The Definitive Guide: CBD Legality Across Europe [2020 Complete Edition]

on June 05, 2020

By: Elements Of Green

eu map

Europe's legal landscape is less than straightforward. From various countries with legal medical cannabis to varying degrees of legality when it comes to hemp-derived CBD, to 44 different countries and 44 different regulations, not to mention pets.

CBD is sold in many different forms:

  • CBD Creams
  • CBD Oils
  • CBD Vapes
  • CBD Isolates
  • CBD Edibles
  • CBD Cosmetics
  • CBD Pet Products

If you've wondered what's legal, what's not, and what the varying degrees of legality across Europe are, you've come to the right place.

As one of Europe's most trusted places to buy CBD online, you better believe we've done the research, due diligence, and talked to the right people to know precisely what you can do and can't do across Europe!

In this Definitive Guide to CBD Legality Across Europe, we will expand on these key points:

  • Where CBD Is and Isn't Legal
  • The 3 Major Challenges for CBD Legality
  • CBD is labeled a Novel Food by the European Food Safety Authority
  • Hemp with less than 0.2% THC is legal across Europe, with some exceptions
  • CBD is legal in France only in isolate form (containing 0% THC)

5 Things to Know Before Buying CBD in Europe:

  1. Know the country you are in. As we have explored, laws above CBD vary considerably from country to country in Europe. Before traveling with CBD and/or purchasing it, make sure that you review the laws.
  2. Know the brand you are buying. Every brand has different standards and levels of compliance. Ask the vendor you are buying from to provide a Certificate of Analysis on the product to ensure quality and safety. The CoA's will often include a list of ingredients and testing verification.
  3. Read reviews. One of the best ways to ensure the quality of a product is to lean on past consumer experiences for guidance. If you see that a product has received multiple bad reviews, it is best to avoid it.
  4. Check for THC content. Be cognisant of the THC content in the product you are consuming. Cannabis products are sold around Europe, like in the Netherlands, and taking a high-THC product will result in unanticipated psychoactive effects.
  5. Buy hemp-based CBD. Some brands have elected to dilute cannabis extract to pass as hemp oil. This is cheaper, but lower-quality and lower-safety because it requires chemical processes to achieve. Verify that the product you are buying is derived from hemp-based CBD.

 

What is CBD? How is it different from THC?

At first glance, the chemical composition of Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are identical; that is because they nearly are. While both molecules have an atomic weight of 314g/mol and molecular formulae C21H30O2, where THC contains a cyclic ring, CBD includes a hydroxyl group. This subtle difference in how the atoms inside the molecules are arranged, as shown in this video, is what allows THC to cause a high, while CBD does not.

When you consume THC, the cyclic ring allows THC to mimic anandamide perfectly. By binding on with the CB1 receptor, THC causes a psychoactive effect or what is more commonly known as a 'high'. The CBD molecule, however, is different in shape due to the hydroxyl group and therefore does not fit into the CB1 receptor causing a psychoactive effect.

Education is the key to dispelling common myths and misconceptions about CBD, and ultimately will be the key to mass adoption across the world. The first step is to answer the most common questions about the two compounds.

As we have discovered, CBD and THC are, in fact, available in both compounds. Hemp is commonly defined as all cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC, meaning THC is less associated with hemp even though it's found in trace amounts. Farmers and scientists continue to modify the genetic makeup of hemp to create a crop of hemp that contains zero THC.

On the other hand, marijuana has a variety of Indica and Sativa strains that contain a range of THC and CBD content. Formally, marijuana is any cannabis strain with over 0.3% THC – but marijuana is known to contain up to 35% THC in some cases.

 

Where is CBD Legal?

Europe is a rapidly expanding market for CBD, making up 35% of the global hemp-derived CBD market. With more and more consumers wanting to try CBD, it is essential to understand the laws and regulations surrounding the product before making your purchase.

 

CBD and Hemp European market

 

Industrial Hemp cultivation is entirely legal across Europe, but this does not mean that CBD products are legal everywhere. This is because industrial hemp is cultivated for many other purposes, aside from the extraction of CBD.

