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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.

Last modified on Thu 19 Nov 2020 16.20 GMT

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.

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

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

The European Court ruling resulted from a case referred from the French courts. In 2017, a French court convicted the seller of e-cigarette cartridges containing CBD that had been legally extracted from the whole hemp plant in Czechia, because in France only fibre and seeds are legal hemp. This case was referred to the European Court of Justice (case C-663/18), and on 19 November 2020 the court published its judgement). The court stated that, while evidence of the risk to health from CBD was still limited but may justify precautionary restrictive measures, it was inconsistent to apply the marketing ban only to organic, and not synthetic, CBD. Examining the legality of these measures that restricted the free movement of goods within the EU, the court also stated that CBD extracted from cannabis was not a drug within the meaning of the 1961 Convention; and that the EU industrial hemp regulations were not applicable to the CBD extract, as it is not an agricultural product within those regulations’ definitions.

In November 2020, the European Court of Justice published a judgement stating that cannabidiol extracted from the cannabis plant should not be considered a drug under the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

The 1961 UN Convention is the basis for national drug control laws controlling cannabis. It states that unauthorised sale of ‘cannabis flowers’ and ‘extracts and tinctures of cannabis’ should be subject to criminal penalties, and this was subsequently reflected in the EU Council Framework Decision 2004/757 on drug trafficking penalties. These flowers and extracts contain several different cannabinoids, whose concentrations can vary greatly by plant variety and by growing technique. The two most extensively studied cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). While THC is known to be the main psychoactive component of cannabis, the recent review by the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence found that CBD ‘has no potential for abuse and no potential to produce dependence’ ( 1 ).

Following this decision, the European Commission has noted in a recent press briefing that cannabidiol should not be considered as a drug within the meaning of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and cannabidiol can be qualified as food, provided that the other conditions of the EU Food Safety Regulation are also met.

Europe has set clear distinctions between hemp and marijuana. While both plants belong to the Cannabis sativa species, hemp and marijuana are categorized by its THC content — the primary psychoactive cannabinoid.

In Italy, hemp with 0.2% THC is completely legal. (the law tolerates variations of THC level up to 0.6%). Until recently, CBD oils with less than 0.6% THC and no limit on CBD were sold on every corner.

5. Belarus

Cannabis in Belarus is prohibited. Discussions on the legalization of hemp and CBD are ongoing and intensified after neighboring country, Poland legalized medical cannabis, but there are still no changes in the law.

Until recently, CBD in Europe was unrestricted.

Cannabis in Monaco is illegal, and both recreational and medical use of cannabis-based products is prohibited.