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CBD receives a boost in the United Kingdom, but bureaucracy slows progress

CBD is enjoying increased interest in the United Kingdom, and it looks as if the country may be on a slow journey towards cannabis legalization. Britain remains sceptical about the herb, but is taking cannabidiol (CBD) into consideration, and the government has even admitted that the compound has medicinal value.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an arm of the UK government, were the body that made the comments about CBD’s medicinal value. The statement doesn’t legalize the cannabis plant, but it does permit the distribution and sale of CBD products – a meaningful breaktzhrough for UK patients.

For now, the law unchanged, and the British classification of cannabis remains fairly similar to that of the United States – the herb is deemed to have “no medicinal value” under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. However, there is one key difference: unlike the U.S., cannabis isn’t categorized with LSD, heroin and other dangerous substances. Instead, they are Class A substances, while marijuana is Class B. But while psychoactive THC remains loathed by the government, attitudes toward CBD have changed, as more evidence about the plant’s unique ability to treat several serious illnesses has emerged.

Before the MHRA clarified its position on CBD, any talk that the compound could be used for medicinal purposes would potentially be breaking the law. Isolated CBD has been sold in the UK for a little while, but companies have faced restrictions in marketing products – for example, companies were warned off publishing testimonials from customers.

Many cannabis activists in the UK are encouraged by the MHRA’s change of heart, and hope that the normalization of medical cannabis through CBD could pave the way for more thorough legislation in the future.

CLEAR, a cannabis advocacy group in Britain, said that the news “could be very positive” and “force the beginning of cannabis regulation.” Indeed, if more and more people end up using cannabis, it would be much safer to offer legal access to products, rather than have consumers buy them off the market. Furthermore, a legal industry could help the government to raise more tax revenue.

Unfortunately, due to the Human Medicine Regulations of 2012, moving from the MHRA accepting CBD to a stage where Britain has a fully-fledged CBD market could take some time. Those regulations demand medicines be licensed and regulated before they can be sold. Therefore, shops selling CBD were required to close, and apply for and receive the necessary license before they could reopen. Following the MHRA’s announcement, businesses were given a three-month window to make these changes.

The strict timeframe is one burden, but the options afforded to retailers have proven just as restrictive. Businesses can apply for a marketing license to sell CBD, an herbal medicine registration or seek a special exemption. Not only are all three of these processes complex, they’re also very expensive.

In the UK, marketing applications cost in excess of £100,000 ($140,000), making the barriers to entry for smaller companies too high. Several clinical trials also have to be carried out to prove the safety of products. Only GW Pharmaceuticals, a company which already provides the permitted cannabis-derived Multiple Sclerosis prescription drug Sativex, has obtained a marketing license to retail CBD so far.

Herbal medicine registrations are much cheaper, coming in at about £6,000, or $8,200. However, for substances that have only just been legalized, the regulations for getting a registration are very strict. For a business to receive a herbal medicine registration for CBD, they would have to prove that CBD has been used as a traditional medicine for 30 years, and in the European Union for 15 years. Given that nearly all research into CBD has come this millennium, doing so would be difficult.

Not to mention, CBD is a cannabis compound and has the plant has been illegal in the United Kingdom for much longer than 30 years.

Special exemptions are very cheap, but again, obtaining one for CBD would be extremely tricky since the compound is so closely related to the prohibited cannabis.

However, many cannabis voices in the UK are concerned about the strength of the weed, commonly known as “skunk”, that is sold on the black market. Moreover, the illegal cannabis market is also associated with organized crime. Many therefore believe that a regulated marijuana industry could be beneficial.

CLEAR is also wary of shady CBD companies popping up and selling inferior products, a problem that the FDA has previously highlighted in the United States. Some companies make unfounded claims that their products can cure cancer, and these “get-rich-quick scam artists” are damaging to the overall industry.

Companies who lie about the amount of CBD that is in their products are at best misleading customers, and at worst are putting them at risk. Some may simply believe that CBD is ineffective by using a poor product, while others may be trying to medicate a serious ailment and end up taking less CBD in than they should. The best solution to this is a regulated market that requires companies to prove the concentration of CBD in their product. However, improving product quality only goes so far – improving access to the said product is the most important part of the process.

Following the revelations that access to CBD wouldn’t be widened overnight, the MHRA has taken a few steps back. The MHRA made a statement after meeting with Cannabis Trades Association (CTAUK) members, saying they will work with the CBD industry to meet the regulations.

Easy CBD access and medical marijuana legislation could still be a long way away. But at least the government now recognizes that CBD is different from THC-rich cannabis, and seems somewhat keen to find medical cannabis solutions for patients.

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