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CBD is not a narcotic under EU law, highest court rules

20-11-2020 (updated: 23-11-2020 )

The top EU Court pointed out that CBD “does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health” according to the current state of scientific knowledge. [SHUTTERSTOCK/JETACOMAUTOFOCUS]

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Banning the marketing of cannabidiol oil (CBD) imported from other member states is contrary to EU law since there is no scientific evidence that hemp-based products have psychotropic effects, Europe’s highest court has found.

CBD is a lighter chemical compound extracted from hemp plants but containing less than 0.2% of the active substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The legal case concerns the marketing in France of Kanavape, an e-cigarette using CBD oil imported from the Czech Republic, where organic hemp plants were processed.

Manufacturers of Kanavape’s cartridges were convicted on drug charges and sentenced to 18 months in jail, with a fine of €10,000, as the current French regulatory framework forbids the marketing of products derived from the whole hemp plant, including those containing the lighter chemical compound CBD.

Confirming the advisory opinion of its advocate general, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the decision to restrict the trade of products lawfully manufactured and marketed in another member state can only be adopted if a health risk to public health appears sufficiently established.

However, the ECJ pointed out that CBD “does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health” according to the current state of scientific knowledge.

In particular, CBD has not been mentioned in any of the two United Nations’s conventions on psychotropic substances and on narcotic drugs, which constitutes the legal basis to classify a product as a ‘drug’ or ‘narcotic drug’.

The ruling represents a victory for the CBD industry, whose European market is expected to grow 400% by 2023, according to a report from Brightfield Group, a market intelligence firm.

“This verdict is an important step in ensuring consumer safety with CBD products,” said Antonin Cohen, co-director of Kanavape, after the ruling was released.

He said that since 2014, when the first CBD vaporizer was marketed, the demand has grown sharply, and hundreds of companies have launched their own CBD products.

“But a lack of clear regulations prevents safe market development,” he said, calling on developing strict quality standards looking out for consumers’ interests in order to avoid the circulation of dangerous products.

As for the WHO, CBD does not appear to have any potential for abuse nor to be harmful to health, there is an urgent need to harmonize EU regulations to guarantee the safety of European consumers, Cohen concluded.

Commenting on the advisory opinion of the advocate general in May, the pan-European trade association for cannabinoids and terpenes companies (ACTIVE) hailed the mention that CBD must not be considered as narcotic drug marks.

“In the past five years, CBD consumers and entrepreneurs have been treated by the French state as criminals,” ACTIVE’s executive director Laurène Tran told EURACTIV.

For her, the advocate general’s opinion, now confirmed by the Court, represented an opportunity for the French and EU industry to continue their efforts towards the professionalisation of the sector. “We are just getting started,” she pointed out.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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Prohibiting the marketing of cannabidiol oil (CBD) imported from other member states is contrary to EU law since there is no scientific evidence that hemp-based products have psychotropic effects, Europe’s highest court has found.

CBD is not a narcotic, says EU court as it rules French ban is illegal

Court rules that French ban on marketing hemp-derived CBD products contradicts EU law

A bottle of oils containing CBD on display in a shop in Paris. Under French law, only the fibre and seeds of hemp may be put to commercial use, not the flower. Photograph: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

A bottle of oils containing CBD on display in a shop in Paris. Under French law, only the fibre and seeds of hemp may be put to commercial use, not the flower. Photograph: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

Last modified on Thu 19 Nov 2020 16.20 GMT

The cannabis-derived compound CBD is not a narcotic drug because “it does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health”, the EU’s highest court has ruled.

The decision by the court of justice of the European Union deals a severe blow to efforts by some EU countries to limit the sale of CBD, while simultaneously giving the CBD industry a boost. Many products are currently sold in the EU in a legal grey area.

The ruling was made in relation to the prosecution in France of KanaVape, a company that exports CBD oil made from whole hemp plants.

Under French law, only the fibre and seeds of hemp – a variety of the cannabis plant containing less than 0.2% of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC – may be put to commercial use, not the flower.

The court ruled that the French ban on the marketing of hemp-derived CBD products contradicted EU law on the free movement of goods.

“The national court must assess available scientific data in order to make sure that the real risk to public health alleged does not appear to be based on purely hypothetical considerations,” the court wrote.

“A decision to prohibit the marketing of CBD, which indeed constitutes the most restrictive obstacle to trade in products lawfully manufactured and marketed in other [EU] member states, can be adopted only if that risk appears sufficiently established.”

It noted that two key UN conventions classifying illegal drug do not specifically mention CBD, although they mention “cannabis extracts”.

The ruling also highlighted that France had not banned synthetic CBD, which has the same properties but is not produced using the entire cannabis plant.

Antonin Cohen, who faced the charges along with his fellow KanaVape co-founder Sébastien Béguerie, said the lack of clear regulations on CBD prevented safe market development.

“It is fundamental to develop strict quality standards in the interests of consumers in order to avoid the circulation of dangerous products,” he said. “My goal is to improve access to the benefits of plants, in a legal and secure environment.”

Robert Jappie, a partner at the law firm Ince, said the ruling was “a big win” for the CBD industry.

“By confirming that there was no scientific evidence to suggest that CBD has a harmful effect on the human body, the court has made it very difficult for the European commission to pursue their proposed classification of CBD as a narcotic,” he said.

The World Health Organization says CBD is “generally well tolerated with a good safety profile” and that there is no evidence “of any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD”.

In recent years there has been a marked growth in the use of CBD oils, tinctures, creams and other products by people seeking to relieve stress and anxiety and to reduce inflammation. A study in the European Journal of Pain suggests that skin-applied CBD can help lower arthritic pain, but there is a lack of clinical evidence for its overall efficacy, and concern over the unregulated nature of the CBD market.

Epidyolex, a CBD-based drug known as Epidiolex in the US, has been approved by US and European health authorities to treat two rare and severe types of childhood epilepsy – the only such drug to receive the status so far.

Court rules that French ban on marketing hemp-derived CBD products contradicts EU law