fun but very challenging. The pot of gold I was naively expecting hasn’t materialised yet, and I’ve realised just how early we are in this space, with much change needed to really make this a proper industry in Europe. The biggest challenges are who to work with, as there is a gold rush feel to everything which means people are forming alliances quickly before fully getting to know each other.

Additionally, everybody has too many projects they’re involved in which means they are spread too thin. I am guilty of these things for sure, so it’s been a steep learning curve, but it’s in part due to the fact there are so many angles to come at this from, and get excited by, that there is a definite fear of missing out. The most obvious practical challenge is the designation of cannabis as a narcotic, and the patchwork and unharmonised regulatory environment across the world, which make things much harder than they could or should be.

Without giving away too many insider secrets, what is it that you’re working on at the moment?


I have my weekly podcast, The Cannabis Conversation, which I absolutely love. From a self-development perspective it’s the best thing I’ve ever done professionally, as it’s the first time I’ve started something with no outcome in mind — just rolling the dice and see where they land. It’s provided me with a great network and audience and I’m constantly learning every day, which I love.

Aside from that I’m actually going to continue practicing as a commercial lawyer but now for cannabis clients. Candidly, I had hesitated with this idea for a while, but through speaking to a lot of entrepreneurs I realised this is an area where I can add real value to the industry in the UK, by providing cost-effective advice to startups and scale-ups looking to establish themselves.

My longer-term entrepreneurial dream is a product idea I’m working on with a couple of others, and I hope to reveal more in a couple of months…

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get involved in the industry?


First of all — listen to my podcast!! I would say be open-minded and look to learn. There is so much to cover so find an area that you like and go deep. It’s a bit difficult in today’s environment but attend events (virtual or otherwise) and listen to the thought leaders speak, and also engage with others in the sector. It is quite early that most people are open to connecting.

Where do you see the industry going?


The reality is there are several industries under the umbrella of cannabis, and each one will take it’s own course. It’s difficult to predict how COVID and the US elections will affect the next stage of evolution, but the signs aren’t great from the EC and WHO in relation to further liberalising of regulations and laws around cannabis. These things move slowly and with governments preoccupied with pandemic and economic devastation, it might not be a priority. The optimistic view is that this may accelerate further deregulation as countries look for new industries to bolster economies, but I’m not entirely convinced it will be that quick for countries outside North America.

Where I am excited is around hemp, which I think suffers from a bit of a PR problem. Legacy hippy images, and general ignorance of its amazing sustainable qualities (and 10,000+ uses!), mean there is lots to play for. Whether it be bioplastic solutions or alternative protein sources, there’s so much to talk about here, and hopefully, it’s less affected by the regulatory and legislative issues that cannabis suffers from. I’m hopeful that with a bit of a rebrand, and a concerted education push, we can really bring this wonderful plant to the masses.

Want more content like this? Never miss the latest industry updates and insights by subscribing to The Lumino Newsletter.