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Europe’s CBD U-Turn Set To Cause Widespread Harm To Businesses And Consumers

CONFIRMATION that the European Union is looking to treat CBD as a narcotic drug have rocked the industry.

BusinessCann reported earlier this month that moves were underway to change the status of cannabidiol (CBD) in the European Union from a food to a drug.

This has now been confirmed by the European Commission (EC) and there are fears that a product used by millions of people – and sold widely of the High Street – will be forced on to the black market like THC cannabis.

Deepak Anand, Chief Executive Officer of Materia Ventures.

The European CBD market has grown phenomenally in recent years and set to be worth €1.5bn by 2023, and these moves are causing significant uncertainty for the thousands of people employed in the industry.

Deepak Anand, Chief Executive Officer of Materia Ventures, a medical cannabis and CBD wellness company, focused on the European market described it as a backward step.

Benefits Nobody Except Illicit Market

He said: “It would be quite unfortunate for the E/FSA (European Food Safety Authority) to look at not further legitimising an industry and products that are already present to a great extent in mainstream European retail channels. 

“CBD products are something that consumers want, need and are consuming to a large extent and have been embraced by large High Street retailers. 

“By not accepting applications for Novel Foods, or in an extreme measure, removing products from mainstream retail shelves is only going to push this industry across Europe back several years and into illegal channels. This benefits nobody except for the illicit market.”

Both Mr Anand and UK experts The Canna Consultants (TCC) see a potential solution to the issue in a forthcoming United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting which will consider the status of cannabis in international drug treaties.

UN Vote Could Help Solve EC’s Dilemma

The Word Health Organisation has recommend the CND reclassify cannabis and remove CBD, containing no more than 0.2% THC, from any international drug control conventions.

If this stance is adopted by the CND then it would provide the necessary  statutory bedrock for Europe to back-track on this new hard-line approach to CBD.

Mr Anand continued: “This seems quite an extreme measure. It is important to note that CBD on its own is not part of any conventions. It is the THC component that compounds and makes this issue quite significant. 

“To that end, it is worth the commission noting that the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Drug Dependence’s has recommend to add a footnote that products containing predominantly CBD and not more than 0.2% Delta-9-THC are not under international control. They are explicitly excluded as there is no relevant risk to public health.”

The UN vote is scheduled for December, although there  is no guarantee the WHO recommendations will be accepted; it had been due to meet in March, this year.

Will There Be A CBD Industry?

Matt Lawson and Steve Oliver, the Co-Founders of the TCC, were the first to publicly report on Europe’s move to change the status of CBD – see here

They told BusinessCann: ”Those who are proponents of the amendments to the 1961 Single Convention may now decide to reduce the 0.2% THC ‘footnote level’ in order to secure a greater consensus in favour of the proposed changes, rather than risk losing a vote (whenever it were to occur) and having an overt, modern-era confirmation that all such extracts are intended to be encompassed by the aged definition.  

How the hands are played may determine not only the future of the cannabinoid industry in areas of the world, but whether there even is one.

Matt Lawson and Steve Oliver,
Co-Founders of the TCC

“Equally, the potential threat to the whole of the industry may galvanise greater support behind the proposed 0.2% THC level, such that confidence in the ability to carry the current proposed wording increases.  How the hands are played may determine not only the future of the cannabinoid industry in areas of the world, but whether there even is one.”

In the UK its regulators the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has confirmed it continues to see CBD as a food presenting an opportunity for its domestic industry as the nation Brexits next year.

In The UK CBD Is Still A Food

A point not lost on its main trade groups; Sian Phillips, interim Managing Director of the Cannabis Trades Association, said: “The news that the EC may reclassify CBD as a narcotic is a crushing blow to the European hemp sector and will severely limit the EU market. 

“In direct contrast the UK market, which falls under the auspices of the FSA, will not suffer the same fate, and looks set to forge ahead.

“The FSA have categorically stated, in line with national government legislation, that CBD in the UK is not a narcotic.

Steve Moore, Senior Counsel at the Centre For Medicinal Cannabis.

“The UK has always been at forefront of the CBD market. Whilst we sympathise with the outdated and imprudent bureaucracy surrounding our European counterparts, this presents significant opportunities for CTA members and British businesses trading in the hemp sector.’

Steve Moore, Senior Counsel at the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, and its sister organisation for the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry, agreed.

He said:  “There is now clearly a way forward and a competitive advantage opportunity opening up for the UK post EU transition. Alongside Australia and Switzerland we are developing a clear regulatory path for cannabinoids including CBD. 

“This isn’t just about compliance it’s about safety, innovation and research and development. The EU may be vacating this space but the UK is embracing the potential of this market and will now be at the forefront of investment, regulation and scientific inquiry.”

Compliant UK CBD Market Emerging

Tony Calamita, CEO of Love Hemp, one of the UK’s leading CBD brands, said: “CBD is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing health and wellbeing product categories within the UK and is already listed with many reputable retailers.

“The Food Standards Agency has already reassured the UK CBD industry that it won’t follow suit – and we at Love Hemp support this decision.

Tony Calamita. Photo credit: Simon Jacobs

“Whilst I don’t agree that CBD products should be classed as novel food, I do believe that this process helps to support the wider efforts of the UK CBD industry, to create a compliant and well-regulated market. 

“There is still a lack of education around CBD in both the UK and in the EU, which in turn causes hesitation and uncertainty amongst consumers. Education and knowledge are key to providing a safe, credible market and the FSA’s decision to regulate the industry only supports the UK market to continue to flourish.” 

The EC has given the continental CBD industry until September to make representations on its new ‘narcotic’ stance.

EC To Accept Representations

Mr Anand added: “We at Materia will most certainly be providing our feedback to the commission prior to September. 

“We encourage them to look at creating proactive and forward looking policy on both CBD as well as Medical Cannabis across Europe. Europe needs to look at leading and changing decades old treaties and conventions that reflect many views and myths that have resulted in prohibition to the ultimate detriment of patients and consumers.

“I encourage European regulators instead to support Recommendation 5.5 of the WHO at the upcoming Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting in December. The argument to be used here is the specific acknowledgement by the WHO itself that there is no relevant risk to public health.

“What the EU needs to pay close attention to is that they are not isolated in permitting the sale of CBD with a very low percent of THC. The United States, Australia and South Africa are al either allowing or pushing to allow CBD to be sold over the counter in their respective jurisdictions.”

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