Drug minister’s husband behind biggest cannabis farm in Britain
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