But, users and retailers should not be concerned by the threats to terminate the £100m CBD (cannabidiol) market, says a prominent cannabis industry veteran.

In January this year the EFSA (European Food Standard Agency) said there was no evidence that CBD had been widely used prior to 1997, and would therefore be classed as ‘novel food’ meaning it would have to undergo an approval process which could take over a year.

Here in the UK, the Food Standards Agency responded by saying it would be working with local authorities to remove CBD products from sale. This is naturally causing great uncertainty in the market for CBD products, where user numbers have more than doubled to over 250,000 in less than a year.

However, as of early April, neither the FSA or any local authority have followed upon the prior warnings, amid mounting pressure to leave well alone. And, many commentators have described the classification of cannabis as a novel food as laughable, with ample evidence of human consumption stretching back thousands of years.

The FSA told Cannabis Health it is ‘currently meeting with relevant industry representative bodies, local authorities and other stakeholders to clarify how to achieve compliance in the marketplace in a proportionate manner’.

An FSA spokesperson said:”New foods have to be authorised before they can be sold unless there is evidence they have a history of consumption before May 1997.Food businesses have not shown evidence of this for CBD products and CBD is therefore now considered a novel food in the European Union.

“The FSA accepts the recent change to the EU Novel Food Catalogue which affects some cannabidiol
(CBD) products and are committed to finding a proportionate way forward by working with local authorities, businesses and consumers to clarify how to achieve compliance in the marketplace in a proportionate manner.”

CannaPro, the trade association for the UK’s cannabis, CBD and hemp businesses, has hit back at the FSA with a legal warning. It has sent a solicitors’ letter saying any enforcement action against CannaPro members could result in claim for compensation.

Peter Reynolds of cannabis campaign group Clear and president of CannaPro said: “CBD is not a novel food; there is a significant history of Cannabis consumption prior to 1997, and it therefore does not fall within the scope of the novel foods regulations.

“The FSA’s announcement in January was the beginning of a flawed process which has involved no consultation, and could be subject to a judicial review resulting in a £100m fine. The FSA have overstepped their powers and now seem to be looking for a way to back-track without losing face. It was an outrageous move.”

He believes there is no imminent prospect of any CBD being taken off the shelves and in the long term the FSA will look for a way to reverse direction. In the meantime, a number of organisations including representative bodies such as the Cannabis Trades Association, British Hemp Association and European Industrial Hemp Association, are also working on a solution.

Listed health food supplier Healthspan, of Guernsey, is one of the businesses looking closely at the EFSA announcement.

Its director of new product marketing and development Rollo de Sausmarez, said: “Next steps are getting CBD an Approved Novel Food Status. Many things have been deemed safe by passing a safety assessment under the Novel Food Regulation – chia seeds, krill oil and vitamin K. This process takes about a year, and CBD manufacturers and brands will be pursuing this approach. All over Europe the local food safety authorities will be considering their approach, in each member state and in time will publish their stance.”