The CBD phenomenon is not exclusive to the US; people all over the world are buying legal cannabis products at rates we never thought possible. Europe is the second-largest CBD market behind the United States, projected to grow 400% in the next four years.
While hemp-derived products are legal in most European countries, there is still rampant confusion over the laws regarding the legality of low THC cannabinoid commodities. As CBD shops continue to open up all over Europe and timelines are filled with CBD ads, it is more important than ever to understand what is prohibited in countries around the EU.
Europe is the second-largest CBD market behind the United States, projected to grow 400% in the next four years.
The Evolving Hemp Cannabinoid Industry
CBD isn’t the only cannabinoid derived from hemp with potential medicinal applications and is driving consumer interest.
In a few years, we believe that what is now known as the ‘CBD industry’ will be referred to as the ‘hemp cannabinoid industry’ or another name that better describes full-spectrum products with low levels of THC.
CBG, CBN, and CBC are just a few cannabinoids gaining attention and being featured in products along with other minor compounds.
The hemp industry is moving away from being primarily focused on one compound, CBD. This shift is essential because as the market and our understanding of cannabis products evolve, the laws become increasingly important. Businesses and consumers are affected by how much THC their respected country allows, especially in a closely connected economy like the EU.
When Was Hemp Legalized?
The confusion begins in 2019 when the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) designated CBD as a novel food.
Many companies took this reassignment as a free-for-all to sell hemp cannabinoid products across all nations in Europe. While the designation opens up the market for countries and companies to trade hemp-derived goods, the individual country is responsible for creating the regulations.
Under the EU’s definition, a novel food is a ‘food that had not been consumed to a significant degree by humans in the EU before 15 May 1997, when the first Regulation on novel food came into force.’ The EU categorized hemp as a novel food as long as it contains no more than 0.2% THC. The EU also recommends each company apply for a hemp retail or manufacturing license, but it is not required by law.
Most countries have followed the guidelines provided by the EU. In contrast, others only allow isolate CBD products, and some countries haven’t lifted their ban on any product derived from cannabis regardless of THC potency.
In the UK, the Foods Standard Agency (FSA) currently requires all CBD companies with products available to be purchased in retail to undergo a licensing process. FSA wants to verify if the products being sold in the UK and Scotland adhere to the regulations in place on hemp cannabinoid products.
The deadline for approval was March 31st, 2021. The external affairs director at the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) says there is a common misconception around the process of obtaining a validated Novel Food License. Many UK CBD companies are under the impression that only suppliers need to clear their ingredients. The misconceptions are due to businesses not familiar with the laws and
The office of the ACI has witnessed a recent scramble by companies looking to keep their products on the shelves. They have received multiple inquiries per week from companies claiming they don’t clear their ingredients based on misinformation given by their manufacturers.
For more on the recent rush to stay legal in the UK, check out this article by Nutra Ingredients.
Legal Status Determined by Country
Europe’s cannabinoid laws continue to confuse consumers and businesses alike. Businesses all across Europe are operating under false assumptions leaving themselves at risk of being raided by drug enforcement agencies and facing severe consequences.
The United Kingdom
The hemp laws in the UK are especially messy. Hemp production is permitted, but companies are required to destroy the fibers, the source of CBD, and all other cannabinoids and terpenes. UK’s CBD companies are currently outsourcing their product materials from foreign hemp farms.
Under UK law, THC is only permitted up to 1mg per container. As of writing this article, countless companies claim they are subject to the EU’s novel food THC limit of 0.2%. Products available in larger volumes may have under 0.2% THC but exceed the 1mg limit is due to the container size. This common misconception has led to recent arrests.
Advocates are currently fighting to increase the limit up to 1% THC and allow farmers to produce hemp flower.
While the Netherlands is famous for its liberal laws regarding marijuana, its CBD restrictions are not as user-friendly. Cannabinoid hemp products are only permitted if their THC levels are at 0.05% THC or less, and CBD vaping products are banned.
German CBD companies are permitted to grow, produce, and sell CBD products as long as they don’t exceed the 0.2% THC limit.
France only allows CBD isolate products. Hemp used to be allowed as long as it adhered to the guidelines of the EU, but French authorities recently changed the ruling banning any product with THC.
The Swiss currently have the most progressive CBD laws in Europe. They allow up to 1% THC, opening up the opportunity for companies to have much more freedom to produce beneficial products.