The UK Home Office has agreed to recommendations that would set a legal threshold for controlled cannabinoids in CBD products, potentially recognizing them as food, and shifting their regulation away from the Misuse of Drugs Act. The government’s acceptance “in principle” of these changes signals a major regulatory shift, indicating advancement towards legal frameworks for the UK CBD market.
The British Home Office has accepted the recommendations of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) regarding the legal levels of controlled cannabinoids in the UK, including THC, in consumer-targeted CBD-based products.
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ACMD’s Recommendations For the UK
In December 2021, the ACMD published a report outlining its recommendations to amend UK legislation related to controlled substances in CBD-based products.
In January 2021, Kit Malthouse, then Minister of State for Crime and Policing, also acknowledged the need for legal clarification in the UK, stating: “There is currently no legal framework that specifically exempts CBD-based products from control under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, and in this light, the government wants to explore the possibility of creating a specific exemption in the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations for CBD-based products that do not contain more than a defined percentage of trace controlled cannabinoids.”
UK Government’s Response to ACMD Report
In its response to the ACMD report, published on October 24, the Minister for Crime and Policing, Chris Philp MP, stated that the UK government intended to accept the recommended limit of 50 micrograms of THC and other controlled cannabinoids per consumption unit.
A consumption unit or “individual portion” is defined as the typical amount of a CBD product consumed on a single occasion, but industry representatives have expressed the need for further clarification on what constitutes a typical serving of CBD.
Earlier in the month, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued advice to consumers about ingesting CBD, reducing the recommended daily amount from 70 mg to 10 mg, based on undisclosed toxicological studies related to CBD isolate products submitted as part of the Novel Food process.
Potential Regulation of CBD Products as Food
The UK government also accepted “in principle” the amendment of the definition of exempt products with regard to CBD-based products, for example, by altering the wording of the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act, which refers to “preparation or other product containing a controlled drug” rather than “controlled drug.”
As a result, CBD-based products could be recognized as food items and regulated by the FSA under UK food legislation, rather than by the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Home Office.
These decisions have been welcomed by the industry as “incredibly positive” since they could lift the current ambiguity about THC levels in CBD as food and allow for greater innovation.
The UK Cannabis Trades Associations (CTA) released keynotes to its members, and its executive directors held online meetings to explain the current situation to its members.
They stated: “The UK government finally recognizes consumer CBD products as food items and dissociates them from the Home Office’s narcotics and licensing regulations.”
Sian Phillips, co-executive director of the CTA, said: “This will have an incredibly positive impact on the industry. The fact that CBD is recognized as a food and the levels of THC and other phytocannabinoids in finished CBD-based products are set will promote product innovation and the Novel Food process, and will rid the CBD sector of the ambiguity of the controlled drugs legislation that hangs over it.”
“The authorization of 50 micrograms for each phytocannabinoid per consumption unit allows for a wider range of consumer CBD-based products than previously thought.”
Her co-executive director, Marika Graham-Woods, added: “Subject to clarification, the bulk manufacturing of CBD as food might no longer be illegal in the UK, given that the manufacturing of CBD within the described parameters is intended for food. UK Retailers will need to be informed of these and other recent recommendations, and many points will need to be clarified over the coming months, but overall, this is finally a very positive step forward for the CBD sector.”
In its response, the UK government also accepted “in principle” recommendations for more regulated and accurate testing concerning controlled phytocannabinoids – like THC, including the implementation of standardized protocols and the obligation to use only accredited laboratories.
Mr. Phillips stated that the CTA was in discussions with the FSA and that, despite the need for greater clarity in the UK, the recommendations “significantly change the landscape.”
“We still have to work on these gray areas,” she added.
The First UK Legal Framework for CBD-Based Products
The UK Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) has also welcomed the UK government’s response to the ACMD’s recommendations.
In August, the organization launched its “Save Our CBD” campaign, which called on the Home Office to establish a legal framework for the sale of CBD-based products, in order to bring more clarity and regulation to the sector.
Steve Moore, co-founder of the ACI, commented: “It is imperative for the nascent UK consumer cannabinoid sector that a legal framework is established to reassure businesses operating in this space and to reassure consumers and retailers. The fact that this will also help accelerate the regulatory process in which UK businesses have invested only adds to the significance of the explicit commitment to present the necessary amendments to the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations.”
“The ACI will make further comments after meeting in the coming days with senior UK Home Office officials who have addressed this issue in an honest and open manner over the past three months.”
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