Regulatory changes mean any food and drink products containing the cannabis ingredient CBD are now illegal, with unclear guidance for stores from suppliers and regulators putting retailers at risk.

From 31 March this year, any ingested product containing CBD has to achieve ‘novel food’ status from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to remain on the market. To date, not a single product has been authorised by the FSA.

The regulator told betterRetailing it has taken a “pragmatic approach” by suggesting lines already on sale could “remain on the market until a decision is made” as to their novel food application, as long as a valid submission was made by the March deadline.

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However, stores have already reported goods seizures by local trading standards and the FSA confirmed: “Local authorities are legally allowed to seize any CBD products they decide to, as no CBD products are compliant with novel food regulations.”

One store owner in Swansea selling E-fast CBD Mojito Energy Drink said: “We had trading standards come in and remove them all, saying they weren’t legal. We passed on the details of the supplier and asked them to contact them. We were told they were legal, but they’re actually not.”

When approached for comment, a supplier of the product denied the line was illegal, despite product listings claiming the drink contained 10mg of CBD. Swansea trading standards said it had no records of the seizure.

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Vilosophy produces V&You nicotine pouches and oil drops containing CBD. Asked about its legality, the company’s founder and former Imperial Tobacco boss Titus Wouda Kuipers said its products remained “on sale across Europe and will remain so”. He confirmed the “CBD liquid forumula” used in its products were “the subject of a novel food submission”.

Experts told betterRetailing that more than 1,000 registrations had been made to the FSA for novel food status, but the FSA said: “Many of these are not full applications or are incomplete applications.”

An incomplete list of CBD products with “validated application” has been published by the FSA, and retailers were urged to check whether the lines they sell are listed. The FSA said this list would be used by trading standards “to prioritise their enforcement decisions”.

However, the FSA said it would not be publishing a list of product submissions that had been rejected, and admitted the list will only be completed “in June 2021”, making it nearly impossible for stores to know the current status of goods on their shelves.

Stephen Oliver is a cofounder of Canna Consultants, experts in UK cannabinoid industry legal compliance, including FSA novel food applications. The consultant told betterRetailing: “It will be very difficult for retailers who want to be compliant. It’s a highly profitable and growing market and enforcement will be a complete lottery because nobody really understands it.

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“It’s not a gold rush, it’s a green rush […] we are still seeing products launching, even though they shouldn’t be without novel food status.”

Another consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Stores might be able to sell through product but it might be that they just have to get rid of it.

“We won’t really know who is affected until the full list of validated products is published.

“It could affect a lot of the market in convenience. A lot of brands were jumping on the band wagon, with little idea of the challenges ahead of them.”

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