On January 11th, 2021 Kit Malthouse, Minister of State for Crime and Policing, sent a letter to the Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to assess the potential harms and misuse of CBD products marketed in the UK and to look at ways of amending the Misuse of Drugs Act (MoDA) and Misuse of Drugs Regulations (MDR) so as to define a limit of controlled cannabinoids at a level between 0.01 and 0.0001% by weight which would essentially make all full spectrum products, hemp tea, hemp flower and most broad spectrum products Schedule 1 substances with a Class B penalty. In short, this amendment would only allow CBD isolate products to be produced, manufactured and marketed.
The second amendment to the Act would be to change the definition of an ‘exempt product’, a clause which the industry had relied on as it made enforcement difficult. The exemption would change to products containing trace amounts of THC and other controlled cannabinoids being allowed only for ‘scientific or diagnostic purposes.’
Until 2018, under the Novel Foods Act, all CBD products were full/broad spectrum as they were ‘full botanical extracts’ to which there was evidence of historic use in the UK and Europe and it was CBD isolate that was prohibited as a Novel Food. This changed to include all cannabinoids as ‘Novel’ following pressure from the Home Office in 2017 and undoubtedly pressure from corporate lobby groups, concerned that the industry could impact on their share holders’ interests.
Outraged by these proposed amendments, Seed our Future wrote a critical review letter to Kit Malthouse and Owen Bowden-Jones, Chair of the ACMD to explain the obvious issues and harms to the public, the economy and the environment if these proposals are accepted. See the full response here
On the 5th March, we received a response which invited us to a meeting with Home Office officials to discuss the situation. We of course accepted the invitation and a meeting took place on the 15th March between Guy Coxall from Seed our Future, the Head of the Drugs Misuse and Firearms Unit and the Official leading on the CBD issue.
The Home Office officials explained that they were in ongoing discussions with several stakeholders and interested parties including the CMC, ACI and EIHA. That the ACMD were compiling evidence to look at acceptable levels that would be feasible and that they would be expecting advice in the summer.
A ring trial is taking place which involves the FSA, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategies and the LGC to look at testing methodologies to identify trace cannabinoids. Following the advice of all parties, the Home Office expect to legislate in the summer and then a six-month period will follow for the sector to make changes and apply for licences, described as a pathway that may be similar to Novel Foods.
At this point of the conversation, I explained that CBD, often at a ratio of at least 20:1 in hemp cultivars, completely counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, as confirmed by the ACMD in their 2008 report and that hemp products, which have been used for thousands of years are completely safe, that the past reports by the ACMD provided inconclusive evidence on the safety of cannabis and that the laws were political and not based on science.
When asked why they are looking into the CBD market when the safety is known and the 6 million people in the UK and millions more around the world who have used these products for years have relied on them for their health and wellbeing, the Head of the Unit explained:
“Why CBD? We were informed of lots of tests carried out by the CMC, negative articles in the Daily Mail and there was a general sense that these products might not be what they were being advertised to be. The THC levels were not what they say they are, and other contaminants had been found. We commissioned the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory to test 40 to 50 products. The results confirmed higher levels of THC in some products and some with no CBD at all. It was clear the industry was not being entirely honest with its customers. Was there a risk of safety in this unregulated market?
“Law enforcement was expressing concerns. The Home Office Licencing Department was frustrated with companies applying for low THC licences, wanting to produce CBD, but the law gives no scope for this as the THC levels should be 0%. This was not good for honest, good businesses who wanted to do this properly but rogue businesses were out there just putting these products on their shelves so we went to Ministers explaining there might be a public health concern and they said yes, look into this.”
“There was a lack of clarity in the law, so we looked to move the levels from zero to something more reasonable and levels that could be forensically tested for at a reasonable price so as not exclude too many businesses and with no risk to human health. Ministers also said they wanted to support the economy and position the industry so we have high standards for CBD products, so wherever they are sold in the world, you know that if you’ve got a British product, you’ve got a product which is more pure in CBD so that it’s highly recognised for that and therefore that’s the part of the market we can aim for.”
I responded by explaining that only having CBD isolate will cause a National public health issue and will have the opposite effect with the economy and our place in the world market. I asked, are you aware of the Endo Cannabinoid System?
“I’m not too familiar.”
