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CBD oil legality in the EU: A changing landscape

General News



You’ve probably heard the hype already about the trendy benefits of CBD Oil. It is a natural substance derived from the hemp plant popping up in all kinds of forms in Europe’s food and beauty industry thanks to its medicinal properties.

Today, Europe has the 2nd largest CBD market in the world –only behind North America. From CBD gummies and potato chips to CBD facial masks, every entrepreneur wants in on this booming industry.

As of writing, CBD is legal in most European countries, explaining the meteoric rise in CBD use in the continent. However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for this budding market –the pun intended.

Enter the EU’s restrictive CBD oil regulations. While the European CBD market is expanding exponentially, the ever-changing rules on CBD legality have proved a major handicap.

Let’s look at what CBD oil is, its legality in Europe, and what the future holds for CBD legality in Europe

What is CBD oil?

Not to be confused with hemp oil, CBD oil is the most popular form of Cannabidiol (CBD) –an active naturally occurring cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. CBD is mainly extracted from the hemp tree and then dissolved into plant-based oils such as olive oil or castor oil to form CBD oil. Many people of all ages are now experimenting with this miracle item in some form or the other. These days, some people prefer to purchase cannabis seeds from online stores like Zamnesia to grow in the comfort of their own homes. This allows them to experience different effects, flavours, and aromas.

Most people use the terms CBD oil and hemp oil interchangeably since both are hemp extracts. However, these two oils couldn’t be more different. For instance, while CBD oil is extracted from the leaves, stem and flowers of the hemp, hemp oil is explicitly obtained from the hemp seeds. What’s more, hemp seeds don’t contain any CBD; hence, hemp oil doesn’t have CBD oil's health benefits.

What about THC, the ingredient that made the cannabis plant famous, you ask. Well, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is another active cannabinoid mainly found in the marijuana plant –a cousin of the hemp plant. THC is known for its psychoactive effects, which give you the “high.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that CBD oil doesn’t have any of these psychoactive effects, unlike THC. Besides, since the hemp plant only contains very low THC levels (less than 0.2%), most European countries’ CBD regulations stipulate that products use hemp-extracted CBD only. More on this later.

Is CBD oil legal in the EU?

While it has been legal to cultivate and supply hemp plants for hemp fibre (with less than 0.2% THC) in the EU for some time now, CBD oil legality around Europe is quite complex.

That said, Europe stands out as one of the most liberal regions in terms of cannabis legalisation. Today, CBD oil is legal in almost all countries in Europe. However, there is still a lack of consensus on CBD products' legality –the only consensus seems to be on the use of CBD extracted from the hemp plant.

For instance, in the UK, farmers are allowed to grow hemp as long as you have a licence from the UK Home Office. However, you can only use this hemp for its fibre and seed oil. And as we noted earlier, the seeds do not contain any CBD.

Therefore, while the use of CBD products — derived from hemp containing less than 0.2% THC — and growing hemp is perfectly legal in the UK, you cannot harvest and process hemp flowers and leaves for CBD oil, among other products.

In other countries such as Belgium, Greece and Switzerland, the regulations allow for the cultivation and processing of hemp flower.

Switzerland was among the first countries to allow the sale of hemp flower. Besides, their regulations allow for a higher THC limit (1%), which means they have high-quality CBD buds.

Other countries with notably high THC limits include Italy (0.6%) and Austria (0.3%).

Here is a list of countries in Europe where hemp flower and CBD products are legal:

  • Switzerland
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg
  • Austria
  • Spain
  • Czech Republic
  • Greece
  • Poland

It’s worth noting that while the sale and use of CBD flowers is illegal in countries such as Italy, France, Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, CBD products are entirely legal – subject to local laws.

CBD is completely illegal in Andorra, Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Lithuania and Slovakia.

CBD regulation as a novel food

In January 2019, the EU, through the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), directed all cannabinoid-infused food products to be approved as novel foods. Well, although this new regulation is not mandatory, most countries are applying it and tightening their laws around the CBD market.

A substance is considered a novel food if it was not consumed significantly before 1997. This means companies manufacturing CBD products such as oils, cookies and drinks must have a novel food license before selling them within the EU.

The idea behind this regulation is to make sure CBD products are:

  • Safer for human consumption, and;
  • properly labelled to prevent misleading consumers.

The call for CBD's inclusion in the EU’s Novel Food Catalogue has led to an uproar across the cannabis industry. While some people believe it will make CBD products safer, CBD manufacturers see it as an extra financial and regulatory burden.

Classification of CBD as a narcotic by EU

Before the dust had settled on EU’s regulation of CBD as a novel food, the European Commission (EC) decided to pause all Novel Food applications for CBD products. They intend to classify CBD as a narcotic since it is extracted from the hemp plant's flowers.

This is based on the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs from 1961. The treaty states that “extracts and tinctures” of hemp’s flowering tops are classed as narcotics.

If classified as a narcotic, this will stifle current Europe’s CBD market. For instance, you’ll be unable to retail CBD products on the European market legally. Besides, this is likely to hinder cannabinoid research and innovation in Europe while also stifling opportunities for a legal and regulated CBD industry.

