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Cannabis in the UK: London Backs Legalization and "Millions Misled over CBD"

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jul 04, 2019   
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It’s been a momentous month for cannabis news in the United Kingdom. London played host to Europe’s premier medical cannabis conference, a shocking CBD industry report was released, and the country finally saw its first major cannabis attitude poll since the legalization of medical cannabis last year. 

Below, we’ve collated the biggest headlines out of the UK from the past two weeks, so you don’t miss out on any of the conversation. 

New CBD report calls for better regulation, legal clarity

An investigation by the Times newspaper is suggesting that millions of British consumers are being misled by companies that are exploiting the cannabidiol (CBD) health craze. 

In new laboratory tests, organized by the new trade body the Centre of Medicinal Cannabis, more than half of the CBD products tested didn’t contain the levels of CBD promised on the label; only 11 of the 29 products tested were within a 10 percent margin of the advertised CBD content. 

A further 11 contained less than 50 percent of the advertised CBD content, with one product – a 30ml high street pharmacy product costing £90 – containing 0 percent total CBD. Another surprising product was one that contained 3.8 percent ethanol. For comparison, some alcoholic beers contain as little as 3.4 percent ethanol.  

Additionally, almost half of the selected products tested contained measurable levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, mean content 0.04 percent) or CBN (cannabinol, mean content 0.01 percent), bringing the legality of these products into question. 

While industrial hemp, the raw material from which most CBD products are made, may legally contain up to 0.2 percent THC, this rule doesn’t necessarily apply to the finished CBD products. According to guidance from the Home Office, if a CBD product containing any other controlled substances, like THC or CBN, it is highly likely that the product will also be controlled. 

Despite this, a position paper from the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association notes that some CBD products may be able to qualify as a legally “exempt product” (defined in Regulation 2(1) of the 2001 Misuse of Drug Regulations) and so would be able to contain up to 1 milligram of THC legally per container of product.

Clarifying the confusion over these legal limits is just one of the asks being made of the government and others by the Centre of Medicinal Cannabis. The conclusion of the report also recommends that the government consult with the CBD industry to devise new working regulations and offer support and asks regulators to focus their enforcement actions on priority harms and to assist in educating the public about CBD. 

The Centre also wants the medical profession in the UK to help with supporting CBD research and generally taking the drug seriously and asks the industry to be socially responsible and undertake voluntary self-regulation to ensure product quality and safety. 

Nearly half of UK and two-thirds of Londoners support recreational cannabis legalization

Also making headlines was a new major poll from the Evening Standard which showed Britain’s fast-changing attitude to cannabis legalization. 

The poll, carried out by the independent think-tank Volteface, found that 63 percent of London residents support the total legalization and regulation of cannabis, which is currently a Class B drug carrying an unlimited fine and/or up to 5 years in jail for possession or 14 years for supply and production. Just 18 percent of residents in the capital city expressed opposition to the idea.

In the country at large, 47 percent of the 2,037 British adults surveyed supported legalization, with 30 percent opposing and 20 percent claiming to neither support nor oppose the idea. A further 3 percent answered that they didn’t know. This is a rather dramatic shift from the last major opinion poll, conducted last summer by YouGov, which found 43 percent of their 1,654 respondents in support of legalization, compared to 41 percent in opposition.

As well as asking about general support or opposition, the latest poll also looked into what arguments in support or against legalization that the public found the most compelling. 

Of the statements offered in support of legalization, economic factors held the most sway. Seventy-two percent found it persuasive that legalization could potentially divert around £2.5 billion away from black market criminals and into the regular economy, and 68 percent were compelled by the ability to use a predicted £1 billion of tax revenue raised on public services. 

Health reasons and criminal justice arguments were also rated strongly, with 68 percent convinced by the argument that legalization would allow authorities to regulate the strength and potency of cannabis being sold. Sixty-six percent were also persuaded by a potential reduction in children’s ability to access cannabis, and another 66 percent were compelled by the idea that legalization would lead to less drug violence. 

The arguments found most compelling against legalization were that it could lead to more car accidents (65 percent compelling), an increase in cannabis-related mental health problems (63 percent), and that it could lead to the legalization of other drugs (49 percent). 

Speaking of the poll, Liz McCulloch, the directory of policy for Volteface, said: “This is the first time the public have been asked what arguments for and against they find most convincing.”

“The result shows the economic incentive is most prominent, as well as health concerns to limit potency of cannabis, which probably reflects concerns around the harms of high potency cannabis known as skunk. The link between heavy use of skunk and psychosis rightly worries the public, so legalisation campaigners would have to assure the public that it would lead to fewer mental health cases, not more.” 

The Evening Standard has claimed that the commissioned poll marks the start of a continued investigation by the newspaper into cannabis reform. 

London welcomes cannabis industry experts to the Cannabis Europa conference

From June 24 - 25, over 1,200 delegates attended Cannabis Europa London 2019, Europe’s premier medical cannabis conference, to discuss the biggest questions facing the European cannabis industry. The event gathered cannabis industry experts from the worlds of politics, finance, healthcare and science, and included keynote speeches from the best and the brightest. 

Kicking off the proceedings, co-founder of Cannabis Europa George McBride told the audience: “Around the world countries are changing their laws at an ever-increasing pace to allow access to medicines derived from this fantastic plant.”

“I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has come along and shown an interest in this sector, shown an interest in this plant. And is helping push things along so that we can provide access to medicines for everyone who needs it, build an industry that’s spread around the globe and provide jobs for everyone in this room and hopefully have some fun along the way.”

Following the opening address from McBride, headline partner and chief operations officer of Aurora Cannabis, Cam Battley, took the stage with a speech celebrating the mainstreaming and professionalization of the cannabis industry.

The next two days saw speeches and panel discussions that tackled European investment, the responsibilities of the industry, CBD regulations, business leadership, tackling misinformation, and more. 

Closing out the event was a “Cross Party Cannabis // UK Politics” discussion, which saw the BBC’s Andrew Neil moderate a panel including Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, and Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens, in a discussion of the UK’s cannabis debate. 

A full program for the event, complete with a list of speakers, can be found on the Cannabis Europa website, alongside a more detailed summary of the proceedings. Selected highlights from the social media hashtag #CannabisEuropa have also been collated online.

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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