Last Updated on January 11, 2022 by Jamie
There’s been a growing trend of retailers selling CBD flower in the UK over the past several years. You may have even walked into a shop and seen the flower on the counter and thought to yourself “Isn’t this illegal? How are they doing this?”. Which brings us to our big question;
Is CBD Flower Legal in the UK?
Well, your instincts are correct. The short answer is, no, CBD flower is not legal in the UK. While CBD flower does not possess a high enough concentration of the controlled substance THC to get you high, CBD flower is currently illegal to possess or sell in the UK.
We’ve dived deep into this matter, and confirmed its illegality beyond a shadow of a doubt. Despite some thinking it’s a legal grey area, we’ve confirmed our findings with Mackrells Solicitors, one of the top cannabis law firms in the country.
What is CBD Flower and why do people want it?
Before getting into why this matter is so confusing, and why there is so much misinformation out there, it’s important to understand what exactly we’re talking about.
CBD flower is derived from the hemp plant and looks strikingly similar to its THC-containing counterpart. Unlike “normal” cannabis, CBD flower does not contain THC in any significant amount, and will not get the user high in the same way normal cannabis would.
Typically, normal cannabis strains that are grown to achieve a high will contain 15-30% THC. A flower that is grown for CBD use specifically will contain less than 1% THC, often falling under .2%.
So, if these strains will not get you high, why are people interested in buying them? Well, CBD provides many reported benefits to its users despite its lack of psychoactive components. CBD is seeing a rise in popularity as users report effects like general pain relief, relief from joint pain, reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms, and assistance in getting a good night’s sleep.
These effects are currently being studied, and the research is not yet conclusive. While many users report these benefits and many initial studies appear to support them, more research is needed to confirm or deny these claims.
Where does the confusion regarding CBD flower legality come from?
If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that there is confusion around CBD’s legality in the UK. We’ve all heard stories of shops being raided by police, only for the police to apologize and say they did not realize the shop was selling CBD flower, and not cannabis containing THC designed to get the user high.
At the same time, we’ve all heard stories where a shop selling CBD flower was raided, and the police completely shut down their business. So why is there such a discrepancy on how and where the law is applied?
There are two main laws that are involved in the battle of CBD legality in the UK. The first law is the Misuse of Drugs Act which came into existence in 1971. The law states:
“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—
- Mature stalk of any such plant,
- Fibre produced from mature stalk of any such plant, and
- Seed of any such plant;]
“cannabis resin” means the separated resin, whether crude or purified, obtained from any plant of the genus Cannabis;
Under this broad definition of the cannabis plant, it is clear that all forms of cannabis are illegal to possess or sell in the UK. This would include strains that are grown to have almost no THC, such as the CBD flowers we are discussing.
If this were the only law that referenced cannabis plants, there wouldn’t really be any discussion to be had. However, in 2001, the UK government passed the Misuse of Drugs Relations which allows for a more varied interpretation of the legality of CBD-based cannabis overall.
The Misuse of Drugs Relations states that CBD itself is legal when it meets the following guidelines:
- The preparation or other product is not designed for administration of the controlled drug to a human being or animal;
- The controlled drug in any component part is packaged in such a form, or in combination with other active or inert substances in such a manner, that it cannot be recovered by readily applicable means or in a yield which constitutes a risk to health; and
- No one component part of the product or preparation contains more than one milligram of the controlled drug or one microgram in the case of lysergide or any other N-alkyl derivative of lysergamide.
Under this law, CBD oil was made legal. You may even think after reading, that CBD flower would be allowed as well if it does not contain more than one milligram of “the controlled substance” THC and is not designed to get THC into people’s bloodstreams.
After consulting with experts, we can confirm that the language in the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act supersedes the Misuse of Drugs Regulations passed in 2001. Essentially, while the Misuse of Drugs Regulations act legalized the compound CBD, it did not overturn the ruling in the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act that indicates no one is allowed to possess the cannabis plant itself in any form.
Overall, it’s not too difficult to see where the confusion comes from. If you only refer to the more recently passed law, it would seem that CBD is legal, and that selling CBD flower would be legal as well. After all, selling CBD oil is legal, so why would selling the flower be any different?
This is the logic used by shop owners currently selling CBD flower. Unfortunately for them, while CBD oils are legal and free to be sold in the UK, the flower and plant materials themselves are illegal.
Even if you grew a strain with absolutely 0% THC and CBD, the hemp flower itself is illegal to possess in the UK. There is no further interpretation to be made, and the law is quite clear.
How are shops selling CBD flower if it’s illegal?
The short answer is that they’re technically doing it illegally. While they may not agree with the law and believe they have legitimate loopholes due to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations law passed in 2001, their interpretation is incorrect.
The store owners that are currently selling CBD flower alongside their oils fall under 2 categories. Those who believe that any cannabis flower with under .2% THC meets the criteria for exemption outlined above, and those who realize the illegality of their practice but feel the law is outdated.
Some shops simply don’t believe that the law is correct on this matter and since they are genuinely not selling flower that will get the user high, there should not be any trouble with the law.
While there is somewhat sound logic behind this thinking, the fact of the matter is that all flower derived from hemp is illegal to possess in the UK. Regardless of composition, the flower itself cannot be held or sold.
How can I get my CBD legally in the UK?
Fortunately, those looking to obtain CBD legally in the UK do have the option of purchasing CBD oil. As mentioned above, the Misuse of Drugs Regulations law passed in 2001 exempts CBD from its previously illegal status.
CBD oils are sold across the UK at shops and online retailers, and are 100% legal to own and use as long as they do not possess “more than one milligram of the controlled substance”. You can rest easy knowing that you’re fully compliant with the law when purchasing CBD oils from shops or online.
If you prefer the experience of consuming CBD flower to an extracted product like oils, you will have to wait for the next piece of legislation to be passed to make this legal.
What does the future hold for legal CBD flower in the UK?
As of right now, the UK has no legislation planned to legalize the possession of the hemp flower itself. Despite other major countries across the world legalizing the full plant, THC included, the UK government has not indicated it intends to follow suit. There are advocates across the country, and this may change, but as of early 2022, there are no changes coming down the pipeline that we know of.
The only recent legislation related to CBD is focused on ensuring the quality and composition of the CBD oils that are currently legal. The Food Standards Agency announced its plan to help regulate the industry and announced a deadline of the 31st of March, 2021 for companies to apply for a license to sell CBD oils and extracts. Any companies that do not apply for the appropriate license will find their products deemed illegal and will risk being taken off of the shelves entirely.
This move comes as a way to hold CBD products to a high standard after investigations found that half of the CBD oils on the market did not contain their reported levels of CBD. This law will ensure that all CBD oils and products containing CBD contain the amounts of CBD they claim.
We’ll have to wait to see if new laws will be passed that make the sale of CBD flower legal, but until then, the law is clear. Possession and sale of CBD flower is illegal in the UK.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about CBD, or finding a trusted, independently tested provided – we highly recommend reading our Pure Sport CBD review – who are taking over the UK with their BSCG Certified (Banned Substances Control Group) CBD Products.