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As Six-Year Legal Battle Nears End French Cannabis Pioneer Outlines Vision For Europe’s CBD Future

ONE of the French entrepreneurs locked in a six-year court battle over the legality of a CBD product has spoken of relief, and hopes the ruling will boost Europe’s hemp industry.

BACK in 2014 Antonin Cohen and his business partners Valentin Squirelo and Sébastien Béguerie introduced the KanaVape to Europe’s shops.

The French entrepreneurs and cannabis advocates had spent years researching and fine-tuning it, believing their CBD e-cigarette to be beneficial – and legal.

Antonin Cohen.

But, the French authorities thought differently as it contained a CBD isolate imported from the Czech Republic extracted from the whole hemp plant.

In France, one of Europe’s main hemp growers, only the seeds and the stalks can be used. The flowers and the leaves, where most of the plant’s cannabinoids are found, must be destroyed.

Mr Cohen told BusinessCann: “When our product was launched in 2014, CBD was almost unknown. Our goal has always been to market a useful and legal product, and we had carried out a legal analysis to validate the conformity of CBD in our product. 

“While it was very difficult to fight these legal challenges for so long we felt compelled to continue, as it is vital to create clear regulations to protect the health of consumers, and to support the competitiveness of French and European companies in a rapidly growing global CBD industry.” 

‘Relief’ As Six-Year Battle Nears End

The French legal process resulted in Mr Cohen and Mr Béguerie receiving a 16-month suspended prison sentence, and a Euro 10,000 fine. Later a French appeal court asked for clarity from the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ).

As reported earlier in BusinessCann, in a non-binding opinion for the ECJ, Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev said cannabidiol, or CBD, isn’t a ‘narcotic’ drug. 

As such, CBD oil products made from the whole hemp plant can be traded freely across the member states of the European Union under the existing Freedom of Movement of Goods rules.

Advisory opinions are not binding on the ECJ, but their legal reasoning is followed in about 80% of cases.

From a personal point of view, this opinion is a real relief. It’s been a long journey, and I think a good step-in the right direction. A lot of hard work is starting to pay off

Antonin Cohen

And, if ratified, this would be be a massive boost for European hemp farmers and CBD companies, as most cannabidiol (CBD) is found in the leaves and flowers of the hemp plant.

“From a personal point of view, this opinion is a real relief. It’s been a long journey, and I think a good step in the right direction. A lot of hard work is starting to pay off,” said Mr Cohen.

Will This Open Up Europe To Hemp Flowers?

Mr Cohen continued: “Now we are going to wait for the verdict of the ECJ It’s a very positive signal, creating very exciting possibilities for CBD in Europe.

“At the moment, in France, it is very difficult to use natural CBD because we are only allowed to use CBD from fibre and seeds but this ruling states that CBD from the whole plant can be traded across the whole of the EU, based on Freedom of Movement.

“That is very good news for France and the other European countries that have the same interpretation as France on this topic of the origins of CBD and the parts of the plant that are used.

“I think it could eventually have an impact on the market for hemp flowers, too. There is no reason why this ruling and the rules on Freedom of Movement should not also apply to them.”

Clarity Needed On Euro CBD Content

Advocate General Tanchev went on to say that if a national court found there were ‘risks’ associated with CBD they should look to impose less restrictive measures than blocking the free movement of goods, ‘such as the establishment of a maximum CBD content’.

Mr Cohen continued: “This guidance on CBD content is what we need in the CBD industry. Because of the lack of standards, the market is full of products that display CBD content in many different ways – or that don’t apply basic quality control. It’s very confusing for the consumers. 

“We need better guidelines for the commercialization of CBD products in Europe, for example; packaging, advertisement, licensing.

“The CBD industry is booming in the US, but its development is limited in Europe because it is very difficult to navigate in such a fragmented market, with many different interpretations of international laws applied on national level. 

“We need a harmonization of the regulations by the European Union. We need quality standards and large accessibility of CBD products to protect the health of European users, and the competitiveness of European companies.

“It’s so important to create specific regulations across the CBD industry to ensure safety and quality for all users.”

Implications For Novel Food Applications

Mr Cohen also believes the ruling may help companies looking to submit Novel Food applications placate reluctant national regulators.

He continued: “There are many challenges in the European CBD market and the origins of CBD is just one of them.

“If it was a block to some Novel Food applications, this ruling clarifies this point and might allow some applications currently on hold to proceed.”

Mr Cohen now runs Harmony, one of Europe’s leading CBD brands, and it is moving ahead with its Novel Food applications. For access to the UK market it needs to be submitted by March 31, 2021.

He said: “We are working with laboratory to submit the necessary safety data, most of studies have been done and we will be ready in time.”

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