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CBD is not a narcotic, says EU court as it rules French ban is illegal

A bottle of oils containing CBD on display in a shop in Paris. Under French law, only the fibre and seeds of hemp may be put to commercial use, not the flower. Photograph: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

A bottle of oils containing CBD on display in a shop in Paris. Under French law, only the fibre and seeds of hemp may be put to commercial use, not the flower. Photograph: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

Last modified on Thu 19 Nov 2020 16.20 GMT

The cannabis-derived compound CBD is not a narcotic drug because “it does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health”, the EU’s highest court has ruled.

The decision by the court of justice of the European Union deals a severe blow to efforts by some EU countries to limit the sale of CBD, while simultaneously giving the CBD industry a boost. Many products are currently sold in the EU in a legal grey area.

The ruling was made in relation to the prosecution in France of KanaVape, a company that exports CBD oil made from whole hemp plants.

Under French law, only the fibre and seeds of hemp – a variety of the cannabis plant containing less than 0.2% of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC – may be put to commercial use, not the flower.

The court ruled that the French ban on the marketing of hemp-derived CBD products contradicted EU law on the free movement of goods.

“The national court must assess available scientific data in order to make sure that the real risk to public health alleged does not appear to be based on purely hypothetical considerations,” the court wrote.

“A decision to prohibit the marketing of CBD, which indeed constitutes the most restrictive obstacle to trade in products lawfully manufactured and marketed in other [EU] member states, can be adopted only if that risk appears sufficiently established.”

It noted that two key UN conventions classifying illegal drug do not specifically mention CBD, although they mention “cannabis extracts”.

The ruling also highlighted that France had not banned synthetic CBD, which has the same properties but is not produced using the entire cannabis plant.

Antonin Cohen, who faced the charges along with his fellow KanaVape co-founder Sébastien Béguerie, said the lack of clear regulations on CBD prevented safe market development.

“It is fundamental to develop strict quality standards in the interests of consumers in order to avoid the circulation of dangerous products,” he said. “My goal is to improve access to the benefits of plants, in a legal and secure environment.”

Robert Jappie, a partner at the law firm Ince, said the ruling was “a big win” for the CBD industry.

“By confirming that there was no scientific evidence to suggest that CBD has a harmful effect on the human body, the court has made it very difficult for the European commission to pursue their proposed classification of CBD as a narcotic,” he said.

The World Health Organization says CBD is “generally well tolerated with a good safety profile” and that there is no evidence “of any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD”.

In recent years there has been a marked growth in the use of CBD oils, tinctures, creams and other products by people seeking to relieve stress and anxiety and to reduce inflammation. A study in the European Journal of Pain suggests that skin-applied CBD can help lower arthritic pain, but there is a lack of clinical evidence for its overall efficacy, and concern over the unregulated nature of the CBD market.

Epidyolex, a CBD-based drug known as Epidiolex in the US, has been approved by US and European health authorities to treat two rare and severe types of childhood epilepsy – the only such drug to receive the status so far.

Mexico prepares for legal marijuana gold rush

Mexican and foreign companies are lining up for a share of what experts say is likely to become one of the world’s biggest legal marijuana markets, worth billions of dollars.

Mexican lawmakers are close to approving legalization that is expected to catapult the country’s regulated cannabis trade past that of pioneers like Uruguay and Canada, whose populations are much smaller.

“Mexico is positioning itself as the biggest market in the world at the country level, ahead of the United States and Canada,” said Erick Ponce, president of the Cannabis Industry Promotion Group.

“There’s room for everyone,” said Ponce, whose organization includes 25 Mexican and foreign companies.

The legislation is partly aimed at curbing drug-related violence that claims thousands of lives each year in the country of 126 million people.

The bill was passed by the lower house of Congress last week and is expected to sail through the upper house when it holds another vote following modifications.

According to various forecasts, Mexico’s recreational and medicinal cannabis market will be worth $5-6 billion by 2025, part of a global market expected to be valued at $73.6 billion in 2027, according to consultancy firm Grand View Research.

Legal sales are projected to generate up to $1.7 billion in annual tax revenue for Mexico, according to estimates by Congress and the Mexican Cannabis and Hemp Council, a non-governmental organization.

The new law regulates the business from cultivation to commercialization — not only for smoking but also for other cannabis products such as drinks and sweets too.

It allows “vertical integration” so companies can receive licenses to participate in all stages of the business, which could result in firms wielding significant market power.

Although the legislation contains provisions to help small farmers, activists say they are still at risk of being elbowed aside by deep-pocketed corporations.

The regulation also imposes high standards on seeds, production and marketing, which campaigners say could favor a handful of big businesses.

“The Mexican model should be based on social justice. We cannot allow a market controlled by two or three large companies,” said Tania Ramirez of Mexico United Against Crime, a non-governmental organization.

The fear is that small farmers who have traditionally grown marijuana for powerful drug cartels will remain trapped in the illegal trade.

Some believe that legalization will drive away the cartels because there will no longer be any business for them, said Ponce.

But Zara Snapp, founder of the RIA Institute which promotes public policies on drugs, doubts that legal cannabis businesses will easily flourish in regions riddled with narcotic-related violence.

“You talk to people and they say ‘I wouldn’t put a dispensary in Guadalajara’ because there are other players that have that market,” Snapp said, referring to the western city home to one of the country’s most powerful cartels, Jalisco New Generation.

Another worry is that if legalization involves too many procedures it will deter potential entrants, said Eda Martinez, director of the Mexican Cannabis and Hemp Council.

In developed markets like Canada, 40 percent of consumers still turn to illegal suppliers, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

A private study carried out in 2016 and presented to state and academic bodies estimated that the Mexican black market produced between 5,250 and 6,550 tons of cannabis annually and employed 17,200 people.

In 2020, Mexican authorities seized 244 tons of marijuana.

The most recent national survey on drugs carried out in 2016 found that 7.3 million Mexicans between the ages of 12 and 65 years old had tried marijuana at some point.