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Legal status of CBD in Europe V’s North America

If you’ve spent a considerable chunk of your time googling “Is CBD legal in the UK?”, you’re certainly not alone. When it comes to cannabidiol, the legal status of CBD is best defined by the lack of regulation. Despite seemingly definitive legal guidelines, EU Member states and individual states in North America are equally conflicted when it comes to regulating CBD, which has become one of the fastest growing wellness trends of recent years.

CBD regulation in Europe

In most EU countries, hemp-derived CBD is not considered a controlled substance. As such, CBD health supplements are widely available to purchase from health stores and online across Europe, as long as they contain a maximum of 0.3% THC and do not make any stringent medical claims. However, CBD was recently reclassified as a ‘novel food’ under new EU regulations introduced in January 2019, which has complicated the legal status around best selling CBD products.

EU flag

The EU defines a ‘novel food’ as any food substance or food ingredient that was not widely consumed within the EU before 1997. Before novel foods can be sold in the EU, they much undergo rigorous pre-sale authorization by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), a process that can take up to 18 months.

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So why reclassify? This reclassification has mostly called into question the legality around businesses selling CBD, rather than the safety and integrity of the actual compound itself. Both the UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have both concluded that CBD has the potential for therapeutic use and is completely safe to ingest.

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Many European countries have also introduced medical cannabis laws which allow for the use of stronger CBD-based medications, including the UK, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Eligible patients in these countries can access medical treatments that contain a higher potency of CBD and THC, however, because of the contentious reputation of THC these treatments are strictly regulated.

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The reclassification of CBD as a novel food has been described as a regulation technicality, and a retroactive move by EFSA to make up for a ‘processing step’ they had previously overlooked. However, introducing this reclassification so long after the surge in popularity of CBD is akin to locking the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

EU member states are also not legally bound to actually adopt EFSAs guidelines when regulating hemp-derived CBD supplements, which means that different EU countries are free to formulate their own CBD regulation.

In the Republic of Ireland CBD law, cold-pressed CBD is legal to sell without EFSA approval, while CBD isolate extracted using CO2 must undergo authorization. In the UK, CBD supplements are currently still widely available online and in health food stores like Holland & Barrett, however, there has been a serious crackdown on CBD-infused food and drink products.

CBD regulation in North America

So how does the United States fair in regulating CBD? The legal status of CBD in the United States is remarkably similar to that of Europe, in that it is rather difficult to define.

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Technically, CBD is completely legal across North America. Industrial hemp – and as a result, hemp-derived CBD – was legalized on a federal level in the 2018 Farm Bill. However, the legal status of CBD across all fifty states varies widely, with many states struggling (or just downright refusing) to keep up with federal law.

Dep of Justice

While federal law dictates that hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% THC is legal, in U.S. states cbd laws a substance containing any amount of THC is considered marijuana and is criminalized as a result. In Nebraska, CBD oil is still considered ‘marijuana’ under state law, while the Attorney General of South Dakota released a statement in March declaring that both hemp and CBD are still illegal in the state.

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Louisiana and Indiana are equally CBD un-friendly, and in January of this year, a man in Ohio faced a grand jury over felony drug possession charges after local police found a vial of CBD oil in his car.

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Unsurprisingly, CBD is best regulated in states that have legalized recreational cannabis, however, this comes with its own set of issues. In California, cannabis-derived CBD edible products are legal to sell in cannabis dispensaries, however, hemp-derived CBD edibles occupy a legal grey area. In response to the contentious status of CBD, the FDA is hosting the very first public hearing on CBD at the end of May, which is likely to have an effect on how states individually legislate CBD.

Ultimately, the one definitive thing about CBD law in both Europe and the United States is that it is constantly evolving. This article will be updated as new regulation comes forward on the legal status of CBD in Europe, the UK, and North America.

Alex White

Alex is a writer and sustainable fashion enthusiast. When they aren't writing articles for The Extract, you can find them knee-deep in the vintage section of Oxfam.

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