EU court says CBD is not a narcotic, market opportunities abound

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Five judges at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have ruled that industrial hemp-derived CBD (cannabidiol) is not a narcotic.

The ruling, which took place in the European Union’s leading court in Luxembourg on Thursday, November 19, will open the door for low-THC cannabis producers to capitalize on Europe’s bulging consumer demographic.

“The CBD at issue in the main proceedings is not a drug within the meaning of the Single Convention,” the judges wrote.

A final decision must be made by the European Commission before flower-derived CBD can be sold outside of the continent’s tightly regulated pharmaceutical channels. However, the ruling – which focuses on CBD extracted from the entire plant – clarified that it would be “contrary to the purpose and general spirit” of 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to consider CBD a hard drug.

Judges say CBD does not possess psychoactive tendencies

According to the CJEU judges, unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), “[CBD] does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health on the basis of available scientific data.” The judges made a point of citing an official U.N. commentary on the drug treaty, which highlighted how the definition of cannabis “is intrinsically linked to the state of scientific knowledge in terms of the harmfulness of cannabis-derived products to human health.”

Thanks to the ruling that says CBD is not a narcotic, the EU cannabis market – considered to be the second-largest economy in the continent – can now welcome new opportunities hemp-derived CBD producers. Prior to the ruling, such products were widely inaccessible. 

Not only will the recent ruling grant access to hemp-derived CBD but also, it will likely prompt lawmaker approval of domestic hemp cultivation and processing. Consequently, this will give French hemp farmers of whom churn out 40 percent of all EU-cultivated hemp further potential to serve the growing market.

Aside from the anticipated impact on French hemp cultivation, the CJEU’s decision will also create binding interpretation of EU law for Member States and institutions; even if they were exempt from the specific ruling. With that being said, the EU court’s CBD ruling will also apply in various other member states like Portugal. Furthermore, it could encourage the European Commission to ease restrictions on CBD novel food applications.

EU court’s CBD ruling emerges after years-long debate

The EU court’s CBD ruling was spurred on by a case involving a CBD electronic cigarette. The e-cigarette – which was manufactured in the Czech Republic by a company called Kanavap – contained CBD that was “extracted from the cannabis sativa plant in its entirety and not solely from the seeds and leaves of that plant, to the exclusion of its flowering or fruiting tops.” Because of this, the judges said it could not be deemed a narcotic.

Following a tedious dispute regarding the marketing of Kanavape’s product in France – where it is forbidden to sell or produce CBD products that have been derived from the entire cannabis plant or hemp flower – the case made its way to the EU court. Eventually, judges ruled that France’s CBD ban violated European Union law; EU legal requirements on the free movement of goods between member states, specifically Articles 34 and 36 TFEU, were applicable to Kanavape.