Even though marijuana is being increasingly accepted by governments across the world (including Canada and many U.S. state governments), the UK government is, by and large, holding fast to its traditional position that marijuana is a dangerous drug, the possession of which is a criminal offense.
It has, however, responded to massive public pressure, by softening its stance on the issue of pure CBD, the medicinal properties of which it has finally begun to recognize, however, its current attempts to square the circle of emphasizing its anti-marijuana credentials while being seen to respond to public demand for medical marijuana is leading to legal complexity and intense frustration for those in medical need.
Here is a brief guide to CBD and the laws in the UK, however, please note that this is subject to change. While this is true of all laws it is arguably most true of laws relating to topical issues and to sensitive issues and the issue of medical marijuana is, arguably both.
The possession of marijuana plants is illegal
There is no if, but or maybe about this and no exceptions (as yet) for the new strains of zero-THC marijuana plants. A quirk of the law allows for the possession of marijuana seeds, but it is illegal to germinate them.
CBD oil which contains less than 0.2% THC is totally legal
The CBD products you see in mainstream retailers are probably made from hemp rather than cannabis and are guaranteed to contain less than 0.2% THC as this is the reason they are outside the scope of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
CBD oil can only be advertised as having medical properties if it has been licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
In general, mainstream retailers slide neatly around this issue by advertising CBD products as being nutritional or cosmetic supplements and relying on the fact that anyone interested in the products can do a quick internet search of non-regulated content to find out more about the benefits these products can offer.
CBD vape stores are something of a legal no-man’s-land
Theoretically, anything which does not actively break the law is legal, therefore as long as CBD vape stores ensure that their products contain less than 0.2% THC, they should be outside the scope of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and hence of no interest to the law. It has been noted, however, that the police appear to take a different view of the matter and there have been reports of them attempting to seize CBD-vaping products and while the legality of these actions may be highly questionable (although it has to be recognized that there may have been other factors involved), owners of these stores appear to be taking the general view that dealing with the possibility of such raids is more hassle than it’s worth and are therefore increasingly conducting their sales online, so that it is harder for the police to determine where they keep their stock.
CBD oil which contains more than 0.2% THC is legal for those who have a valid prescription
When Sajid Javid announced that, as of 2019, it would be permissible for people to access CBD-based products with more than 0.2% THC, provided that they have a valid prescription, his move received widespread, positive media coverage. As is often the case with the law, however, the devil is in the detail. In short, while it is indeed now legal to access cannabis products with more than 0.2% THC provided that you have a valid prescription, it is nearly impossible to obtain such a prescription. Basically, prescriptions for medical CBD-products can only be issued by specialist doctors (rather than General Practitioners) and only when it can be shown that there is an “exceptional clinical circumstance” and, possibly most frustratingly of all, that “no other lawful medicinal [other than cannabis] is available that would meet the specific needs of the patient.” This last point, of course, raises the question of how, exactly, you prove a negative.
EU freedom of movement laws are irrelevant in this situation
As anyone following the Brexit negotiations will be only too aware, freedom of movement is at the heart of the EU and applies to people, capital, goods, and services. There is, however, a proviso to this, which is that member states have the right to restrict freedom of movement provided that they do so in a non-discriminatory manner. In other words, the UK cannot allow domestic marijuana production while forbidding imports from the EU, but it can (attempt to) ban, or at least heavily-regulate, marijuana-related products as long as it applies the regulations equally to domestic producers as well as international ones. On the plus side, the fact that the regulation of marijuana lies within the purview of the UK government does mean that any advances which are made should not be negated in the event of a hard Brexit.
Having said all that, it may be worth noting that the fact that CBD products with less than 0.2% THC are legal in the UK means that it is perfectly legal to import such products from the EU and those looking for CBD oil to use for medical purposes may find that they are able to obtain a better selection from European suppliers, especially in countries such as the Netherlands where medical marijuana has been legal for many years.
A work in progress
The difficulty of obtaining a legal prescription for marijuana-based products was highlighted recently by the case of Emma Appleby, who made headlines when she resorted to bringing medical cannabis back from Amsterdam as she was unable to obtain a prescription for it, even though her daughter Teagan suffered from Isodicentric 15 (a rare chromosomal disorder), as well as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and regularly suffered life-threatening seizures, which only responded to cannabis-based medication. The resulting publicity saw Teagan issued with a prescription and the medication returned with the government indicating that new guidance may be issued to doctors to make it easier (perhaps that should be possible), to obtain prescriptions.