However, as expected, the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) has come out and rejected the decision. The trade group decries this controversial policy is against both the EU’s green ambition and the growing CBD demand in Europe.

There are valid fears that enforcing this policy might create a large unregulated grey CBD market leading to low-quality products and improper labeling.

A changing landscape: What the future holds for CBD oil in Europe

Enforcing prohibitions on the current ever-growing CBD market will be costly. What’s more, with the economic contraction facing the EU countries in the post-COVID-19 era, member states are unlikely to invest heavily in CBD-focused polices.

Besides, we already have countries such as the UK deviating from the EU’s novel food rule. TheUK’s Food Safety Association (FSA)already has plans to operate its own independent novel food approval program in 2021.

Therefore, CBD manufacturers will not have to worry about EC’s decision to pause the novel food applications. The program will allow UK operators to submit applications for CBD extracted from hemp flowers opening clear pathways to legal CBD sales.

On the other hand, the European Commission is yet to issue a final decision on their recommendation as they await on the UN’s Committee on Narcotic Drugs (CND) vote regarding the amendment of the 1961 cannabis treaty. The main proposals involve deleting the extracts and tinctures of the cannabis category and clarifying the control of CBD products with less than 0.2% THC.

It is difficult to tell when this vote will happen. However, one thing is certain; the decision will be quite disruptive – not only in Europe but also throughout the world’s CBD market.

That said, Europe’s CBD demand is on an unstoppable upward growth. As we wait on the regulatory bodies’ verdict, it is always advisable to use CBD products from registered and trusted companies. Also, remember to check for third-party lab reports to confirm the product's safety and legality before purchase.


Belgian artist's 'portable oasis' creates COVID-free bubble for one





When governments around Europe told people to create a "bubble" to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind, write Bart Biesemans and Clement Rossignol.

Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a "portable oasis" - a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.

Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.

"It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly," Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium April 16, 2021. Picture taken April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium April 16, 2021. Picture taken April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while performing in a street, saying he wanted to be in his bubble in the middle of the city, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brussels, Belgium 16 April. REUTERS/Yves Herman

"As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting," he said.

Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops - mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions - encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.

"Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don't know, but it's a good idea," Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.

Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.

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Indo-Pacific: Council adopts conclusions on EU strategy for co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent



The Council approved conclusions on an EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, setting out the EU’s intention to reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in this region of prime strategic importance for EU interests. The aim is to contribute to regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, at a time of rising challenges and tensions in the region.

The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-Pacific, a region spanning from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island states, will have a long-term focus and will be based on upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law.

Current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political and security areas. Human rights are also being challenged. These developments increasingly threaten the stability and security of the region and beyond, directly impacting on the EU’s interests.

Consequently, the EU’s approach and engagement will look to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, reciprocity, the strengthening of resilience, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU. Free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law remain crucial. The EU will look to work together with its partners in the Indo-Pacific on these issues of common interest.  

The EU will continue to develop partnerships in the areas of security and defence, including to address maritime security, malicious cyber activities, disinformation, emerging technologies, terrorism, and organized crime.

The EU and its regional partners will also work together in order to mitigate the economic and human effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery.

The Council tasked the High Representative and the Commission with putting forward a Joint Communication on co-operation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021.

The conclusions were adopted by the Council by written procedure.

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Conference on the Future of Europe: Make your voice heard

EU Reporter Correspondent



Share your views on the EU, organize events across Europe and discuss with others through the new digital platform on the Conference on the Future of Europe, EU affairs.

Launched on 19 April, the platform is the multilingual hub of the Conference on the Future of Europe that will allow people to get involved and suggest what changes need to take place in the EU. Europeans will also be able to see what others propose, comment on them and endorse ideas.

The EU institutions have committed to listening to what people say and to following up on the recommendations made. The Conference is expected to reach conclusions by the spring of 2022.

How do you take part?

Choose a topic that interests you. It could be anything from climate change to digital issues or EU democracy. If you don’t see a category with your topic, share your opinion in the Other Ideas category.

Once you are in a specific category, you can read the introduction and explore some useful links. On the Ideas tab, you can share your views and find the ideas of others. Join the discussion by leaving a comment, or vote for ideas you like so that more people can find them.

You can submit your comment in any of the EU's official 24 languages. All comments can be translated automatically in any of the other languages.

Under the Events tab, you can explore events organised online or near you, register for an event or prepare your own.

The platform fully respects users’ privacy and EU data protection rules.

What happens when you submit an opinion?

The submitted opinions and the debate they initiate will be the basis for discussions in citizens’ panels that will be organised across the EU at regional, national and European level. These panels will include people from different backgrounds so that they can be representative of the whole population of the EU.

The conclusions of the different panels will be then presented at a plenary session of the Conference, which will bring together citizens, representatives of EU institutions and national parliaments.

Join the discussion on social media about the Conference with the hashtag #TheFutureIsYours.

Conference on the Future of Europe 

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