‘CBD is Not a Narcotic’ says EU Court in CBD Breakthrough

In an exciting development in CBD oil news, the EU’s highest court has ruled that CBD is not a narcotic.

This landmark decision has provided a welcome boost for the European CBD industry, creating a clearer path to full legal compliance for CBD companies.

cbd is not a narcotic says eu court in cbd breakthrough

The latest CBD oil news: CBD is not a narcotic

The ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was announced on 19 November 2020. It states that cannabidiol (CBD) is not a narcotic drug because it ‘does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health’.

The ruling came as part of a case known as the ‘KanaVape Case’, which involved the prosecution of French CBD company KanaVape.

KanaVape sold e-cigarettes containing CBD oil derived from whole hemp plants. In French law, only the seeds and fibre of hemp may be used commercially – it’s illegal to use the buds or flowers. CBD oil and UK law are similar in this aspect.

However, the CBD that KanaVape used was produced lawfully in the Czech Republic. Over there, it is legal to use the whole hemp plant to produce CBD oil, and then imported into France.

What does the ruling mean?

The CJEU ruled that the criminal proceedings against KanaVape weren’t consistent with EU law on the free movement of goods. They stated that: ‘A Member State may not prohibit the marketing of cannabidiol (CBD) lawfully produced in another Member State when it is extracted from the Cannabis sativa plant in its entirety and not solely from its fibre and seeds.’

In other words, the EU decision said that France’s ban on marketing hemp-derived CBD products contradicted EU law, as the products in question had been produced legally in another EU member state.


EU laws on the free movement of goods do not apply to narcotic drugs, as the marketing of narcotic drugs is banned in all EU member states. The court, therefore, had to establish whether CBD should be regarded as a narcotic in order to determine whether the French authorities had contradicted EU law.

The court concluded that ‘the provisions on the free movement of goods within the European Union (Articles 34 and 36 TFEU) are applicable. This is because the CBD at issue in the main proceedings cannot be regarded as a ‘narcotic drug’.’

In describing its reasoning in deciding whether CBD could be considered a narcotic, the court cited two UN conventions: 

  • The Convention on Psychotropic Substances: The court noted that CBD is not mentioned in this convention.
  • The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs: Although this convention makes reference to cannabis extracts, the court observed that interpreting CBD as a drug on this basis would be ‘contrary to the general spirit of that convention and to its objective of protecting ‘the health and welfare of mankind’.’

The court concluded that on this basis, and ‘according to the current state of scientific knowledge’, CBD is not a narcotic drug.

What else did the ruling say?

The ruling stated that a ban by a member state on the marketing of hemp-derived CBD products may be justified ‘by the objective of protecting public health’ but that it ‘must not go beyond what is necessary in order to attain it’.

The court declared that it was for the French national court to assess whether the prohibition in question was justified on those grounds. However, it noted that France hadn’t banned the marketing of synthetic CBD, which has the same properties as CBD and could be used as a substitute for it. The court also stated:

“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. 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 Member States, can be adopted only if that risk appears sufficiently established.”

More about the KanaVape case

The KanaVape case began in 2014. The French authorities deemed KanaVape to be contravening French law by selling products containing CBD extracted from whole hemp plants.

In 2018, the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence overturned the initial ruling. This was on the grounds that it contradicted the EU principle of free movement of goods. The case was then referred to the CJEU. 

The CJEU sought the guidance of Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev. And, in May 2020, Tanchev was of the opinion that CBD should not be considered a narcotic. This view was not legally binding, but the courts do tend to follow the advice of the Advocate General. Therefore, this was seen as a positive development for the CBD sector.

Unfortunately, this optimism was somewhat dampened in July 2020. The European Commission paused all CBD novel food applications while it considered whether CBD should be regarded as a narcotic. Its preliminary stance was that it should, based on a strict reading of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

However, the November court ruling definitively contradicted this stance and set a precedent for all EU institutions and member states. 

What does the ruling mean for the CBD industry?

The CJEU ruling marked a huge step forward in CBD oil news and is likely to have major ramifications for the CBD industry in Europe. 

The European Commission has since abandoned its stance that CBD should be classed as a narcotic. Novel food applications for CBD products have resumed, which clears the way for CBD companies to achieve full legal compliance for their products.

Adela Williams, Partner at Arnold & Porter, legal counsel to the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry, said:

“This is clearly an important decision for the European CBD industry. The EU’s highest court has decided that EU member states may not prohibit the marketing of CBD products lawfully supplied in other member states unless a real risk to public health has been demonstrated. Furthermore, the European Court has confirmed that CBD should not be classified as a narcotic under the 1961 UN Convention on narcotics, removing an obstacle to the continued assessment of novel food applications relating to CBD products.”

What is CBD?

CBD is one of a group of chemical compounds called cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant species.

Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another well-known cannabinoid, CBD does not cause psychotropic effects – it doesn’t get you ‘high’. CBD is typically extracted from hemp, a variety of Cannabis sativa that contains little or no THC. 

CBD has seen a surge in popularity recently, as interest has developed in its potential therapeutic benefits. The World Health Organisation has said that CBD is ‘generally well tolerated with a good safety profile’. They’ve also outlined that there is no evidence ‘of any public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD’.

We’ll be back soon with more CBD oil news, so watch this space for all the latest developments.

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