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Cannabis and CBD – the legal position

The use of CBD is growing strongly in the UK, with fast-increasing levels of products coming to market. From oils and tinctures to gym wear and bed linen, the CBD phenomenon continues to gain momentum.



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However, while CBD is in wide use, its link to cannabis often prompts questions about its legality and whether users can use it as freely as they currently are. 

Here, we answer the key questions around cannabis, CBD and what you can and can’t do if you are to remain on the right side of the law. 

Is cannabis illegal?

Cannabis is classed as an illegal substance by The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which details that possession can result in an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

The supply and production of cannabis carries a maximum sentence of an unlimited fine and/or up to 14 years in prison. 

Since the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, anyone caught in possession of cannabis for personal use can be issued with an on-the-spot penalty notice by police.  

The law was changed in November 2018 to allow expert doctors to legally prescribe cannabis for medical reasons, although it was specifically stated that this does not equate to legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. 

Full legal guidance can be found on the Government website here.

Can I use CBD legally? 

While there had never previously been a differentiation by the Government between the cannabis plant and some of its compounds, certain aspects are now able to be used legally, subject to stringent regulation. 

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the components of cannabis and was confirmed as being legal to use in January 2017, providing its Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content is under 0.2 per cent concentration.

As long as its content meets the legal requirements, CBD is not classed as a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or the Psychoactive Drugs Act 2016, so can be used without fear of prosecution. 

Is medical CBD more acceptable than the ‘nutritional supplement’ version?

Businesses which sell CBD as a medicine need a licence and Home Office permission to do so, which can be a hugely expensive and rigorous process. For a substance to be classified as being a medicine, it would need to satisfy the legal criteria of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. 

As an alternative to pursuing this route, many producers instead classify their CBD products as a nutritional supplement. As long as its THC content is below 0.2 per cent, this is legal in UK law.

What is the law around cannabis oil, is it the same as CBD?

There is an important distinction to make between CBD oil and cannabis oil.  

CBD oil which is sold legally in the UK has very low levels of THC and other components, to comply with legislation, and can be used without fear of prosecution.  

Cannabis oil, however, is made from a concentration of all of the components of the cannabis plant.

This not only means it is likely to have higher THC levels than the 0.2 per cent legal level, but also other cannabinoids which can also have an effect on users – this is often known as the ‘entourage effect’. It has, as a result, been identified as a ‘controlled substance’. 

What is the legal situation around growing cannabis?

It is illegal to grow hemp or cannabis regardless of its cannabinoid content without a licence and permission from the UK Home Office. 

Unless you have such permissions, you face prosecution, regardless of the cannabinoid content of the plants, or whether it is for personal use only. 

Will using cannabis be legalised in the future? 

Although the law was changed in 2018 to allow patients to be prescribed cannabis for medical reasons, on the authority of an expert doctor, there was no further amendment to the existing legislation, meaning using and possessing cannabis in all other circumstances remains illegal. 

While there are a number of high-profile campaigners for cannabis to be legalised, as yet there has been no movement by the Government to do so.