The United Kingdom, which comprises England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, is home to GW Pharmaceuticals, one of the most respected names in cannabinoid research and development. The UK is also the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis, so you’d think that this country would have reasonable CBD laws to match.
While it’s possible to purchase many types of CBD products in the UK, this nation’s CBD flower law is mired within a murky gray area. While CBD flower should be legal in the UK based on this nation’s stance toward CBD oil, puffing on a CBD joint on London Bridge might not be the best idea. Join us as we explore the complexities of CBD law in the UK and provide expert advice on whether it’s a good idea to smoke hemp in this country.
Legal definition of CBD flower
Chances are that you already have a pretty good idea of what CBD flower is. It’s like marijuana flower, but it has high levels of CBD and less than 0.3% THC. You can smoke it, vape it, cook with it, or use it in any number of different ways.
Let’s focus for a moment on the legal definition of CBD flower and how it varies from the legal definition of marijuana. In the United States, hemp flower is considered to be “industrial hemp” when it contains less than 0.3% THC. Cannabis sativa flower that contains less than 0.3% THC is not marijuana, and it is not regulated as a marijuana product.
The exact percentage cutoff rate differs around the world, but most countries that allow CBD place the THC limit of CBD products at around 0.3%. It’s widely accepted that THC will not get you high when consumed in this concentration, and intoxication is one of the most recognizable hallmarks of consuming marijuana.
With the United States as an example, it’s clearly not that hard to place a firm delineator between intoxicating marijuana and non-intoxicating hemp. Simply define Cannabis sativa flower with more than 0.3% THC as “marijuana” and Cannabis sativa flower with less than 0.3% THC as “hemp.” In the UK, however, things aren’t so simple.
CBD laws in the UK
The majority of UK cannabis law stems from the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. During this same period, the United States was taking a firm stance against drug culture and all that it represented, and the USA’s allies were quick to follow suit. This act labels “cannabis” as a controlled drug, and this choice of words spelled the beginning of the UK’s CBD flower woes. Followup legislation titled the Misuse of Drugs Regulations of 2001 further decried the dangers of “cannabis” by labeling it a Schedule I drug, which applies to substances with no potential for medical use.
Recently, the UK’s Home Office clarified its stance on CBD by stating that CBD products containing less than 0.2% THC are not considered to be “cannabis” or “marijuana.” Licensed producers of industrial hemp in the UK can now, therefore, market CBD products directly to UK citizens. The UK also accepts imports of CBD products, but imported CBD products are subjected to intense scrutiny before approval.
Is CBD flower legal in the UK?
Let’s start with a statement of opinion: It should be. We don’t say this from a stance of CBD activism—even though we strongly believe in the benefits of this cannabinoid. According to the UK’s own stance on CBD, hemp flower containing high concentrations of CBD and less than 0.2% THC should be legal in this country. The irony of the situation is compounded by the fact that the UK is one of the world’s biggest hemp and cannabis producers.
Regardless of the dictates of common sense, the UK Home Office has declared that CBD flower products fall under the definition of “cannabis” as outlined in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. According to the Home Office’s Jill Frankham, “the leaves and flowers of the genus Cannabis are controlled and defined as cannabis,” and confirms that the UK government defines cannabis as “any plant of the genus cannabis or any part of any such plant” aside from hemp seeds, stalks, and fiber.
Therefore, even CBD flower products that contain less than 0.2% THC are considered to be “cannabis” in the UK, and they are, therefore, classified as Schedule I controlled substances. Regardless of this position, plenty of retailers currently sell CBD flower online in the UK. It even appears that a CBD flower retail shop operates in downtown London. CBD flower enforcement may not be the UK government’s biggest priority right now, but by the letter of the law, any resin-bearing part of the Cannabis sativa plant is illegal in the UK regardless of the cannabinoids it contains.
Potential ramifications of possessing CBD flower in the UK
In recent years, the UK has updated its drug possession laws to make cannabis a Class B drug. Therefore, cannabis is no longer considered to be as dangerous as cocaine or heroin in the UK, but cannabis possession still comes with weighty potential penalties.
If you’re caught with cannabis in the UK, you could be issued with a £90 fine. Depending on the amount of cannabis you’re caught possessing, you could face up to five years in prison and a larger fine. Unlike in the United States, where fines for crimes are usually capped at a certain amount, the UK government can fine you as much as it wants if you’re caught possessing cannabis.
