Change can be painful, and progress often comes in the form of three steps forward and two steps back. There are probably very few people who know this better than the people who are involved in the cannabidiol (CBD) market in the UK. Even though the CBD market has now long since come out of the shadows and is maturing nicely, it is still plagued by issues related to outdated rules and a lack of meaningful regulation.
CBD: A priceless product worth billions
For people with CBD-responsive conditions, the relief offered by CBD products can, literally, be priceless. However, when it comes to persuading politicians to take action, it can be very helpful to have some hard figures.
The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis estimates that the CBD market in the UK is currently worth around £300M per year and that it will be worth almost £1 billion per year by 2025.
That’s not only a lot of potential tax money, it’s also a huge potential saving for the National Health Service (NHS). However, at the moment, the industry is being held back by a rather-ironic combination of decades-old legislation and a lack of substantive regulation to protect consumers.
CBD legislation dates back to 1971
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 could be referred to as the ‘grandfather’ of CBD-related legislation.
Under the terms of this act, pure CBD is legal (in fact, technically cannabis with up to 0.2% THC is legal) but growing cannabis requires a licence and licences are extremely difficult to obtain, even for the variant of Cannabis sativa that is commonly known as hemp and which has little to no THC content.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was updated in 2001, although this update didn’t really have all that much of an impact on the issue of cannabis/hemp in general or CBD in particular.
There have, however, been two very relevant updates to CBD-related legislation, both of which are fairly recent.
The first came in November 2018, when the government made it theoretically possible for some patients to be prescribed cannabis-related products. Unfortunately, as critics pointed out, the theory simply did not translate into practice, to the massive frustration of people with CBD-responsive conditions.
The second came in January 2019, when the European Union’s Novel Food regime decided to classify all extracted cannabinoids as ‘novel’. This action could have serious implications for the CBD industry in the UK, although, in this context, how much will presumably depend on the eventual form of Brexit.
More laws but no real consumer protection
The irony of the EU’s move is that it does actually highlight a genuine problem with CBD products, which is that there is practically nothing in the way of effective consumer-protection regulations other than the fact that the law requires any product advertised as having medical properties to be regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
This law, however well-intentioned, arguably creates more problems than it solves because it means that producers of medical-grade CBD products are likely to refrain from advertising them as such so that they can avoid the burden of having to comply with the legislation.
This can leave customers, understandably and rightfully, confused and open to exploitation by the more unscrupulous operators in the industry, some of whom are large, household names.
A change of direction for CBD retailers
Over time, the stigma that has been attached to CBD has slowly started to shift in the eyes of the public and, as more people are getting involved in communities, reviewing products and sharing their personal experiences, the growth of the industry has naturally started to come with it.
Even so, this growth could be halted for some CBD companies, as the law’s view is stubbornly cemented. It appears that some CBD sellers have come under fire for selling CBD hemp flowers, which, without the correct licences, could be seen as them being in possession of Class B drugs.
These particular events have changed one retailers direction; Kingdom of Green has come to the decision to stop selling CBD hemp flowers, which has been one of its most successful products since it launched its online business in 2018.
As the director of Kingdom of Green, my view on the changes in the CBD industry in the UK is as follows:
Unfortunately, Kingdom of Green has decided to stop selling CBD hemp flowers for the foreseeable future. There has always been a lot of confusion surrounding the sale of whole hemp flower, and what doesn’t help is the lack of input from any governing bodies.
While we knew the risks, we thought the benefits that the hemp flowers gave to our customers were worth it. Up until recently, the only companies to have experienced any problems were the ones who owned shops and had flowers on display, which then gained the attention of their local police forces.
Also, the police’s response to the sale of hemp flowers varies widely between regions, with some region’s police viewing it as what it is; just hemp and others viewing it as illegal cannabis. As far as we are aware, there has only been one conviction for selling hemp flowers in the UK.
However, there are more cases that are still underway and the outcome of those cases could give all companies that want to stock hemp flowers a better understanding of what they can and can’t do. While the confusion continues, it’s unlikely that we will stock hemp flowers again, until there is a solid ruling on the sale of CBD hemp flowers.
The feedback we have received in the past is astonishing. Many of our customers swapped their opiates and other high strength medications for CBD hemp flowers, which are far less damaging to long term health. Additionally, they are a safe and natural alternative to many of the prescription drugs that are currently being prescribed in the UK and all around the world.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, especially because it has affected the lives of hundreds of our loyal customers. Nevertheless, we believe it was the right choice to protect what we have worked hard for over the past two years.
What’s next for the CBD market in the UK?
There’s no doubt that consumers will continue to raise their voices on the positive changes that CBD could have on their life. However, the legalities of certain CBD products are still unclear in some cases, even with famous faces documenting their CBD experiences.
Although a review was held to discuss the possibilities of prescribing medical CBD in March 2019, it appears that there is still much to confirm when it comes to accessing CBD via the NHS.
When it comes to independent CBD retailers, having clearer guidelines on the production and sale of CBD products, in particular hemp flowers, within the UK and EU will help to ensure the CBD market continues to thrive.