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Is The European Commission Set To Review Its Position On CBD And Once More Deem It A Narcotic Drug?

DESPITE re-launching its ‘natural’ CBD Novel Food applications process eleven months ago no progress has yet been made by the European Commission.

It has approved further synthetic CBD applications with a total of five such applications now through to the Validation phase and currently under the risk assessment by the European Food Safety Authority.

However, the lack of progress with the 130-plus ‘natural’ CBD extract applications has left some observers concerned it is about to undertake a damaging u-turn on the status of CBD.

And, the on-going ruminations of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) – as reported by BusinessCann earlier – are fuelling the industry’s growing pessimism. 

EC And Narcotic CBD

Speaking to BusinessCann leading European cannabis industry expert Boris Baňas, founder and Chief Sales Officer of Czech company CBDepot, registered his concerns.

He said: “Last summer the EC switched their position saying they viewed CBD as a Schedule I narcotic drug within the meaning of the UN Single Convention. Then following the KanaVape decision, they concluded cannabidiol cannot be considered a drug if manufactured lawfully in another EU Member state.

“However, this has yet to be ratified by the EC executive branch. So almost one year on there is still no official position on the status of CBD. 

“Whether hemp/CBD products are narcotic drugs has yet to be confirmed or refuted and some promised EC discussions with the industry on this – known in EC language as a Civil Dialogue – have now been postponed on two occasions.”

He went on to say there have been discussions on this across the separate EC departments of the health, agriculture, business and interior with no details forthcoming.

He added: “Nobody knows what is going on. The industry is currently in limbo.”

International Narcotics Control Board

Mr Baňas’ pessimism has been fuelled by the entry of an additional player into this dynamic.

Earlier this year the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) launched its Cannabis Initiative, and it still cleaves to the status of CBD as defined by the terms of the International Drugs Conventions.

In a leaked February draft on the emerging ‘Cannabis Initiative’ the INCB refers to CBD in the following manner;

‘CBD (cannabidiol) is not specifically listed in the Schedules of the Single Convention of 1961 or the 1971 Convention, it is considered under control as an extract of cannabis under the Single Convention.’

Mr Baňas added:  “In the eyes of the INCB any extract of cannabis is a narcotic drug unless from the pure seeds and therefore such extracts – those from the green parts of the plant – are a controlled substance, and should only be reserved for medicinal use. 

Boris Baňas

“The hemp sector made itself heard during the WHO review of Cannabidiol in 2017 and 2018 that all hemp derivatives should be considered as exempt from the scope of the Single Convention.”

In response to these concerns the EC confirmed to BusinessCann that it has received ‘over 130 Novel Food applications for hemp-derived products including CBD’.

It went on to say: “The Commission took note of the Court ruling in the (KanaVape) case and is carefully assessing the reasoning and conclusions it has reached, including on whether the judgment could apply to other cannabinoids as well.”

In response to the concerns over the INCB’s initiative a ‘Commission Official’ told BusinessCann:  “We are following carefully the discussions in the context of the INCB’s ‘Cannabis Initiative’ and we attended the intergovernmental meetings organised by INCB on the draft ‘Guidelines on the international drug control requirements for the cultivation, manufacture and utilisation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes’.

“We consider that it is important to maintain the coherence and compatibility of international law with the EU acquis and we are taking into account in our own assessment the work carried out by INCB. Our work is however independent from the INCB initiative, including as far as timing is concerned.”

The INCB  says its Cannabis Initiative aims to ‘set standards for the control of the cultivation, manufacture and utilization of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes’, as BusinessCann reported earlier this year.

It has yet to respond to BusinessCann’s request for comments on it initiative, despite numerous requests.

Speaking to BusinessCann earlier this year Lorenza Romanese, Managing Director of the European Industrial Hemp Association described the INCB as a secretive organisation.

She continued “The proposals refer to CBD as still being ‘under control’, but completely ignore the ruling by the European Court of Justice last year in the KanaVape case.

“This judgement clearly states that CBD extracted from cannabis plants should not be regarded as a narcotic drug in the light of the spirit and letter of the 1961 Convention.”

Serious Damage To The Industry

If the EC does decide to go down this route it has the potential to cause serious damage to Europe’s hemp and CBD industry. 

Stephen Oliver, Co-Founder, of UK firm The Canna Consultants, said that with so many ‘competing negatives, positives and impasses it is hard to understand where the industry is currently heading’.  

He continued: “It is, however, important to view the INCB as the outdated organisation it is.  It would not be amiss to describe them as a minister without portfolio struggling to justify their existence.  

“As Luxembourg, Poland, Germany and other states consider adult recreational use it is difficult to see how these institutions can maintain their positions without postulating on issues which, as stated, should have been resolved by now.  

“I see the industry’s future as positive.  It is perhaps unrealistic to think we can have a harmonised policy across the union on CBD when there clearly isn’t one on adult use, medicinal use or hemp cultivation.  Sometimes the fear of making the wrong decision results in no decision and that is where we currently are.”

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