Drug min­is­ter’s hus­band be­hind big­gest cannabis farm in Bri­tain

Daily Mail - - News - By James Tozer

THE drugs min­is­ter was yes­ter­day ac­cused of a ‘mas­sive con­flict of in­ter­est’ after it emerged her hus­band op­er­ates Bri­tain’s largest cannabis farm – al­beit per­fectly legally.

Vic­to­ria Atkins’ hus­band, Paul Ken­ward, is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Bri­tish Su­gar, which last year started grow­ing sub­stan­tial amounts of mar­i­juana in Nor­folk in­tended for med­i­cal use.

The crop cov­ers an area equiv­a­lent to 23 foot­ball pitches and thanks to a li­cence from her de­part­ment, the Home Of­fice, has an ex­emp­tion from the nor­mal prison sen­tence of up to 14 years for grow­ing the drug.

While Miss Atkins, a bar­ris­ter, has spo­ken out against de­crim­i­nal­is­ing cannabis, her hus­band’s role was not de­clared in the pub­licly-avail­able reg­is­ter of min­is­te­rial or MPs’ in­ter­ests. The Home Of­fice said she had stopped tak­ing part in pol­icy de­ci­sions re­lat­ing to cannabis after she was ap­pointed as min­is­ter for crime, safe­guard­ing and vul­ner­a­bil­ity last Novem­ber.

But cam­paign­ers for re­lax­ing the law on cannabis ac­cused her of a ‘mas­sive con­flict of in­ter­est’ given that drugs are one of her ar­eas of re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Bri­tish Su­gar is re­port­edly grow­ing cannabis in­tended for a new epilepsy drug which is un­der­stood to be await­ing a li­cence in Europe and the US. The li­cence was is­sued in 2016, be­fore Miss Atkins be­came a min­is­ter in 2017. Ac­cord­ing to the Sun­day Times, the for­mer prose­cu­tor said the down­grad­ing of cannabis to a class C drug dur­ing the Blair govern­ment, now re­v­ersed, had a ‘ter­ri­ble’ im­pact.

It re­ported that in her first three months at the Home Of­fice she gave 17 Com­mons speeches or min­is­te­rial par­lia­men­tary an­swers about drugs, in­clud­ing sev­eral on cannabis-based drugs known as cannabi­noids.

One sub­se­quent writ­ten ques­tion on le­gal­is­ing cannabis for med­i­cal use, which was orig­i­nally shown as hav­ing been an­swered by Miss Atkins, has now been changed to state it was dealt with by policing and fire min­is­ter Nick Hurd, who now largely an­swers drug-re­lated ques­tions.

Medic­i­nal cases in­clude that of Al­fie Din­g­ley, six, from Ke­nil­worth, War­wick­shire, who has se­vere epilepsy and whose par­ents want a li­cence to en­able them to legally give him cannabis oil.

Steve Moore, of drug pol­icy think-tank Volte­face, said it was ‘ridicu­lous’ the drugs min­is­ter was ‘un­able to speak in par­lia­ment or make de­ci­sions on one of the most im­por­tant parts of her job’. Peter Reynolds, of Clear, which cam­paigns for cannabis law re­form, said: ‘Vic­to­ria Atkins is in a ridicu­lously vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion and has a mas­sive con­flict of in­ter­est.’

Home Of­fice sources said Miss Atkins had dis­closed to the Cabi­net Of­fice that her hus­band’s com­pany had a li­cence to pro­duce cannabis when she was made a min­is­ter and it was not clear why this wasn’t added to the pub­liclyavail­able reg­is­ter of in­ter­ests.

Bri­tish Su­gar de­clined to com­ment.

‘Con­flict of in­ter­est’: Vic­to­ria Atkins

Med­i­cal use: Spouse Paul Ken­ward

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