 

The uses of hemp

 

The cultivation of Hemp is used for a variety of applications, including apparel, animal feed, insulation, and paper. Hemp is considered one of the most versatile crops humans have even grown at scale with so many different applications. In 2020 alone, Hemp growers have sold $1.5 Billion worth of the plant in Europe, and this number will continue to grow. As European countries begin to adopt less stringent laws about CBD, the demand for Hemp will continue to rise.

 

European hemp sales

 

The sale of CBD products is legal for recreational use in every EU country except Slovakia and Lithuania. Slovakia is, in fact, the only country in the European Union to completely ban CBD(making it entirely illegal).

Where the CBD laws in Europe become more complicated is surrounding the THC percentage that is permitted and who exactly can purchase CBD. The general consensus across Europe is that CBD products need to have less than 0.2% THC to be sold legally. This is the case in all of the following countries:

  • Austria
  • Bulgaria
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Ukraine
  • The United Kingdom

The important thing to note here is that standard industrial hemp, when cultivated, has 0.2% THC inherently; therefore, pure hemp-based CBD rarely exceeds the commonly accepted limit of 0.2% THC.

 

CBD Laws In Every Country

In this section, we are going to briefly address the CBD laws in each country in Europe.

ADVANCED NOTICE: These are not to be taken as legal recommendations. Please consult legal counsel before buying CBD in regions labeled 'Legal Grey Area.'

 

United Kingdom (UK)

Status: Legal

In the United Kingdom, CBD is legal as long as the percentage of THC is less than 0.2%. The UK's Food Standards Agency has taken the recent EFSA' Novel Food' designation for CBD to define its own CBD laws. The FSA has given a deadline of March 31st, 2021, for all CBD companies to submit a novel food application. This requires companies to provide a list of ingredients and testing credentials for their products. CBD companies are welcoming this as a positive landmark because it allows for legitimacy for their industry in the UK. It also provides some much needed legal clarity for CBD in the UK. The only catch: CBD is illegal when it comes to pets in the UK, unless prescribed by a veterinarian.

 

Albania

Status: Illegal

No cannabis products are allowed in Albania, including CBD.

 

Andorra

Status: Illegal

No cannabis products are allowed in Andorra, including CBD.

 

Armenia

Status: Illegal

No cannabis products are allowed in Armenia, including CBD.

 

Austria

Status: Illegal

CBD is illegal in Austria, since 2019, because the government claims the sales are uncontrolled, and the products are not clearly defined.

 

Azerbaijan

Status:Legal Grey Area Caution sign

The country has not made a clear distinction on CBD's legality, best to avoid in this region.

 

Belarus

Status: Illegal

Cannabis reform has been discussed in Belarus for years, but nothing has been solidified. CBD sales are not approved.

 

Belgium

Status: Legal Grey AreaCaution sign

Belgium has had many legislative changes over the last few years when it comes to CBD. CBD oils can be purchased after a prescription has been provided by a doctor.

 

Bulgaria

Status: Legal

Bulgaria overruled the Novel Food designation of the EU, despite being an EU member nation. The cultivation, distribution, and consumption of CBD is legal in Bulgaria.

 

Croatia

Status: Legal

 

The Czech Republic

Status: Legal Grey AreaCaution sign

CBD Isolate is legal, anything with more than .3% THC cannot be sold.

 

Denmark

Status: Legal

Cannabis products are legal, with less than .2% THC.

 

Denmark

Status: Legal Grey AreaCaution sign

CBD cannot be marketed as a food ingredient, but is deemed non-psychoactive and is therefore legal for purchase.

 

Estonia

Status: Legal Grey Area Caution sign

CBD cannot be marketed as a food ingredient, but is deemed non-psychoactive and is therefore legal for purchase.

 

Finland

Status: Legal Grey AreaCaution sign

Although some stores sell CBD by using legal loopholes, it is not widely approved.

How CBD Heals your body  

France

Status: Legal

CBD isolated is legal, as long as there is .0% THC.

 

Georgia

Status: Illegal

Both cannabis and CBD are illegal.

 

Germany

Status: Legal

In Germany, it is legal to buy CBD both online and in stores as long as the THC concentration is less than 0.2%.

