‘Lack of clarity has left the industry in limbo’: UK CBD suppliers warn of ‘existential threat’

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Sarah Pender
Image: Getty/Sarah Pender

Related tags Cbd CBD and Hemp

UK CBD players are warning more products may be taken off shelves and have issued an ‘urgent’ appeal to the Home Office to protect the industry.

In February 2020 the Food Standards Agency (FSA) unveiled detailed plans to regulate CBD as a food product. According to the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry, millions of pounds have since been invested in research by an industry eager to meet the highest food safety standards mandated by the Novel Foods process.

In January 2021, the Home Office sought advice from the Government's Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to make necessary amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act to accommodate the sale of CBD products. After a year-long public consultation and public call for evidence, ACMD submitted a comprehensive report to the Home Office in December 2021 outlining clear recommendations regarding what would constitute an appropriate legal framework to accommodate CBD sales.

Despite this, the Home Office has still not taken any further action or provided any such legal clarity, the ACI complained.

The resulting uncertainty now constitutes an existential threat to the future of over 400 companies who supply over 12,000 products consumed by 18 million adults in the UK, it said, jeopardising a market the ACI estimates to be worth £690 million. Polling by YouGov also suggests that more than 18 million Britons have consumed CBD in some form over the past year.

According to the group, which has unveiled the #SaveOurCBD campaign, this lack of legal clarity now prevents the FSA from granting Novel Food authorisations, stalling businesses' operations and impeding innovation in the sector.

It stated: “We call on the Home Office to provide urgent clarity regarding the establishment of a legal framework within which businesses can operate securely, safely, and responsibly.

“The Home Office’s lack of response has left businesses seeking approval from the FSA in jeopardy due to the absence of a clear legal framework.”

Steve Moore, a representative of the #SaveOurCBD campaign and Lead Counsel for The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry added: "We understand the complexities the Home Office faces, but businesses have consistently acted responsibly throughout this period. There is no valid reason why the Home Office cannot provide the much-needed legal clarity that the industry urgently seeks."

The campaign comes after Jersey Hemp – the only farm in the British Isles growing hemp and CBD extract onsite – was shut down after UK Home Office action. The ACI this has highlighted the vulnerability of all businesses operating in this sector.

03 Goodrays Pomelo Passionfruit_4x5
Despite the legal complexity, Goodrays is still seeing 'massive growth in the category'. Its CBD drinks are now available in the Waitrose Meal Deal nationwide. 

CBD used by ‘27% of the UK population’

But there are success stories too. UK CBD brand Goodrays has announced its CBD drinks are now available in the Waitrose Meal Deal nationwide.

Founder Eoin Keenan said: “Price point is everything right now for CBD brands. We’re sustaining growth by making our drinks the most cost-effective CBD drink on the market in terms of quality of CBD, as well as dosage per drink. 45% of consumers are entering the CBD category via drinks and navigating towards Goodrays due to its best-in-class efficacy. 54% of consumers are making CBD purchases based on ‘efficacy’ and they want to know they can get the full benefits of CBD without paying over the odds. Our ‘multiple moments’ ethos means we have designed a range that has options for every part of the consumers’ daily routine and we’re delighted Waitrose has stocked us in the meal deal as it means consumers can get a genuine moment of pause at lunchtime.”

He told FoodNavigator there is 'massive' growth potential in the market despite the regulatory bottleneck. 

"For clarity, there hasn’t actually been any legislative or regulatory changes, which is what is causing some frustration among some brands that see this as a blocker to growth,"​ he said.

"The frustration really comes from the fact that the process has taken longer than expected, which has inhibited NPD, which can be a key driver of growth for brands and for the category. Of course, there’s the flip side of that coin because there’s brands that are performing well with limited competition in a burgeoning market."

The issue, he explained, is that the UK Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) prohibits the supply of psychoactive cannabinoids or 'controlled cannabinoids', the most well-known being THC. CBD, on the other hand, is not regulated as a 'controlled cannabinoid' so the issue arises whereby trace elements of other controlled cannabinoids are present in CBD products.

As it currently stands, products are considered exempt from this control, provided 'no one component part of the product or preparation contains more than one milligram of the controlled drug' but the guidance indicates that the 'product' is considered as the container, rather than the dose, which can cause issues in particular for larger pack formats or broad-spectrum products.

Goodrays uses CBD isolate, which is the safest route and helps to avoid the 1mg issue, he told us.

"We still expect the Home Office to take on board the recommendations from the ACMD, and increase this legal limit by 2024. This will allow the FSA to fully market authorise broad spectrum products as well as isolate products, and open a pathway for NPD.

"Despite all this complexity, we’re still seeing massive growth in the category. All the major retailers are now stocking CBD products and CBD drinks in particular are growing at 384% year on year, a faster rate than any other functional beverage category."

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