In July the European Commission (EC) surprised the continent’s entire hemp industry when it released a “preliminary conclusion” that CBD sourced from natural hemp plants should be classified as a narcotic – and that only synthetic CBD products under the Novel Food Regulation are okay.
The EU’s College of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on the proposal during the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Dec. 4, 2020, in Vienna. If this preliminary conclusion were to pass, Europe’s entire hemp sector would face imminent collapse.
“It would kill the hemp industry,” reiterates Lorenza Romanese, managing director of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA). “There would be no more hemp fibers, no more hemp clothing, no more hemp proteins or hemp foods, no cosmetics – there will be no hemp market for Europe.”
European consumers would continue to buy hemp products, Romanese explains, but these products would be from China or North America, leaving European hemp operators in the dark. European consumers would also be impacted if they are forced to turn towards the gray market for their CBD products, where quality control can be a dubious proposition.
After the EC’s announcement, EIHA released a statement, which essentially pointed out the complete lack of logic behind the EC’s decision while outlining the ramifications this would have on the hemp sector as a whole.
Why Classify CBD As A Narcotic?
At this point, EIHA can only speculate how the European Ccommission reached a preliminary conclusion to classify CBD as a narcotic.
Romanese suspects part of the reasoning may be due to the recent flood of CBD products on the European market. “I guess member states are getting scared with so many products that they cannot control, and they have no idea what’s inside these products,” she notes.
“The CBD market is booming in Europe right now, although hemp products have been around for ages. With so much CBD entering the picture, these products are attracting attention from the government, and they don’t know what to do, so the easiest way would be to ban all of these products. That’s my interpretation.”
If this were indeed the reasoning behind the EC’s position, Romanese concedes that part of the blame resides with the hemp sector itself. “All these cowboy newcomers jumping into the market, thinking they can become millionaires overnight, are lowering the quality level of the products we are selling in Europe,” she notes, citing issues such as improper labeling and trace contaminants. “That is on us as a sector, and on the contrary, we have operators who have been producing hemp products for years with no issues, so the EC’s position is exaggerated, and it’s probably because of the overexposure of CBD in every single member state.”
Daniel Kruse, president of EIHA and owner of several hemp businesses for almost three decades suspects that a lot of the issue comes from misunderstanding of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
“The whole hemp industry is always threatened by misunderstanding of the Single Convention itself,” Kruse says.
“If you read the Single Convention carefully, you understand that the use of industrial hemp was never in its scope. It is a treaty on illicit drug farming and drug trading. Our problem is that in the Single Convention it also refers to the flowering tops and the flowering fruits of the cannabis plant. Again, this can only be meant for high-THC cannabis.”
Because hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) has the same name as cannabis, Kruse can see how bureaucrats may get confused, especially when they don’t realize hemp is differentiated by its minimal, non-intoxicating levels of THC.
The Threat To Europe’s Hemp Industry
If hemp-derived CBD were indeed classified as a narcotic in Europe, the blow to the continent’s hemp sector would be immediate and fatal, according to EIHA. Essentially, farmers would no longer be able to utilize the flowering tops of the hemp plant. They could still harvest hemp crops for their seeds and stalks; however, they need to be able to use the entire plant for their efforts to be financially sustainable.
What’s more, the preliminary conclusion released by the EC couldn’t have come at a worse time for the hemp sector. Not only did the EC release their announcement right before most Europeans were preparing to go on summer holiday, the industry like most others is struggling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, killing off the hemp sector would only result in more loss of jobs when economies are already struggling due to the pandemic.
Further still, EIHA had been planning a 3.7- million- euro Novel Food Consortium involving extensive research on THC and CBD to help sector operators better navigate the Novel Food applications previously stipulated by the EC.
Now, with the pending vote on CBD as a narcotic, everything is on hold – except products involving synthetic CBD.
