CBD not a narcotic, EU court says, potentially opening new market

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(A version of this story first appeared at Hemp Industry Daily.)

The European Union’s top court ruled that CBD derived from the entire industrial hemp plant is not a narcotic, paving the way for new business opportunities for low-THC marijuana producers to sell outside the highly regulated pharmaceutical channels in Europe.

The ruling, handed down Thursday by five judges at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, included a landmark interpretation of the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that cited “the purpose and general spirit” of the treaty in excluding CBD from its jurisdiction.

The milestone ruling, which focuses on cannabidiol extracted from the entire plant, comes as the EU cannabis industry awaits the European Commission’s final decision on whether flower-derived CBD should be regulated as a narcotic.

The judges had been asked to weigh in on a yearslong dispute over the marketing of a CBD vape product in France, where the law prohibits the production or sale of CBD products derived from the hemp flower or entire cannabis plant.

The case centered on the Kanavape electronic cigarette, which contained CBD derived from the entire hemp plant and was lawfully made in the Czech Republic. The case was forwarded to the EU court to determine whether France’s CBD ban violated European Union law that protects the free movement of goods between member states.

The EU provision on the free movement of goods applied to the Kanavape product, the judges said, because the CBD it contained – “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” – is not a narcotic.

The judges acknowledged that CBD, as an extract of cannabis, could be considered a narcotic using a “literal interpretation” of the 1961 UN treaty.

The judges pointed to official U.N. commentary on the treaty, which showed that 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.”

“Since CBD does not contain a psychoactive ingredient in the current state of scientific knowledge … it would be contrary to the purpose and general spirit of the Single Convention to include it under the definition of ‘drugs’ within the meaning of that convention as a cannabis extract,” the judges wrote.

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

– Monica Raymunt