 

Greece

Status: Legal

CBD products are legal with less than 0.2% THC.

 

Hungary

Status: Legal Grey Area Caution sign

Products can be purchased online, but legality is unclear.

 

Iceland

Status: Legal Grey Area Caution sign

Hemp cultivation is legal with less than 0.2% THC, but the purchase of CBD products is not clearly defined.

 

Ireland

Status: Legal Grey Area Caution sign

Avoid purchases of CBD products that are not isolated (i.e., more than 0.00% THC).

 

Italy

Status: Legal Grey Area Caution sign

CBD was legal for purchase with less than 0.6% THC, but in May 2019, the supreme court of Italy banned it unless bought in a licensed pharmacy with a doctor's prescription.

 

Latvia

Status: Legal Grey Area Caution sign

Prohibited to be sold as a nutritional supplement.

 

Liechtenstein

Status: Legal Grey AreaCaution sign

Anything with less than 1% THC technically is considered legal.

 

Lithuania

Status: Illegal

 

Luxembourg

Status: Legal

Legal with less than 0.3% THC.

 

Malta

Status: Legal Grey Area Caution sign

 

Moldova

Status: Illegal

 

Monaco

Status: Illegal

 

Montenegro

Status: Illegal

 

Netherlands

Status: Legal

CBD sales cannot contain more than 0.05% THC.

 

North Macedonia (formerly Macedonia)

Status: Legal (Medical)

CBD oil with less than 0.2% THC is available in pharmacies.

Why poeple use CBD

Norway

Status: Legal (Medical)

Must have a doctor's prescription.

 

Poland

Status: Legal

It must be derived from industrial hemp with less than 0.2% THC.

 

Portugal

Status: Legal (Medical/If imported)

Doctor's prescription required.

 

Romania

Status: Legal

CBD is legal with less than 0.2% THC.

 

Serbia

Status: Legal Grey Area Caution sign

CBD laws are becoming more strict, leaning towards becoming illegal.

 

Slovakia

Status: Illegal

 

Slovenia

Status: Legal

CBD is legal, with less than 0.2% THC.

 

Spain

Status: Legal

CBD from hemp and with less than 0.2% THC is legal.

 

Sweden

Status: Legal

Most contain 0.0% THC.

 

Switzerland

Status: Legal

Must contain less than 1% THC.

 

Ukraine

Status: Legal

THC limit is not defined, but recommend limiting to 0.2%.

 

3 Major Legal Challenges for CBD

Before we delve into the specific legalities of CBD in each country in the EU, it is important to create a 30,000ft picture of the legal landscape. CBD faces 3 major hurdles in Europe:

  1. The Novel Food Regulations
  2. Different Regulations In Each Country
  3. Different Languages In Each Country

 

1. The Novel Food Regulations

 

European union
European food safety authority

 

Earlier in 2020, The European Foods Safety Authority (EFSA) designated CBD as a Novel Food ingredient. This designation applies to all foods that were not commonly consumed before May 1997, essentially encompassing all new food and foods from new sources. In short, this means is that food must be:

  • Safe for consumers
  • Properly labeled, so as not to mislead consumers
  • If novel food is intended to replace another food, it must not differ in a way that the consumption of the novel food would be nutritionally disadvantages for the consumer

What this means is within European Union countries, hemp-CBD companies should adhere to all these standards. However, Novel Foods is not definitive and obligatory, which complicates things further as EU countries don’t technically need to follow it.

What some countries are implementing, take, for example, the UK, and the FSA (Food Standards Agency), are requiring that the CBD industry submit, by March 31st, 2021, a valid novel food authorization application. Only companies with products within this application process and following all guidelines, will be allowed to continue selling.

It’s important to note that not all CBD companies on an individual basis will have to apply, but certainly, all raw ingredient suppliers must meet and pass all requirements. Basically, a CBD product will have to prove its raw materials safety and stability. A novel foods application will clearly outline all uses for the product, effectively making it safe for consumers.

Countries in the EU are by design left to make decisions independently – and this includes CBD.

