The so-called ‘green-rush’ has well and truly hit the UK. According to the Cannabis Trades Association, the number of UK CBD users has more than doubled since 2016, and the worldwide CBD industry is set to be worth a staggering $2.2bn by 2020. It is no wonder, therefore, that any budding entrepreneurs – or indeed anyone with a business mind – is wanting to get it on the action.
Where the majority of CBD companies a couple of years ago were run by people who had a real passion for CBD and all things cannabis-derived, with the industry becoming more mainstream we are (understandably) now seeing an increasing number of people who are looking to get involved in the CBD industry for the potential that it has for making big money.
Becoming a CBD retailer seems like one of the best ways to do this – and we are now seeing CBD products becoming available not only in niche online shops but also on the high street, in places such as Holland and Barratt.
What is CBD and why is it so popular?
CBD is found naturally in the cannabis plant and has been proven to have a number of health benefits to people (and, incidentally, some animals) when it is taken. Although there is research to suggest that CBD and other compounds in the cannabis plant can have medicinal qualities, there is more research required to substantiate these claims and at the moment, unless you have a specific licence, CBD manufacturers can only make more generalised claims about it being good for your general health and well-being.
You can find out more about how CBD works here.
CBD is non-intoxicating – in other words, it won’t make you high – unlike its cousin compound, THC – which is very similar to CBD in its chemical make-up but will give you the high that most people associate with cannabis. It is mainly due to the fact that CBD won’t make you high that it is legal in the UK (and in an increasing number of countries around the world) and we are seeing more and more people turning to it.
Other reasons why it is gaining in popularity include:
- It can boost your general well-being as well as some people using it for more specific reasons
- It is non-addictive
- It is completely natural
- It can be made organically
- It is safe to use
- No-one has ever died from an overdose of CBD
- It can be taken easily, in a number of different ways to suit everyone’s individual preferences
- It has no severe or long-term side-effects
Setting up as a CBD retailer
For anyone who has any knowledge about the health benefits of CBD and is seeing the explosion in the popularity of cannabis-derived products, it is not surprising that more and more people are looking for a slice of the cannabis cake.
The CBD industry, however, isn’t without its obstacles. The very fact that it is such a new industry throws in some extra challenges as well as its roots as a plant which has previously been classified as illegal.
Although getting into the CBD industry whilst it is on the verge of worldwide success, sounds like a great idea, the two major problems that you will likely face in the UK are attitudes and the law.
When you are setting up as a CBD retailer in the UK, the same rules apply as if you were to be setting up any other business. However, there are some additional factors which should be taken into account.
Although CBD products can be bought and sold legally in the UK, retailers are coming up against difficulties in opening merchant accounts and getting payment. Many financial institutions are unwilling to lend money to businesses in an industry which is new and still has many (unnecessary) taboos attached to it. Many banks won’t allow CBD businesses to open merchant accounts or give them credit.
PayPal, for example, still do not allow payments for CBD products to be processed through them. Although these attitudes and policies are changing, the change is very slow and unhelpful to people who are starting their businesses now – especially as many of them are online and reliant on processing card payments.
It is important, however, to be completely honest with financial institutions about the nature of your business to avoid getting into trouble with the law and jeopardising your business.
The law in the UK stipulates that unless you have a specific licence, THC levels in cannabis-derived products must be less than 0.2%. Most CBD products that are made in Europe will be made from industrial hemp which is a strain of cannabis which has been specifically cultivated to have these extremely low THC levels, making it legal and not making you high.
It is important that these products have been independently lab tested to ensure that what is in the product matches the claims that are being made on the packaging – otherwise you could end up in hot water with the authorities as well as losing customers.
There have been some changes in European regulations that can be a potential banana skin for CBD retailers in the UK (and all over Europe). At present, these regulations have not been made into UK law, and with the uncertain future over Brexit, the impact of these regulation changes are uncertain at the moment.
As it stands, unless you have a specific licence which allows you to sell CBD as a medicine, retailers must classify the products as a food supplement – which is regulated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). This means that you cannot make medicinal claims and must comply by strict labelling instructions.
If you are going to be selling products made by someone else, ensure that you are getting good, legitimate and high-quality products to avoid dirtying your name and reputation as well as getting into trouble with the law.
The new EU regulations have classified CBD as a ‘novel food’. This means that, because it is a ‘newly legal’ product, there is not enough research that has been done to ensure that CBD products are completely safe. It is a classification that is given to new foods or food that comes from a country where there hasn’t been enough research done into the product for them to be sure that it is completely safe to consume.
To be able to sell or market a ‘novel food’ in the UK or EU the product must be authorised and licensed, or face fines or prosecution. As of yet, there is only one CBD producer which has applied for this authorisation from the EU.
According to their website, the FSA “accepts the clarification from the EU that CBD extracts are considered novel foods. We 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.” 
This shows that the FSA are looking to work with people within the industry to enable CBD producers and retailers to get good quality and (importantly) safe CBD products to those who want them.
Although setting up as a CBD retailer in the UK sounds like a complicated venture, it can also be financially very rewarding. And although the rules around its marketing and sale as a novel food might seem to be large obstacles in the way of the CBD boom, they can also provide a useful method of regulation, helping to filter our unscrupulous ‘CBD producers’.
As long as the FSA are willing to work with well-intentioned businesses in the CBD industry, there is no reason why this cannot become a positive intervention.
As attitudes change in the world outside of the CBD industry, we will see an increasing number of financial institutions coming on board, but this all takes time.
Regardless of these challenges, it is impossible not to feel like we are on the edge of something massive with CBD and as more and more medical research comes through, we are likely to see CBD retail as increasingly lucrative.