Navigating the UK Cannabis Minefield

Cannabis is not legal in the UK. But is that the bottom line? The UK ‘s position on Cannabis and Cannabis-based products is full of holes, certain to confuse the average person. The cannabis laws in the UK affect everything from the wide availability of high potency “skunk” on the street, to the unregulated CBD products on the market. One thing is for certain though: the current stance on the plant is not effective for anyone.

What UK Cannabis is used for

The most surprising factor of the Cannabis argument is that, embarrassingly, the UK has been the world’s largest producer and exporter of medical Cannabis. This is despite the Government’s ongoing stance that the plant has “no therapeutic or medical value”. When this fact came to light in 2016, people were confused, to say the least.

However, the Home Office stress that Cannabis in raw form is not exported from the UK. Most of the product being exported from the UK was Sativex – a Cannabis-based anti-spasticity medication used to treat some forms of Multiple Sclerosis. Sativex is legal in the UK, when prescribed by a specialist doctor for this purpose. Yet, it is not available on the NHS (except prudently in Wales), and prescriptions from private clinics are rare and very expensive.

It would be easy to feel that the Government were allowing big corporations and pharmaceuticals to take advantage of the (seemingly secret) industry, while the average person is unable to reap the benefits.

The 2018 Rescheduling

Following a number of high-profile patient cases last year, including Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell – two children who suffer from rare forms of Epilepsy – the Government gave in to pressure to reschedule in the Misuse of Drugs Act 2001. The children’s parents had attempted to bring in Cannabis-based Medicinal Products (CBMPs) from other countries, which they said dramatically reduced their children’s seizures. However, the medications had been confiscated, due to their illegal status in the UK.

The rescheduling (November 2018) was designed to make CBMPs more available to patients, where “conventional” treatment had not been successful. There was also an expectation that more clinical studies would be carried out, as Cannabis was easier to attain legally.

Clinical Studies

This expectation wasn’t met. The position of the Government still seems to be the same, and clinical trials of Cannabis have not taken off. The opinion of the Select Committee on increased access to CBMPs is that Random Controlled Trials are needed. Many Doctors also feel that without this evidence, they are not willing to prescribe. It has also become a concern that many pharmaceutical companies are hesitant to make their products available for clinical research.

Industry Implications

CBD Industry

Another side of the Cannabis conversation in the UK is the wide availability of CBD products. The Government have come under fire in this respect, as well, after evidence that the industry is massively under-regulated. The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis carried out a review of the industry, and concluded that intervention was needed on a legal, regulatory and industry level.

All consumers in the UK need and deserve to be safe, informed and lawful when they choose a CBD product.”

– Blair Gibbs, CMC Policy Leader

Despite the Cannabidiol industry in the UK being one of the biggest in Europe, the majority of the material used for the products is imported from elsewhere.

Hemp Industry

Considering the size of the ever-growing CBD industry, and the (award-winning) size of the legal cannabis industry, it is surprising that such stringent restrictions apply to the Industrial Hemp industry. Hemp farmers are allowed to harvest the seeds and fibre from the plant with a Home Office licence. However the CBD-rich leaves and flowers are almost always wasted. These restrictions hold back the potential of both the UK Hemp Industry, and the UK CBD Industry.

So, a few things to be addressed? The country could benefit massively, not only in terms of health, but also financially, from Cannabis Reform.

Emily Ledger

Content Marketing Executive

Emily Ledger is a news and feature writer, currently focusing on the cannabis, hemp, and CBD industries, through the news portal - The Cannabis exchange (Canex). Having studied Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, Emily specialises in Feature and Magazine Writing. Following Graduation, she volunteered as both a Content Creator and Layout Designer.

  1. Mischievous ‘Centre for Medicinal Cannabis’ Report Smears UK CBD Industry With Misleading Data

    It is true that there are some rogue businesses and fake products but the impression given by this report is false, misleading and wildly inaccurate. For nearly three years the leading CBD businesses in the UK have been engaged in serious, responsible self-regulation and consumers can be confident if they buy from members of the two trade associations Cannabis Professionals (CannaPro) or Cannabis Trades Association (CTA) they will be getting a quality product which is lab tested and contains exactly what is claimed.


  2. When you say that “It would be easy to feel that the Government were allowing big corporations and pharmaceuticals to take advantage of the (seemingly secret) industry”, you can back this up with the hypocrisy of Victoria Adams MP, junior Home Office minister responsible for drugs policy whose husband, Paul Kenward, MD of British Sugar, grows 45 acres of medicinal cannabis under contract to GW Pharma.

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