 

2. Different Regulations In Each Country

 

EU flags

 

EFSA's novel food designation is not mandatory for countries in the EU to follow, which has both positive and negative outcomes for CBD. On the positive side, more liberal countries have the freedom to set open policies about CBD within their own borders. However, with 27 countries in the European Union and 44 countries on the European continent, there are 44 independent sets of regulations.

With each country implementing its own guidelines and regulations about 'important, manufacturing, testing requirements and distribution,' navigating CBD's legalities can be challenging. This puts an additional onus on consumers, salespeople, brands, and cultivators to know what the laws are in their respective jurisdictions. Not only can this be costly, but it can also lead to unintentionally breaking the law. The most challenging distinction for both consumers and manufacturers is theTHC content of a CBD product.

Consumers can be impacted by this in many ways. For example, a person traveling from the UK (where CBD is legal with less than .3% THC content) to France (where CBD is legal only with 0% THC) with a CBD product may unknowingly be carrying an unpermitted product when they arrive! In other countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland, CBD with up to 1% THC is legal. The point is, the regulations vary a lot from country to country. When traveling across country borders with CBD, make sure to plan and prepare in advance by knowing what the laws are.

 

3. Different Languages In Each Country

There are 24 official languages designated in the EU, presenting a variety of challenges for hemp-CBD manufactures, distributors, and consumers. This exaggerates the 2nd problem (Different Regulations In Each Country) because it makes it more challenging for people to understand and interpret the array of regulations.

 

languages in europe

 

Consumers need to have the ability to understand what they are buying. In a booming industry like CBD, consumers become more vigilant with understanding the product before trying it; additionally, consumers need to have access to as much information as possible without having challenges with language barriers.

Producers also need to be aware of who products are being sold to. There are additional costs to ensure that packaging matches the languages spoken in the country the products are being sold in. Belgium is an example of where this issue can get more complicated than you might expect. Despite the country having a population of 11 million, it has 3 official languages: German, French, and Flemish. A producer of any product being sent to Belgium needs to have those three languages on the label.

Brands, marketplaces, and sellers need to be conscientious of who they are selling to, ensuring that they provide accurate and coherent information. It is paramount to focus on educating the consumer about CBD, and brands and sellers have the most direct line of communication with the end buyer. This puts an additional onus on these people to ensure the correct information is provided in the appropriate language.

 

Cannabis Legality

The destiny of THC and CBD are somewhat intertwined. For more information on their specific relationship, check out our article here. Apart from North America, Europe is the most liberal place in the world when it comes to the cultivation and sale of Cannabis (and, more specifically, CBD).

 

Legal cannabis europe

 

The map above shows that 29 countries in Europe that have legalized medical cannabis in some form. Although this is not the same as CBD, it is an essential demonstration that Europe is willing to create an environment that encourages the growth and development of blooming industries. CBD has a lower legal threshold than THC, and as the cannabis market continues to evolve, we expect that hemp-based products will lead the way in market adoption.

 

cannabis use in europe

 

We can clearly show that the adoption of CBD across Europe is progressing rapidly in recent months. In fact, the late 2019 infographic above shows that at that time, 58% of CBD consumers only tried CBD for the first time in the last 6 months. Of these consumers, 74% reported a positive impact on their quality of life from trying CBD, and another 23% experienced a neutral effect.

In all, 16% of adults living in Europe had tried CBD at that time. All this points to the fact that Europe is adopting cannabis (and mainly CBD) at a continental scale. From a legal perspective, as the demand for CBD rises, regulators will continue to develop more liberal legislation that will expedite the growth of demand in the industry.

Another distinction that needs to be made here is between hemp and marijuana. This often can be confusing and is important to understand when making CBD purchase decisions.

Our friends at www.medium.com have designed a perfect analogy to help people understand the relationship between cannabis, hemp, and marijuana. Characterizing cannabis as either hemp or marijuana, as the diagram shows, would be the same as describing fruits in the citrus genus as either sweet or sour. Although being sweet or sour may be a characteristic of these fruits in the citrus genus, it does not encapsulate all the types of fruit under that branch. The cannabis genus contains dozens of strains, including Sativa, Indica, and Ruderaus.

 

hemp vs marijuana

 

Here We have highlighted two products which contains low THC. This is perfect if you are located in region with tighter restrictions.

 

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