After the Brexit transition procedure, the UK government has announced that in addition to the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit departure from European Union (EU) rules, it will also establish its own common agriculture policy and trade policies, among other things. One of the fields to experience changes happened to be the CBD market.
A warning issued by drug advisers has revealed that many cannabidiol (CBD) products currently sold in stores contain trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance in cannabis responsible for a euphoric high (you can read more about CBD and THC at AskGrowers). The government stated it would amend an existing law to require the monitoring of THC levels in CBD products in order to prevent consumers from being exposed to high levels of the substance. The government also said it would act on a recommendation to introduce a legal limit of 50 milligrams of THC per product, which it said would fall in line with other countries’ legal limits for acceptable levels of the active ingredient per serving in edibles.
Industry representatives claim that the government’s proposed limit on THC content will hurt the competitiveness of the UK market since the suggested limit is too low in comparison to what it is in other countries. In recent years, since the middle of the 2010s, the CBD industry has grown significantly in the United Kingdom, with a wide variety of health products now available at pharmacies across the country. Despite its potential for growth and early estimations that it will be worth £1bn to the UK economy by 2025, the industry has been slow to embrace regulation.
The situation became more complicated when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said in December that none of the edible products containing CBD it had tested had been authorized for sale. In December 2024, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) provided research and analysis on the Consumer cannabidiol (CBD) products report. According to the latter mentioned, the Working Group concluded that it was unlikely for consumer CBD products to contain sufficient controlled phytocannabinoids apart from ∆9-THC to produce any psychoactive effects unless the manufacturer added them purposefully.
The ACMD, however, recommended a limit to the concentration of THC that may be present in any given CBD product. According to the recommendation, a single serving should contain no more than 50 micrograms of THC. The new regulation also called on the government to require cannabis manufacturers to isolate CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids from the rest of the marijuana plant during the production process. The government responded that it was aware that extracting cannabidiol alone without tetrahydrocannabinol can be challenging but would respond to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ recommendation.
‘The Benefits Of Brexit’
In the meantime, the Cannabis Industry Council, an advocacy group of the industry body, said it was concerned that the ACMD’s proposed regulations may put economic discovery ahead of safety. The CIC’s chairman Professor Mike Barnes stated: ‘Despite having a reputation as a globally dominant medicinal cannabis producer, the UK is almost entirely unable to cater to the needs of domestic patients.’ Barnes attributed this to a complicated governmental bureaucracy, a lack of medical education, and other regulatory bodies such as NICE. Besides, the CIC’s spokesman added that many cannabis consumers prefer full-spectrum products because they want to experience the full range of cannabinoids found in cannabis plants.
The council said it conducted market research which showed that 97% of consumers had never experienced negative side effects from CBD products without a THC limit. The statement followed by being said that the proposed limits would harm ‘the ability of UK farmers and producers to compete with imported Chinese isolated CBD, further reducing the growth potential of UK businesses.’
The British government has packaged its plan to change the law with its plan to remove many European Union regulations in a policy paper The Benefits Of Brexit. The paragraph ‘Taking steps to strengthen the consumer Cannabidiol (CBD) market,’ states that the government plans to respond to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ recommendations. It will set out how the authorities will make legal changes to allow trace-testing of CBD in consumer products to check the level of CBD remaining in the products. It also states that the requirement for products to be proven safe will give a competitive advantage to companies producing safe products and will banish companies with dangerous products from this market.
Following new regulations, the Food Standards Agency says it is working to regulate the consumption of CBD by confirming a list of products that are closer to being authorized. The FSA is asking local authorities and the food industry to help get CBD products into compliance by removing all of the non-compliant products from their sale. The FSA will continue to update its public list, first published on the 9th of May, 2024, as more manufacturers meet the new standards. Because CBD products are ‘novel’ — that is, they contain compounds that are not found in foods or medicines previously on the market — the Food Standards Agency must ensure their safety before these products can be sold in the UK. Emily Miles, Chief Executive of the FSA, said: ‘We have taken the step of publishing the list so that local authorities, retailers, and consumers can make informed judgments about what they stock and buy, as we gradually bring this growing market into compliance with the law.’
The UK CBD market has been booming in recent years. With the UK being one of the pioneers in the legalization of cannabis and its derivatives, this market is expected to grow even more. However, with the new regulations that have been introduced in the post-Brexit era, will this market continue to thrive? It seems that these new regulations could be detrimental to many businesses involved in the industry. CBD manufacturers and retailers fear that this will make their business less competitive than before. However, it seems that despite these new changes, most companies will still find ways around them by adopting innovative marketing strategies and offering better customer service than their competitors do.