📷 High Times
A south-coast vegetarian restaurant has become the first UK food business to be shut down for infusing its dishes with CBD cannabis oil despite its owners saying they were assured less than a year ago by police and trading standards that the products were legal.
The Canna Kitchen, in Brighton, has been closed since a police raid at the start of May.
The owners, whose slogan is “let food be thy medicine”, face losing hundreds of thousands of pounds and laying off 15 staff.
Drug reform campaigners have described Sussex police’s action as “heavy-handed”.
Sam Evolution, Canna’s director, said he had evidence that the police and the UK Trading Standards Agency had given him the go-ahead to open a restaurant that sold food infused with CBD oil last July.
Speaking for the first time about the raid on 11 May, Evolution said he and his staff went out of their way to inform the police about what they were selling.
“On 1 July 2018 we contacted the Met police via email in an attempt to verify the official UK legal position on the sale of CBD hemp flower. Their response [in the email] was, ‘As long as you have made reasonable inquiries and it has been said that they are legal, then there is no criminal offence.’ We made this inquiry to ensure that we were always operating well within the law.
“We also made a separate inquiry to trading standards, who told us that as far as they could tell, there are no current legal issues posted by the sale of hemp-derived CBD products. It is clear CBD is not a controlled substance. It is freely available from many large high-street chains.”
Separately in March, a police officer from the Sussex constabulary visited the Canna Kitchen and, according to Evolution, told them “he did not want to interrupt our business”.
The officer was given samples of the CBD products, including items of food to take back to police headquarters for testing, Evolution said.
“The products taken included legal [lab-verified] full spectrum organic CBD oils, capsules, pastes, balms and beauty products. As well, there were CBD teas and coffees, chocolates, cakes, pet treats, hemp seeds and hemp flower,” he said.
Two months later up to a dozen officers carried out searches at the restaurant, ejected customers and forced staff to remain in one room for four and a half hours, Evolution said.
“I was stunned to learn this in light of our prior full and open cooperation with the police … it felt completely over the top.”
He said nothing on sale in the restaurant or in a dispensary shop above it involved illicit substances. Evolution added his business ethos was “wholesome, ethical, forward thinking and clean”.
“We have always taken very stringent measures to ensure that we comply with the letter of the law.”
Evolution stressed that Canna operated under Home Office guidelines, which stated that any CBD production containing less 0.2% of THC –tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects is legally permissible.
A Sussex police spokesperson said the 11 May raid was part of an investigation into “money laundering and the supply of class B drugs” in Brighton.
They added: “At the shop in Duke Street a significant quantity of herbal cannabis was seized.”
Evolution said the inquiry into money laundering had nothing to do with his business and was connected to a raid on other premises in Brighton.
On the seizure of herbal cannabis, Evolution said: “It was industrial hemp that was seized from our Duke Street premises, which is imported legally with all taxes and duties paid. We have no connection to any other shop or residence raided in the police operation.”
Transform, which campaigns to reform drug policy, said The Canna Kitchen had been the victim of a heavy-handed police response compounded by confusion over the legality of the cannabis products it was selling.
“This is something that could have been dealt with as a civil licensing issue, rather than a criminal case,” said Danny Kuslick, the head of Transform’s external affairs.
“It may also demonstrate some significant confusion on all sides regarding the legality of the sale of hemp products for consumption, CBD and provision of medical cannabis. This is a situation that requires urgent clarification and guidance to reduce police involvement to a minimum.”
The Home Office said it could not comment on the raid as “operational policing decisions are a matter for chief constables”.
Evolution said he and his family stood to lose £250,000 of an initial investment in what they maintained was a health food business, as well as investors who were ready to buy into an expansion of the Canna Kitchen concept.
“I have a seven-month-old baby and a wife on maternity leave, so financially this has not been a great time to close my business. We fully cooperated with the authorities and even asked for advice from them in case there was anything we should remove from our store. The only conclusion I can come to is that I feel we have been targeted by the police as a test case.”
Source: CBD Cakes UK