In the United States, it’s becoming increasingly common for judges to toss out cases of marijuana possession for CBD flower with less than 0.3% THC. That’s because U.S. law clearly delineates between marijuana flower and hemp flower. Even when it hasn’t yet been processed into extracts or finished products, hemp flower is considered to be in an inherently separate category from the illegal drug marijuana in the USA.
Due to what some would call a mere technicality of verbiage, however, UK law views hemp flower as “cannabis,” an illegal drug, regardless of how much or how little CBD it contains. Therefore, asking a UK court to lab test your CBD flower to prove that it contains less than 0.2% THC isn’t likely to get you very far.
While cops in the United States have learned to be cautious when making arrests for marijuana possession since it’s almost indistinguishable from legal hemp flower, law enforcement in the UK hasn’t been forced to make this distinction. As a result, if you’re caught with anything that even remotely resembles or smells like marijuana in the UK, you might be charged with cannabis possession, and you’d be unlikely to have any recourse in a UK court.
Is it worth the risk?
The UK’s position on marijuana is nothing like it used to be. The UK government understands that its people want to smoke both CBD-rich hemp and THC-rich marijuana, and enforcement of existing cannabis laws has slackened as a result. Instead of being taken to jail, marijuana smokers who get caught by UK police are usually slapped with a small fine and asked to go about their business.
Under UK law, however, there’s no limit to the fine you might be penalized with for possessing what this nation’s government deems to be “cannabis.” The maximum amount of prison time you could face is five years, but a simple case of marijuana possession could financially ruin you as well as take away a big chunk of your life.
There’s no doubt that the UK government currently has bigger fish to fry. Hunting down every single CBD flower user in the country and trying them for marijuana possession would require resources that the UK simply can’t afford to allocate right now. If you do decide to use CBD flower in the UK, just remember two things:
- Just because they’re silly doesn’t mean that UK cannabis laws can’t hurt. You might be fully convinced that CBD-rich hemp flower and THC-rich marijuana are inherently different, but good luck convincing the UK government of your position.
- Discreet, responsible CBD hemp flower use in the UK is unlikely to get you arrested or even draw suspicion. Plenty of UK citizens smoke marijuana already, and even though the UK government could technically fine you as much as it wants for marijuana possession, the vast majority of marijuana fines stick to the £90 minimum.
The evolving status of UK cannabis law
As we mentioned earlier, the UK is in the paradoxical position of being the world’s largest exporter of cannabis while subjecting its citizens to some of the globe’s strictest cannabis laws. Plenty of countries around the world still have relatively conservative positions toward intoxicating marijuana, and it’s only natural to take this subject seriously. When a nation cultivates kilos upon kilos of marijuana per year but prevents its citizenry from even smoking non-intoxicating hemp flower, however, hypocrisy is afoot that will need to be resolved one way or the other.
There are some promising signs that cannabis legislation in the UK is headed in the right direction. Medical marijuana was legalized in the UK in 2018, for instance, even though it remains practically impossible to get a medical cannabis prescription in this country. It took until January of 2020 for the first cannabis prescription to be filled in the UK, and millions of UK citizens continue to wait in line for their chance to purchase cannabis legally.
It appears that cannabis legalization in the UK will end up being catalyzed from without instead of from within. The international cannabis industry was shaken to its core when Artemis Growth Partners purchased UK marijuana producer Bridge Farm for $105 million in May 2020. This deal was one of the largest in the history of the cannabis industry, and it may incentivize the UK government to adopt more lenient perspectives toward cannabis in general.
Should UK citizens purchase CBD flower?
If and when recreational cannabis becomes legalized in the UK, this nation's stance toward CBD flower will be forced to change as well. CBD oil and other processed CBD products are already legal in the UK, and CBD flower prohibition only remains in place due to antiquated legal verbiage that equates all Cannabis sativa plant material with intoxicating marijuana regardless of the dominant cannabinoid it contains. With cannabis no longer illegal in the UK, CBD-rich hemp flower will also be liberated from its current legal gray area.
It might be some time until these changes come to pass, however. The UK government has taken a remarkably slow approach to getting its medical marijuana market off the ground, and this country seems content for the time being to supply the rest of the world with cannabis products while depriving its own citizenry.
If you want to stay strictly within the letter of the law, now might not be the right time to purchase CBD flower in the UK. Even if you get caught, you aren’t likely to be fined any more than £90, but you could potentially face far more serious consequences. On the other hand, it’s high time that the UK government changed its position on non-intoxicating, CBD-rich hemp flower, and you may choose to help spur this revolution by using CBD flower as a UK citizen and petitioning your government to adopt a more enlightened view on this subject.