There is no doubting the rise in popularity of CBD containing products in the United Kingdom. The last few years have seen products such as CBD oil, CBD vape liquids and CBD drinks enter the public eye with a bang. There is now a range of CBD products being sold in high street stores such as Boots and Superdrug.
Thanks to this rise in popularity, many more people are educating themselves about the health benefits of CBD. This is fueled by countless medical studies and anecdotal reports from users. People are turning to CBD to help with anxiety, stress, fitness and many other aspects of their lives.
CBD containing products such as oils are currently legal in the UK. They are considered exempt from the law thanks to three reasons as defined in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. The MDR states that a CBD product will be exempt from being illegal where it satisfies all three elements of the exempt product definition:
1) it is not designed for the administration of the controlled substance, ie THC
2) any THC elements of the product are packaged in such a way that it cannot be recovered by readily applicable means, or at a level which would constitute a risk to health;
3) it contains no more than one milligram per component part of the product.
Because products like CBD oils meet all of these criteria, they are exempt. But this exemption does not apply to CBD flowers.
What are CBD flowers or buds?
Known as CBD flower, CBD hash, CBD buds and CBD weed, many retailers, both online and on the high street, have begun selling flowers of the hemp plant that are high in CBD content (around 13-15%) and low in THC (usually less than 1%). These products look a lot like ‘normal’ THC rich cannabis. Thanks to selective breeding, growers have been able to take cannabis strains that are low in THC and high in CBD and other cannabinoids, crossing them to create CBD dominant strains. These flowers have become popular in states in the US and Canada where cannabis is legal, and have also gained popularity in European countries where exemptions have been made for cannabis and hemp which is low in THC.
In these countries, cannabis users are turning to CBD flowers as a way of consuming cannabis without getting high.
So are CBD flowers legal in the UK?
The short answer is no. CBD flowers are not legal in the UK. They are illegal as stated the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
“cannabis” (except in the expression “cannabis resin”) means any plant of the genus Cannabis or any part of any such plant (by whatever name designated) except that it does not include cannabis resin or any of the following products after separation from the rest of the plant, namely—
(a) mature stalk of any such plant,
(b) fibre produced from mature stalk of any such plant, and
(c) seed of any such plant;]
“cannabis resin” means the separated resin, whether crude or purified, obtained from any plant of the genus Cannabis;
As the text clearly shows, there is no exemption or definition of cannabis by its cannabinoid content, therefore cannabis is illegal, whether it is high in THC or high in CBD.
Why is there confusion about CBD flowers in the UK?
Sellers and consumers often claim the that CBD flower and CBD bud is legal based on the fact that it has been sourced from ‘EU approved varieties’ and contains ‘less than 0.2% THC’, citing the exemption example given above. Further confusion arises from Home Office guidance, which states that CBD rich hemp can be legally grown in the UK, providing it is from approved seeds and the end product contains less than 0.2% THC. However, to grow this hemp, farmers must first obtain a hemp cultivation licence, and even then can only keep the seeds and fibres of the plant. All other parts of the plant, including the buds and flowers, must be destroyed. So even CBD flowers grown with a Home Office licence in the UK with less than 0.2% THC would still be considered illegal, and must not be sold online or in retail stores.
To clarify the matter, a prominent cannabis campaigner, Peter Reynolds, wrote to the Home Office, asking them to confirm the law. This was the response:
“Thank you for your email.
I can confirm that the leaves and flowers of the genus Cannabis are controlled and defined as cannabis as outlined in Section 37(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
“cannabis” (except in the expression “cannabis resin”) means any plant of the genus cannabis or any part of any such plant (by whatever name designated) except that it does not include cannabis resin or any of the following products after separation from the rest of the plant, namely—
(a)mature stalk of any such plant,
(b)fibre produced from mature stalk of any such plant, and
(c)seed of any such plant;”.
Once the separation of the stalk and seeds from the plant has occurred it will not be defined as cannabis. This also extends to the fibre produced from the stalk.
Senior Compliance Officer
Drugs & Firearms Licensing Unit”
Why are CBD flowers still on sale in the UK if they are illegal?
Despite all of the above, many stores online and offline continue to flout the law. Unfortunately, ignorance is not considered a defence when it comes to criminal matters. In 2020 a number of CBD shops across the country were raided for selling CBD flowers. In one case, police involved in the operation were clear, stating that they believed the shops had been attempting to exploit a “loophole” that allows certain stores to sell cannabis containing up to 0.2% THC, though this in fact only applies to licensed pharmacies selling to people with a specific prescription.
“Unless you are a specifically licensed pharmacy, you cannot legally sell or supply cannabis or THC products – no matter what percentage content it has,” Police Constable Ross Bennett who investigated the case said.
How can I buy CBD flowers legally in the UK?
Until the law is updated to take into account the difference between CBD flowers and high THC cannabis, there is no legal way to buy CBD flowers online or in-store in the UK. The only legal way to possess cannabis is by obtaining a prescription. Since November 2018, it has been possible for cannabis to be prescribed for medical purposes only. It is difficult to obtain a medical cannabis prescription on the NHS, however, there are a number of private cannabis clinics that will issue prescriptions for genuine cases. Costs are prohibitive, but as more clinics open the cost for consultations and legally available products comes down. If you wish to be able to buy and possess CBD flowers of any form of cannabis in the UK, you will need to do so via a prescription.