A number of UK shops selling CBD flower have been raided by police over the last few weeks in what some fear is the start of a nationwide crackdown on the sale of CBD-rich ‘hemp’ flower.
In fact, it may even be part of a continent-wide crackdown as shops have also been closed in Italy, which, behind Switzerland, is the second biggest producer of smokable hemp buds in Europe.
While it is not thought that anyone in the UK has been prosecuted for selling CBD flower, a handful of shops have had their stock confiscated and at least one has been charged with the supply of a class B drug.
Recent raids in Brighton
That may increase soon, however, as two shops and one residential property in Brighton were raided on Tuesday.
Sam Evolution, owner of Canna Kitchen, said: “A quantity of stock was seized from our shop today. Our products are defined as industrial hemp, and are clearly and transparently imported as such, with all taxes and duties paid.
“Our products contain CBD and trace elements of THC in line with the UK legal guidelines for pharmaceutical definitions and UK legal definitions of CBD products.
“We have never in the past year and a half had any confusion over the legality of these products, and are disappointed with the heavy handed approach of the Sussex Police force today.”
What about other products?
Sam goes on to point out that many other CBD products on sale in the UK have may also be illegal – something we discuss here.
He said: “If trace elements of THC render these products [CBD flower] illegal, then by default all CBD products must be illegal in the UK. This would mean that many large high street chains are currently breaking the law.”
And he has a good point.
While many believe that the THC limit in hemp-derived products is 0.2%, the actual limit is 1mg of a controlled substance (i.e THC and CBN) per unit or container. This renders many full-spectrum CBD products illegal by the letter of the law.
What about hemp tea?
When it comes to hemp flower, however, it is understood that the police and Home Office do not consider the raw flower of a hemp plant a finished product as it is not processed, standardised or packaged appropriately.
This opens up questions about hemp tea – usually made from hemp flowers and leaves – because the authorities and regulators do not seem to be concerned about its sale.
That’s right. Grind it up, put it in a paper bag and and label it as ‘hemp tea’ and CBD flower can suddenly become legal in the eyes of law enforcers.
Holland and Barrett are one major high street retailer who have hemp flower on their shelves in the form of tea.
Since first becoming popular in Switzerland, high-grade CBD flower has been available in the UK for around 18 months. Starting out with just a handful of online vendors, there is now a thriving market with hundreds of online shops, vape shops and head shops stocking a wide range of colourfully-named CBD flower products.
However, the legality of these buds – which generally look, smell and are smoked just like regular, THC-rich cannabis – has been uncertain for some time.
What does the law say?
While some claimed hemp flower to be outright illegal due to the fact that hemp is still cannabis, whether it’s legally grown or not, and cannabis is a class B drug in the UK under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
There are some provisions that can make cannabis-derived products exempt from the MDA, however. These include the 1mg THC/CBN per unit rule.
Many, including those who have established businesses in the space, believe that hemp flower can be considered an exempt product as it only contains traces of THC and is grown from EU-approved varieties of hemp seed on certified farms.
As we mentioned above, it appears the police and Hope Office do not consider the raw flower of a hemp plant a finished ‘product’ and is therefore not exempt.
Hemp tea, on the other hand, is considered by the authorities a sufficiently processed ‘product’ and is allowed to be sold.
There is also murmurings of a coming change to UK hemp laws that will make it legal for farmers to process the whole plant – at the moment they must dispose of the flower and leaves.
However, this is unconfirmed and may be difficult to implement while CBD and hemp flower is recognised as ‘novel’ under the EU’s Novel Food initiative. This could make many hemp-derived food products unsellable until they undergo lengthy and expensive testing for authorisation.
So, while more and more countries around the world adopt compassionate and rational medical cannabis laws, UK and EU policy makers see fit to restrict the sale of hemp, one of mankind’s oldest cultivated crops.
Common sense is needed more than ever.