“I’m shocked about the decision because from a scientific perspective what you get from the synthetic CBD and what you get from the natural one is absolutely the same molecularly,” Romanese explains. “But one is created in a laboratory and the one that we want to produce is created in the open air. While we are planting and cultivating hemp, we are reducing CO2, we are creating biodiversity, we’re not using pesticides, and little to no fertilizers – we are perfectly in alignment with the European Green Deal.”
The hemp sector doesn’t want money or subsidiaries from Europe, Romanese continues. “We just want clear rules that allow us to cultivate and to have a better planet and a better Europe, but in the end, they are saying the natural one is bad and the synthetic one can go ahead. Most hemp CBD producers are not interested in synthetic CBD because it’s too costly. Not only does it hurt the farmers but also harms the environment by producing high amounts of chemical waste.”
As Kruse points out, giving such heavy favor to synthetic CBD will wipe out the hemp sector’s entire supply chain. “With synthetic CBD, you don’t need any plant material from the field, so where is the farmer? Where is the processing company? Where is the complete supply chain between our farming side of Europe and the finished product? There is none. Only the companies that can produce CBD synthetically will have the whole marketplace.”
A Natural Substance Or A Pharmaceutical?
One of the easiest reactions when hearing of the EC’s desire to classify hemp-derived CBD as a narcotic is to blame the pharmaceutical industry, most likely because they are the only ones who would benefit. This is not EIHA’s position in any way.
“Obviously there are good reasons for this kind of assumption, but it shouldn’t be our official assumption. That would actually be a worst-case scenario, that one industry has that much power to change everything for another industry in such a way,” Kruse says.
“The data and the international studies show that CBD is safe and obviously needs to be benchmarked as any other kind of natural substance, such as with garlic, echinacea, and hundreds of other food products.”
Simply put, Kruse doesn’t see how the EC can legally defend the position of CBD as a narcotic. “That’s why we’ve been wondering how they even came up with this kind of thing.”
The Overlooked Benefits Of Hemp
While CBD has gained in popularity over the past few years, it is just one of many benefits that hemp can bring to society. Many of these benefits, if widely embraced, would bolster the fight against climate change, contributing to long-term environmental sustainability, and reduced carbon footprints.
One of the biggest examples includes utilizing hemp fibers as an alternative to cotton. Hemp fabric is far more durable, and compared to cotton requires much less water and no pesticides.
Meanwhile, the pulp from the hemp plant can be used to make buildings and houses out of hempcrete, which has a lot of benefits over standard concrete. Hempcrete is fire- resistant, mold- resistant, and offers natural heating and cooling properties, which translates to less energy consumed.
You’ve also got hemp plastics, which are biodegradable. And it’s feasible to manufacture cars out of hemp, which would make them stronger and lighter.
Hemp can also be burned for energy, used in cosmetics, and its seeds are a well-documented superfood, a perfect package of all the essential proteins, and can also be used as animal feed.
In the EC’s attempt to greenlight synthetic CBD and put a stop to hemp-derived CBD, it seems they’ve overlooked all of these other benefits. Losing the hemp sector would no doubt be a tremendous step backwards for Europe.
Steps To Influencing A Positive Outcome
Ahead of the vote on December 4, EIHA is working to unite stakeholders, policy makers and industry leaders across Europe to lobby against the EC’s preliminary decision.
In the meantime, Romanese encourages European citizens to do their part as well. “European citizens have more influence in Brussels than they might realize. Once they have the right information with articles like this, they can go and meet with their local representatives for the European Commission,” she says. “Their voice is important. They can try to influence the media on this issue as well as their representatives in the European Parliament.”
There will also be a public hearing on September 23 in France, where members of the commission are invited to express their views on the preliminary decision.
“We are seeing different approaches from different member states at the moment. Germany is getting hard on CBD products in the market, and then all the other member states are kind of waiting,” Romanese adds.
“The member states are waiting for Europe, and Europe is waiting for the United Nations. Everybody is waiting and nothing is clear other than if the preliminary conclusion will be adopted, then there will be no hemp sector in Europe.”