So I gave a brief on the ECS, the importance of full spectrum, the Entourage Effect and explained that CBD is a completely different substance to whole plant due to emergent properties and that CBD on its own is ineffective for health and well-being, that the industry will collapse, the global competition and the effect this will have on the economy and our health. We have 6,000,000 users and farmers are missing out on 33,000 Euro’s per hectare as is seen with European farmers. The environment impacts on missing out on sustainable technologies, a green industrial revolution with bio-fuels, graphene technology, and hempcrete which can all help to mitigate climate change.
“The law doesn’t allow any of these well-being products. There can be no lawful product with any THC at all. This approach will allow more lawful products. You say these levels are too low, but asking the ACMD for advice at 0.01 – 0.0001% per controlled cannabinoid might collectively reach levels of 0.03 to 0.04. We need you and others feeding evidence into the ACMD. We need to stop companies selling unlawful products.
“One of the options for Ministers is to just accept the industry as it is, look at how much THC is in them and then make that the new lawful limit but of course there’s a lot of nervousness and some conflicting views on where the safety lies and considering the industry is completely unregulated, how do we stop a child taking them? We are really open to hearing these views and work out where we end up on this spectrum.”
“There is lots of evidence on full spectrum and the entourage effect being submitted to the ACMD and they will assess this and pass to Ministers for consideration. The Home Office will advise ministers on the ACMD findings with the views of stakeholders and interested parties. We will look at the impact on the economy in different scenarios and they have an economic Department for modelling, we will engage with the Department for Health and will put together the fullest picture for ministers.”
“The ACMD will publish their recommendations, as will the Government with their response.”
“It’s difficult to have a decision on cannabis in the round. Ministers have made their positions clear on this one. Ministers get to make those decisions and they don’t always agree with some of the evidence from the ACMD specifically and there’s a lot of politics around it. Cannabis has to be put to one side because Ministers have made a really clear decision on it and they are being clear with us that that’s not something they wish to re-visit, so obviously, in terms of it being a recreational drug, they don’t have an interest in shifting the position. But the medicinal position has shifted. This is why we need licencing to restrict diversion into criminal markets. We have a status quo that the government is happy with; supporting businesses and the economy. But within the bounds of these constraints and controls.”
“Any trace of THC would be liable for enforcement. We’re trying to address the distinction between the reality of the situation and where the law is. They are not anywhere near one another at the moment. On a technical level, yes. On a realistic level, all products, including those that are not full spectrum, are also within that space. There’s definitely going to be a shift and a change.”
“Ministers are very aware that no CBD is produced in the UK and the opportunity is there, this would be good for the economy so looking as a whole, drastically changing the market with this legislation is all part and parcel of this work.”
“Guidance for manufacturers, producers and consumers is really important. Information within current labelling and the range of products is too conflicting at the moment. Apply for a development licence. Feasibility of testing to these levels is currently uncertain.”
We were advised to pass evidence to both the Home Office and the ACMD. I explained that we had extensive evidence of the history of prohibition which shows that cannabis should never have been placed within MoDA, evidence that the risks of harm have been dramatically exaggerated and that the levels they are looking at would make the manufacture of healthy products impossible.
“The levels of controlled cannabinoids they are looking at are in line with where ministers are at. They are not looking at a safe upper limit but the lowest feasible detectable limit from a practical point of view to fit in with ministerial direction to future proof the legislation.”
“Education is also needed in various sectors, including enforcement, as their level of understanding is really, really low.”
“We are really keen to see any information you can share.”
This is the first time that Seed our Future have had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with the Home Office and as expected, the officials are in fact Civil Servants, carrying out their jobs as best they can with little in the way of resources, reliant almost entirely on the orders and desires of ministers, the advice of interested parties, some of which may have their own agendas, and of course the ACMD who are at times ignored and although supposedly independent, are surely guided by the desires of the Government.
We very much thank the Home Office officials for their willingness to engage, their honesty in setting out how things are, and we hope that this information will be useful in helping the industry to prepare for what is coming.
We are already preparing evidence-based reports which will be submitted to both the Home Office and the ACMD in the hope that logic and reason will prevail and that meetings will continue, not just in the area of CBD products but all areas of cannabis legislation. The advantage of this is that Civil Servants don’t have a four-year shelf life, but we can’t forget that it is the ministers, like Kit Malthouse, who instigate these ridiculous changes to legislation, which are blatantly not in the public interest and these ministers really need to realise that times, they are a-changing. They are not in a position that they can claim ignorance due to past government’s mistakes; they are knowingly continuing the harms upon the people they are elected to protect, and they will be held responsible.