Here’s a tricky question we’re often asked: do you need a licence to sell CBD in the UK?
With more than 1.6 million people in the UK claiming to be regular CBD consumers, according to the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry, there’s a large market to serve.
It’s important for their peace of mind that they can trust the products they buy, safe in the knowledge these items have been rigorously checked to ensure high overall standards.
So, do you need a licence to sell CBD in the UK? Read on to find out.
Please note – this blog is not intended to be legal advice. Please consult a qualified lawyer if seeking legal advice.
For retailers – do you need a licence to sell CBD in the UK?
Firstly, it’s worth bearing in mind that CBD is legal in the UK as long as it does not contain more than 1 mg of THC per pack. THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid from the Cannabis sativa plant responsible for producing a ‘high’, it’s a controlled substance in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
There are steps in place to ensure that by the time CBD companies’ products reach retail outlets, they have met this criteria and are safe to consume – more on these shortly.
Check out our previous article detailing the assurances that retail stores are looking for when they stock other brands’ CBD products.
Retailers do not need a specific licence to sell CBD in the UK, like they must have to sell alcohol. Unlike CBD, alcohol is a psychoactive drug, therefore retailers need a licence to prove they understand the relevant laws and wider social responsibilities around selling it.
However, retailers intending to sell other companies’ CBD products can only do so as food supplements or nutritional supplements and “must ensure these products are correctly authorised” by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
For CBD companies – do you need a licence to sell CBD in the UK as a supplement?
Companies which produce CBD products to sell in the UK targeting the wellness market – such as oils and gummies – need a validated novel food application.
These are the assessments required and estimates for how long the different stages take (some can happen simultaneously and the overall process may take about nine months):
- Full toxicology assessment: 8-9 months
- Stability assessment: at least 6 months
- Product manufacturing data for at least 5 batches: 5 months
- Total ADME assessment: 2-3 months
- Genotoxicology studies: 6-7 weeks
- Detailed information on typical CBD exposure and usage: 2-3 weeks
- Risk assessment and risk mitigation plan: 2-3 weeks
- Submission of additional supporting data: 2-3 weeks
For CBD companies – do you need a licence to sell CBD in the UK as a medicine?
Companies producing CBD-based medicines also need a licence. All medical products in the UK are regulated by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Without this licence, companies must not make any medicinal claims about their CBD products.
In November 2018, cannabis-based medicines became legal in the UK – but only under exceptional circumstances and to be prescribed by a specialist hospital doctor, not a GP.
Since then Epidyolex, a purified liquid containing CBD, has been approved to treat two rare forms of epilepsy.
With research into the potential wider benefits of CBD still ongoing, it is still very rare for anyone to be prescribed CBD in the UK, except for such very specific medical conditions.
For hemp growers – do you need a licence to cultivate industrial hemp?
To grow industrial hemp in the UK for the purposes of CBD production, you need to apply for an industrial hemp licence from the Home Office.
Applicants must register on the controlled drugs licensing system, ensuring anyone named in the application has had a valid Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check carried out by Security Watchdog.
Fees include £580 to cultivate cannabis plants with THC content at 0.2% or below for fibre and seeds, as well as £326 for each licence renewal or £1,371 if a visit is required.
CBD flower or buds are illegal to possess or sell in the UK.
How to set up and establish a licensed CBD business
We’ve written a six-step guide on how to become a CBD oil distributor in the UK. Our advice is to:
- Know your market
- Write a business plan
- Register the business
- Establish your brand
- Choose your products
- Join trade organisations
As part of these steps, it’s also important to factor in the relevant licensing and regulatory requirements, as detailed earlier.
How consumers can verify that CBD products are from licensed companies
In-store and online in particular, to ensure any CBD you buy is legal and from a supplier with the right licence, only consider companies with a good reputation.
Quality assurance is essential because CBD can be mislabelled by providers which aren’t transparent about what’s in their products.
Consumers should look for the company’s certification from an ISO accredited lab using a detection limit of 0.01%, or proof of licensing, to do their due diligence.
If you’re purchasing CBD from a new company, always carry out some online research and read their customer reviews first.
Summary: do you need a licence to sell CBD in the UK?
In the UK, retailers do not need a licence to sell CBD products which aren’t their own – the onus is on the manufacturer instead, so:
- Businesses wanting to sell CBD-based medicines need a licence from the MHRA
- Companies producing CBD products to sell as supplements, for health and wellness purposes, need validated novel food authorisation from the FSA
Novel food applications take lots of time and money, because they have to be thorough. Using wholesale raw materials or white label products, already covered by the required application, saves a lot of hassle.