Stop the presses. Alert the media. The British Government has finally entered the 21st Century on cannabis issues. This week, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) sent out letters informing Cannabidiol (CBD) producers, distributors and sellers that they have 28 days to cease and desist selling, supplying, promoting, advertising or processing orders of any and all products containing CBD.

The reason?

The government has recognized CBD as a legitimate medical product – therefore all those involved in commercial activities involving the same must now apply for a license to do so.

Per the MHRA, “We have come to the opinion that products containing cannabidiol (CBD) used for medical purposes are a medicine. Medicinal products must have a product licence (marketing authorisation) before they can be legally sold, supplied or advertised in the UK, unless exempt. Licensed medicinal products have to meet safety, quality and efficacy standards to protect public health.

18 companies have now received written notice from the agency, but the news is spreading like wildfire.

CBD is just one of the many cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant. It is also found in hemp. While a distant cousin to the more powerful THC (the cannabinoid in marijuana that causes not only the high, but also the most powerful pain reliever), CBD is frequently cited by many who use it as a powerful arsenal in their medicine chest for many ailments – from pain management to epilepsy cure for children.


The government is finally moving on at least a part of the legalization bandwagon – and in doing so directly contradicts its last official meme on cannabis as a drug. The Misuse of Drugs Regulations passed in 2001 claimed that no part of the cannabis plant had any medical efficacy whatsoever.

With record numbers of Britons using CBD products (particularly for medicinal purposes), the fact that there will be industry regulation also means that consumers will know with certainty what they are getting.


One of the first casualties of the news is Alchemy – one of the oldest head shops in London. Run by the 80 year old Lee Harris (also known for his revolutionary 70’s weed magazine Homegrown), the shop will be closing its doors (in part) thanks to the new requirements.

The move will also increase regulatory compliance costs in every part of the production and distribution chain – and may well lead to slight price increases if not patient shortages, at least initially, for customers of all CBD containing products (which also include hemp).

The other problem is that there are no clinical trial datum available at the moment. The MHRA states that “proof of efficacy generally relies on clinical trial evidence, and no products must be marketed pending any license application.”

That said, British pharma company GW Pharma, whose anti-epilepsy, CBD-based drug Epidiolex, has just completed successful Phase III trials in both the U.S. and Canada. It could be that the British government – which licensed the firm to produce both CBD and THC medication in 1998 – will be using the trial data from the company as a kind of national standard.

It is far too early to know.

In the meantime, with no word on how long the process will take, or what the requirements of regulation will be, patients are left in the lurch.

It could cause widespread buying sprees of the available drug from people who rely on the same – particularly as they are unsure of when they might be able to purchase more.


That said, since CBD can be obtained via hemp, the legal status of obtaining the same is still in limbo. While it may not be strictly legit, patients without product might be tempted to turn anywhere they can. The fact that British-based CBD vendors will need a license to sell the product or face a two year fine may well create a thriving international if not gray market beyond the reach of local regulators. It also may lead to a marked rise in home grow in the U.K.


The move to regulate CBD also comes less than two months after a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group of Drug Reform, which concluded that the refusal to recognize the medical efficacy of cannabis was “irrational”. Last year, a petition to legalize cannabis across the U.K. gathered enough signatures to prompt a debate in parliament about some kind of legislative reform.

The U.K. has been one of the slower western European countries to advance any kind of reform. With Spain, Germany, Italy, and Croatia all moving forward this year, this could be the British answer to the same.

Marijuana use (particularly of the medicinal kind) has a high acceptance among British citizens. The hippy counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s has also never really faded away in many parts of the country.

In addition, other medical trends, including the alarming rise of cancer and the faltering services offered by the National Health Service, have created real reasons why medical reform (at minimum) is potentially on the horizon.


Marijuana reform could certainly create a booming legal jobs market as well as tax base for a country reeling from news of economic uncertainty post Brexit. A marijuana tax for recreational use would also do wonders to cure a limping NHS.

The creation of regulations for CBD would certainly create the groundwork for regulations of an entire industry – much like the Colorado market (although for full recreational THC) began to create the same for the rest of the country two years ago. It might be with this move that the British government as well as medical establishment has conceded to the obvious and decided to take advantage of a changing global attitude towards pot.

With every majority English speaking country in the world right now (from the U.S. to Canada, South Africa and Australia plus of course Israel) moving steadily towards reform of some kind, British citizens are certainly not without news of reform elsewhere.

The pressure this creates to enact some kind of reform – even if CBD is only the first tepid step – is obviously beginning to have an impact on the government here.

The question really is what the reform will look like – starting with CBD – and how fast it will be implemented here, if not how.


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