Analogies between the patterns and paths that cannabis legalization is taking—between Canada and Europe, and more recently, the U.S. and Europe—are certainly in the room this year. Especially as different European states begin to at least engage if not normalize parts of the cannabis discussion—from medical and CBD to full boat adult use.
To some extent, the political fight over legalization has certainly been divided between the cannabinoids in a way not really seen in either the United States or Canada—and that has been a deliberate strategy by advocates and the industry alike as medical reform has either stalled or moved too slowly for real progress to be made. Ultimately, patients pay the steepest price.
To some (notably patients) the parsing of legalization between THC and CBD is unbelievably frustrating. However, to lobbyists and commercial interests, the opening, finally, of a European market for at least one part of the plant is a strategic place-marker that has advanced some parts of reform in some countries—while leaving other conversations hanging.
To some extent, the recent victories over CBD in the European Union (EU) are clearly a sign that at least one part of the plant is normalizing. On the other hand, that such advances have only come post legal action is a sign of how treacherous and legally challenging the path to market actually is—and all over Europe—and how much CBD reform is a weak substitute for either medical use that is integrated into healthcare systems, much less adult use.
Recent Significant European Victories
The entire CBD discussion has been put to the test over the last six months in both France and Germany, and further in ways that the rest of Europe is clearly watching, if not merely skipping on the road to full recreational reform.
In France, draft regulations for a new CBD market that are now moving forward fairly fast, developed after a ground-breaking legal case last year (when a European court ruled that a French ban on CBD vapes produced legally in another EU country was illegal) but not without controversy. Here is why: The French government appears to want to ban all raw hemp products (such as flower and hemp tea) and only authorize the sale of processed CBD food, cosmetics and vape products.
In Germany, the city of Düsseldorf was also required to lift its ban on all hemp products recently after a company challenged the same in court. The discussion over raw flower (of the CBD kind) appears to be more decided in Germany simply because raw flower is allowed in the medical market.
CBD VS. Medical First Strategies to Legalization in Europe
No matter how much cannabis legalization advocates might strategize to push the agenda forward with “recreational CBD” discussions however, the real mover towards full reform is actually being fought (and won) on the medical side. This is also the reason that raw flower for smoking is such a controversial topic (everywhere).
Beyond this, the battles that are being won on CBD are not that ground-breaking so far. This includes the European-wide decision that CBD is not a narcotic. The integration of this part of the plant into food and cosmetics is a matter of common sense, with a few strange outliers that are rapidly receding with court challenges. Bigger discussions (like whether cannabis is a “novel” plant at all) have cost many firms a great deal of money, just about everywhere, with no real resolution of the question. Not to mention a likely repeat of this discussion as THC edibles start to enter the market next year.
One of the places that CBD might play a huge and important role is in moving national governments if not the EU to decriminalize cannabis possession. It is literally impossible for police departments to distinguish between CBD and THC flower (as every patient knows) unless the confiscated stash is tested, which typically can’t happen until after an arrest is made. This, plus medical use in Germany, for example, might be the final political push needed to address this large and still concerning discussion across Europe.
Medical Reform and Recreational Use Are the Real Drivers of Reform
The reality is that 2021 is turning out to be a ground-breaking year on the legalization front in Europe—in large part because of a continuation of the legalization march globally on the medical front—and because of COVID-19.
With Europe’s largest economies (Germany, France, Spain and Italy) all moving forward with some form of medical reform, and Portugal now considering full adult use, the discussion is clearly ticking forward in a way that is unstoppable.
Parsing the plant to forward reform is a strategy that is clearly coming to an end in the EU, and that is a conversation that stretches far beyond any one cannabinoid and for any one particular use.
Marguerite Arnold is a veteran cannabis industry journalist, covering the market from Germany since 2013. Her new book, Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu about the inside story of the first German cannabis cultivation bid is now on sale in English and being translated into German.