An introduction to CBD Regulation in the UK

The UK CBD market is growing from strength to strength, with this strong upward trend reinforced by clear legislation regarding its use in both a medical and food setting. CBD regulation in the UK ensures a safe, consistent product for consumers. It also makes it easy for established players and new entries to the market to understand the landscape they are operating in.

The regulations themselves are easily accessible and straightforward. Much of the CBD industry fits inside existing frameworks. For example, there are three main legislative domains that CBD falls into in the UK: controlled substances law, medicinal law and food safety law. Familiarity and compliance with these laws will ensure a fairly friction-free environment for anyone involved in the UK CBD industry.

Some key points are:

THC Is Illegal in the UK

There is a common misconception that THC levels in CBD can be up to 0.2%. Under the controlled substance law, any product containing THC is illegal due to its psychoactive properties.

CBD For medical purposes

As far as CBD for medical purposes goes, the regulation is black and white. If you claim your product has medical benefits and is therefore a medicine, it must obtain marketing authorisation. This must come from The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to qualify as a legal product.

Food Safety Law

Most CBD products fall into food safety law. Here, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) requires products to register on the novel foods catalogue by 31st March 2021. Any product not registered after this date will be illegal for sale in the UK CBD market. There is a good amount of flexibility in the meanwhile, as discussed in the full report. The FSA allows products to be sold under certain conditions. It’s this flexibility and period of consultation that’s fostering the current boom in CBD products in the UK.

The only popular CBD products that don’t fall into these categories are cosmetics and vapes. They each are subject to their own regulations:

CBD Cosmetics

The Cosmetic Products Regulation EC 1223/2009 requires CBD cosmetic products to provide a Cosmetic Product Safety Report (CPSR) before they can market legally.

CBD Vapes

Regulation for CBD e-liquids, for Vapes, fall under two separate legal frameworks. These depend on the presence of nicotine or not. These are, Tobacco and Related Products Regulation (Nicotine-containing CBD e-liquids), and General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (Nicotine-free CBD e-liquids).

CBD For Pets

A quick note on CBD for pets: The Veterinary Medicine Directorate has classified CBD-infused pet food products as medicine. It prohibits pet stores and vets from selling or prescribing such products unless it has obtained medical approval for use on animals.

The Truth behind CBD in the UK

When it comes to importing pure CBD, it is no more problematic than any other product. It needs to comply with the UK’s CBD laws as stated above.  Whilst hemp and seeds with THC levels up to 0.2% are OK to import, these are only usable for industrial means. For example, the fibre is used in construction and textiles and the seeds are used for oil.  It is illegal to Extract or process the CBD itself in any way in the UK. The THC quantities of the source crop is irrelevant.

This is where the only hint of confusion exists with current regulations. Hemp grown in the UK, or imported, can contain up to 0.2% THC. This hemp is only allowed for industrial purposes however. It is illegal for CBD or CBD products imported to the UK, to contain any traceable quantities of THC.

This has created a certain lopsided opportunity in the £300 million per year UK CBD market. On one hand, it is perfectly legal to import, sell, possess and consume CBD, providing it contains untraceable quantities of THC. On the other hand, it is illegal to cultivate and extract hemp for this process within the UK.

Hemp Growth

Hemp can be grown with a license from the Home Office, but, as mentioned, this only allows the hemp to be grown for industrial purposes. This means the most valuable parts of the plant: the flowers and the leaves, aren’t allowed. The result is, they are either destroyed or simply left to wither in the fields before harvesting. The growers are unable to fully monetise their crop. This puts hemp farmers in the UK at a severe disadvantage compared to their overseas competition.

The UK’s strict History

The UK’s reluctance to allow the processing of these parts of the plant (despite 75% of YouGov survey respondents supporting legislation to the contrary) is no doubt due to the UK’s relatively strict history with cannabis as a whole. There are harsh laws preventing the cultivation and distribution of cannabis. Whilst this will no doubt stifle the efficacy of hemp growers in the UK, it is unlikely to inhibit the CBD industry as a whole.

CBD Market Growth

To provide some context as to how far the industry has come in a few years: CBD sales outstrip the sales of Vitamin C (£119 M) and Vitamin D (£145 M) supplements combined. The projection of CBD sales expect it to reach £1BN by 2025. This projection is no doubt powered by the uptake of CBD by a relatively youthful user-base: 25 – 34 year-olds are the largest demographic in terms of use rates.

When you fold in the clarity around legislation, the foundations are certainly in place for the CBD industry in the UK to boom. The only real question remains around whether it will be an industry dependant on raw ingredients being imported from elsewhere, or whether those particular restraints will be loosed. This would allow all those involved to benefit from the exponential growth the industry is looking to achieve.

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