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    Do You Need A License To Sell CBD In The UK?

    5 min

    CBD, short for Cannabidiol, is one of over 100 different cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis sativa plant.

    Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive ingredient responsible for the "high" associated with recreational cannabis use, CBD does not produce any intoxicating effects, but it is thought to have a number of beneficial effects on the human body.

    While CBD has been growing in popularity in recent years, its legality can sometimes be unclear.

    Currently, there are two main ways companies can offer CBD taken orally in the UK: as a food supplement and as a medicine.

    If you're using CBD as part of a product that requires medical approval, then the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will regulate that, and you'll need to obtain a license from them for your product. These medical items include:

    • Electronic cigarettes and refills
    • Implants, such as breast implants
    • Medical devices
    • Medicines that claim to treat certain health conditions
    • Medications that promote smoking cessation

    If your product does not fall under one of these categories and only contains trace amounts of THC, then it will most likely fall under the food supplement category.

    Selling CBD As A Food Supplement

    Orally taken CBD is legal for use without a prescription in the UK, provided that it’s sold as a food supplement or food and not advertised as a medicine.

    If you live in the UK, it may be surprising to know that up until fairly recently you didn’t need any sort of license or approval to sell CBD products - pretty much anyone could buy or sell these products without any legal repercussions.

    Sadly, as with any new trend, poor quality brands began to appear as people sought to make a quick buck and the market was flooded with sub-quality products making unsubstantiated claims about what their products can do.

    In order to create better regulation within the market, in 2019 the EU listed CBD as a novel food, and shortly afterwards the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that businesses selling CBD in the UK would need to submit a valid application before the 31st of March 2021 in order to continue selling their products.

    Novel Foods Regulations

    As of March 2021, anyone selling or importing CBD products needs to apply for a Novel Food license.

    According to the Novel Food Regulation, novel foods must:

    • Be safe for human consumption
    • Not mislead consumers about their health effects
    • Be sold with warning labels regarding any possible risks associated with ingestion
    • Be compliant with a set of general provisions in the law

    The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) decides whether or not to grant these licenses, so if you intend to sell CBD in the UK, you will need to contact them and submit a full application for your products.

    To legally sell CBD in the UK, regulatory bodies expect that it must:

    • Be manufactured in a facility that is registered with the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
    • Go through regular inspection
    • Not contain THC or illegal/harmful ingredients, such as pesticides, heavy metals, or bacteria
    • Be free from allergens
    • Not cause any damage to the environment if people flush it down the toilet

    Selling CBD Products As A Medicine

    The UK legalized cannabis for medical use in exceptional circumstances in 2018 after the cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley drew attention from the media.

    In the UK, the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) regulates substances and products that are classified as medicines.

    This means that you cannot legally sell CBD as a medicine in the UK unless you obtain an appropriate license from the MHRA, which ensures that your CBD product does what it claims to and that it is safe for human consumption.

    Once approved, medicinal CBD products can only be used in the UK if a doctor has prescribed it, and NHS guidance dictates that medical cannabis should only be described when all other options for treatment have been exhausted, and where there’s published evidence of it’s benefit.

    Given how little research has been conducted on the effects of CBD, and potentially because there is still a stigma around cannabis in general, it’s still highly unlikely that someone would get a prescription for CBD in the UK.

    What About Growing Hemp In The UK?

    Believe it or not, growing hemp in the UK is actually legal, but there are a lot of restrictions and a license is required.

    First, the grower will need to pass an enhanced DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check, before submitting an application to the Home Office to grow hemp for industrial purposes.

    In this application you’ll need to provide details about where you intend to grow the crop, ensuring it’s not publicly accessible, close to any schools, and is otherwise safe for the general public.

    You’ll also be limited to the type of seeds you can use to grow the plants, and once the crop has been harvested the stalks, leaves and flowers need to be destroyed, which limits the potential uses for crops grown in the UK.

    The license to grow hemp costs around £580 for the first year, and then around £326 to renew each year.

    The Bottom Line

    The bottom line is that you’ll need a license from the MHRA to sell CBD as a medicinal product in the UK, otherwise you’ll need approval from the FSA to sell your CBD products as a food supplement.

    Although these regulations may seem frustrating for someone looking to get into the CBD market, they are a blessing for consumers.

    Increased regulations and stricter controls around the quality of the products brought about by the Novel Foods regulations means that people are now far more likely to get a quality product when buying CBD in the UK.

    If you’re shopping around for CBD products, make sure you buy from a company that provides lab test certificates that show the cannabinoid profile of their products so that you can be sure you’re buying a top-quality product.

    Disclaimer: this article is for informational purposes only. Regulations could change over time as new evidence about CBD continues to appear in scientific circles around Britain and Europe, so please seek professional legal advice.

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