UK Halts CBD Imports As It Enforces Strict Rules On Trace THC Levels

A CHANGE of direction from the Home Office has put a stop to some bulk CBD imports over concerns they have ‘illegal’ levels of THC.

This development follows a January request by Police and Justice Minster Kit Malthouse for further clarity on the levels of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) in CBD products.

The Home Office now requires all businesses who import bulk CBD isolates or distillates to secure a Schedule One Controlled-Drug Licence – these are usually the preserve of researchers or medical cannabis companies.

However, hopes have emerged for a speedy resolution to the disruption after the Home Office confirmed to BusinessCann that it is looking to encourage the development of a ‘safe and legitimate CBD consumer industry’.

But, with the UK CBD industry just weeks away from becoming ‘legitimised’ through the Novel Food regulatory framework, the development is causing concern and frustration for businesses.

Bombshell For The Industry

Steve Oliver, Co-Founder of The Canna Consultants, described these developments as both confusing and potentially worrying for the industry.

He said: “This will have the potential to label businesses unlawful overnight. It’s equivalent to dropping a bomb on the industry and is effectively telling all CBD businesses, which have previously believed that they were operating legally, that they are now being unlawful.”

A Home Office spokesperson told BusinessCann: The relevant legislation, and the Home Office’s position, has not changed. CBD, as an isolated substance in its pure form, is not a controlled drug.

“However, if a produce contains THC or other controlled cannabinoids, then it is highly likely this product would be controlled.”

End Of 1mg Per Pack Rule

As the CBD industry has grown in recent years, the Home Office has allowed a ‘lawful’ trace element of THC to be measured at 1mg per pack – which is essentially equivalent to a speck of dust.

This in itself has been slightly baffling to industry participants as the same levels apply to a one kilo pack, as to a 10ml bottle. However, this peculiarity is now being re-examined by the Home Office.

The first indications that it was looking again at THC levels in CBD products emerged in a January letter from Mr Malthouse to UK regulators the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

In it he asked the ACMD to draw up new guidelines on THC levels, with options to increase or decrease permitted ‘trace’ levels.

The ranges proposed by Mr Malthouse vary from 0.01% THC to 0.0001%.

If the ACMD settles on the 0.01% guidance this would allow THC levels to increase, for example; 0.01% THC in a 10ml bottle equates to the existing 1mg, but in a 30ml bottle that rises to 3mg.

However, the second suggested level would have seriously damaging consequences for the industry. It would make it practically impossible to remove all THC, at a level down to one hundredth of a milligram.

Phillip Glyn, Commercial Director of Vitality CBD, said: “A percentage marker for THC would be a positive development for the industry.

“But there has to be an element of common sense to this; the 0.01% threshold would alleviate the pressure, but one hundredth of a milligram is just not viable. At these extremely low levels there are no psychoactive effects from THC, as it is.”

Immediate Impact On Industry

When the contents of the Malthouse letter were first made public in late January, the industry did not anticipate it would have an immediate impact – but that was soon to change.

Late last week one of the UK’s leading testing facilities Fera Science – who handle much of the UK’s CBD analysis and testing work – sounded the alarm.

Word quickly spread round the industry that Fera was only able to test CBD imports from businesses with a Schedule One Controlled-Drug Licence.

CBD isolate imports generally contain around 100mg of THC per kilogram, whilst for distillates that could amount to 500mg per kilo of THC. Strict rules prevent UK businesses making their own CBD bulk ingredients.

The UK CBD industry is said to be worth some £300m, with six million regular users, and imports valued at several hundred thousand pounds a month.

BusinessCann has learnt that Border Force is now impounding and destroying some CBD imports, where previously it was allowing them to progress into the UK with a Certificate of Authorisation demonstrating THC levels.

Securing a Schedule One Licence can take up to eight weeks, perhaps even longer during the pandemic. It will be several months before the ACMD offers its advice.

Crisis Talks This Week

BusinessCann understands that representations are being made to the Home Office by industry participants with hastily-arranged meetings set for later this week.

One knock-on effect could be on applications for UK Novel Food validation, which effectively closes on February 10. We are waiting to hear from the Food Standards Agency on how it is approaching these developments.

However, the Home Office, in a background note for BusinessCann, did indicate its long-term position as being supportive of the CBD industry.

Saying ‘We have asked the ACMD to provide advice on how we can strengthen the law on consumer CBD products.

‘We hope this advice will allow us make sure the law is clear and that these products are safe for consumers so those who seek to create legitimate, safe CBD consumer products, are able to do so more easily’.

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Mr Oliver remains critical of the Home Office’s scattergun approach. He added: “On the one hand the Government has provided funding – to the Laboratory of the Government Chemists, jointly with the Home Office and the Office for Product Safety and Standards – to conduct a ring trial, and asked the ACMD to look at an acceptable level of controlled cannabinoids.

“But, now we have this action from the Home Office which prevents the manufacture and analysis of ingredients and products.”

Cannabis lawyer Robert Jappie, a partner at Ince, said: “The lack of clarity on the 1mg rule has been an issue for the CBD industry for a number of years.

“I would absolutely welcome Home Office clarity on minor THC components in CBD products, but it has to be done in a way that is supportive of the industry.

“I hope the Home Office will consult with industry stakeholders to reach a sensible and clear position which will allow the CBD sector to continue to grow.”

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