The United Kingdom is home to GW Pharmaceuticals, one of the most respected names in cannabinoid research and development. It’s also the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis, so you’d think the UK would have reasonable CBD laws.
While it’s possible to purchase many types of CBD products in the UK, this nation’s CBD flower law remains mired in a murky gray area. Based on this nation’s stance toward CBD oil, CBD flower should be legal in the UK.
Even so, puffing on a CBD joint on London Bridge might not be the best idea. Let’s explore the complexities of CBD law in the UK and find out whether it’s a good idea to smoke hemp in this country.
Legal definition of CBD flower
Chances are you already have a pretty good idea of what CBD flower is. It’s like cannabis 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.
What is the legal definition of CBD flower, and how does it vary from the definition of cannabis? 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 cannabis product.
The exact percentage threshold differs around the world, but most countries with CBD laws limit THC concentrations somewhere near 0.3%. It’s widely accepted that THC will not get you high when consumed at this concentration.
As the United States has demonstrated, it’s not that hard to delineate between intoxicating cannabis 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
UK cannabis law mainly stems from the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. Starting in the 1960s, the United States took a firm stance against drug culture, and the USA’s allies were quick to follow suit.
This act labels “cannabis” as a controlled drug — a choice of words that 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. Imported CBD products, however, 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.
As strongly as we may believe in the benefits of this cannabinoid, we don’t say this from a position of CBD activism. According to the UK’s own stance on CBD, hemp flower containing ess than 0.2% THC should be legal.
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. The irony of the situation is compounded by the fact that the UK is one of the world’s biggest hemp and cannabis producers.
According to the Home Office’s Jill Frankham, “the leaves and flowers of the genus Cannabis are controlled and defined as cannabis.” This confirms the UK government’s definition of cannabis as “any plant of the genus cannabis or any part of any such plant” aside from hemp seeds, stalks, and fiber.
Even CBD flower that contains less than 0.2% THC is considered to be “cannabis” in the UK. It is, as a result, classified as a Schedule I controlled substance.
Regardless, plenty of retailers still sell CBD flower online in the UK. CBD flower retail shops even operate throughout London and other UK cities.
CBD flower enforcement may not be the UK government’s biggest priority right now. By the letter of the law, however, any resin-bearing part of the Cannabis sativa plant is illegal in the UK regardless of the cannabinoids it contains.
What happens if I’m caught with CBD flower in the UK?
The UK recently updated its drug possession laws to make cannabis a Class B drug. 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. The UK government can technically 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. Even when it hasn’t yet been processed into extracts or finished products, US law clearly delineates between hemp flower and the illegal drug cannabis.
Due to what some would call a mere technicality of verbiage, UK law views hemp flower as cannabis — an illegal drug regardless of how much or how little CBD it contains. As a result, asking a UK court to lab test your CBD flower to prove it contains less than 0.2% THC isn’t likely to get you very far.
Cops in the United States have learned to be cautious when making arrests for cannabis possession since it’s almost indistinguishable from legal hemp flower. Law enforcement in the UK, however, hasn’t been forced to make this distinction.
If you’re caught with anything that even remotely resembles or smells like marijuana in the UK, you might be charged with cannabis possession. Furthermore, you’d be unlikely to have any recourse in court.
Is it worth the risk?
The UK’s position on cannabis is nothing like it used to be. The UK government understands that its people want to smoke both CBD-rich hemp and THC-rich cannabis.
Enforcement of existing cannabis laws has slackened as a result. Instead of being taken to jail, cannabis smokers 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 cannabis. The maximum amount of prison time you could face is five years, but a simple case of cannabis possession could potentially spell financial ruin.
There’s no doubt 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 can’t be reallocated.
If you decide to use CBD flower in the UK, just remember two things:
- Just because they’re silly doesn’t mean UK cannabis laws can’t hurt. You might be fully convinced that CBD-rich hemp flower and THC-rich cannabis are inherently different, but good luck convincing the UK government.
- Discreet, responsible CBD hemp flower use in the UK is unlikely to get you arrested or even draw suspicion. Plenty of UK citizens smoke cannabis already. 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
The UK remains in the paradoxical position of being the world’s largest exporter of cannabis while simultaneously imposing some of the globe’s strictest cannabis possession laws. Plenty of countries around the world still have relatively conservative positions toward intoxicating cannabis — it’s only natural to take this subject seriously.
When a nation cultivates kilos upon kilos of cannabis per year but prevents its citizenry from smoking even non-intoxicating hemp flower, however, hypocrisy is afoot that will find a resolution one way or the other.
There are some promising signs that cannabis legislation in the UK is headed in the right direction. Medical cannabis 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 2020 for the first cannabis prescription to be filled in the UK. Millions of UK citizens continue to wait in line for their chance to purchase cannabis legally.
Cannabis legalization in the UK will likely end up being catalyzed from without instead of from within. High-profile deals like when when Artemis Growth Partners purchased UK marijuana producer Bridge Farm for $105 million in May 2020 may incentivize the UK government to adopt more lenient perspectives toward cannabis.
Should UK citizens purchase CBD flower?
CBD oil and other processed CBD products are already legal in the UK. If and when recreational cannabis becomes legalized in the UK, this nation's stance toward CBD flower will be forced to change as well.
UK CBD flower prohibition only remains in place thanks to antiquated legal verbiage equating all Cannabis sativa plant material with intoxicating cannabis regardless of its dominant cannabinoid. With cannabis no longer illegal in the UK, CBD-rich hemp flower will also be liberated from its current gray area.
It might take some time for these changes come to pass, however, and there’s no guarantee they’ll even come to pass. The UK government has taken a remarkably slow approach to getting its medical marijuana market off the ground. For the time being, this European country seems content to deprive its own people of cannabis while supplying the rest of the world with weed by the cargo container.
If you’d rather stay strictly within the letter of the law, wait 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.
What’s certain is that it’s high time the UK government changed its position on non-intoxicating, CBD-rich hemp flower. You might choose to help spur this revolution petitioning your government to adopt a more enlightened view on this subject either in writing or by action.
CBD flower in the UK FAQ
Let’s see if there’s anything else we can clear up about using CBD flower in the UK:
1. Are CBD flowers legal in the UK in 2021?
As of April 2021, the UK has not changed its stance on CBD flower. Despite being noted in prominent UK cannabis publications, the phenomenon of UK citizens using CBD flower remains firmly entrenched in a gray area that leans more toward the black market than main street.
To be perfectly clear — the entire flower of the cannabis plant is illegal in the UK. It doesn’t matter what cannabinoid it contains. It matters that it’s flower.
This position is illogical — it may even be paradoxical. Yet, it remains the official position of the UK government in 2021.
2. Is CBD bud legal in the UK?
The status of CBD flower law in the UK is confusing. The Home Office seems to believe hemp flower is the illegal drug cannabis, but the UK’s own laws indicate that CBD flower is the same as any other CBD product so long as it contains less than 0.2% THC.
For the sake of UK citizens who just want to use non-intoxicating CBD buds, we hope for regulatory clarity in the near future.
3. Are CBD joints legal in the UK?
Think you’re clever, eh? Nope, grinding it up and rolling it into a joint didn’t make your CBD flower more legal. That doesn’t meet the definition of “processing” laid down by the UK government, so even though it doesn’t look like a nug any more, your CBD joint is still illegal cannabis flower even if it contains less than 0.2% THC.