EU Magistrate Says Countries Can’t Ban CBD Imports

An adviser for the European Court of Justice said France hasn’t identified any negative health risks to justify its CBD ban.

A CBD oil vape cartridge sits alongside a vape pen. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — European Union member states can’t ban the import of the popular cannabis extract CBD, a magistrate for the EU’s top court said Thursday. 

When Sébastien Béguerie and Antonin Cohen-Adad launched Kanavape in 2014, they expected their cannabis e-cigarettes would attract a lot of attention. They didn’t expect it to land them in jail.

In his nonbinding opinion for the European Court of Justice, Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev said Thursday that the cannabidiol, or CBD, in Kanavape’s products shouldn’t be illegal to move between EU countries because CBD, an extract from the hemp plant, isn’t considered a narcotic drug. 

“In the current state of scientific knowledge, it has not been established that CBD oil has psychotropic effects,” Tanchev wrote. 

Béguerie and Cohen-Adad began creating the first electronic cigarette with CBD at their Marseille-based start-up, using organic hemp plants processed in the Czech Republic and importing them to France.

Kanavape was shut down before it even opened its doors. Then French health minister Marisol Touraine said at the time, “I am opposed to such a product being commercialized in France.”

France has some of the EU’s strictest laws against cannabis usage, despite being the 27-member political and economic union’s largest producer of hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant that is cultivated for textiles and paper. Marijuana is banned and CBD can only be made from the seeds and fibers of the plant, not the flowers, and can contain no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. 

Béguerie and Cohen-Adad were convicted of drug charges, including using the entire hemp plant to manufacture their CBD. They appealed their conviction and the French appeals court referred the matter to the Court of Justice, which was asked to determine whether the import of CBD can be banned under the EU’s free movement of goods. 

The European Single Market, the foundation of the EU, guarantees that goods, capital, labor, and services can move between any of the member countries without restrictions. But there is an exception for narcotic drugs, when they are not “distributed through channels strictly controlled by the competent authorities with a view to using for medical or scientific purposes.” 

In previous cases, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice found that other cannabis-based products did not fall under the free movement of goods, including cannabis sold at Dutch “coffee shops” that contains high levels of THC. Kanavape was clear in its marketing that its products contained no THC and testing by the French health ministry found none. 

The French government argued that it banned CBD products out of an abundance of caution, but Tanchev wrote that for the government to ban something it would need to first identify “potentially negative consequences for health,” which it did not. If France were to find that such a risk existed after “a comprehensive scientific assessment,” it could then restrict the import of CBD, he wrote.  

Advisory opinions are not binding on the court but their legal reasoning is followed in about 80% of cases. The court is expected to issue its ruling later this year. 

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