Regulations guiding the cultivation, sale, and consumption of cannabis and cannabis-derived products have sparked numerous debates globally. In some regions, existing rules are conservative in nature, formulated based on religious and cultural bias towards CBD’s commodity status, marijuana, hemp, or other terminologies describing cannabis variations. Despite the series of evidence supporting the use of cannabis products for medical purposes, cannabis-derived products are still largely criminalized in different regions. Except in a few countries, cannabis rules globally are at best arbitrary, not clearly defined, and plagued with blurry regulatory lines. In some areas, the possession of small quantities for recreational purposes has been legalized; however, there are variations in the legal framework guiding cannabis production, interstate commerce status, and product supply. Currently, the United States and the European Union control the biggest share of the CBD industry. 


Drug laws in the United States

In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act criminalized hemp and other cannabis plants. Decades later, the 1970 Controlled Substances Act formally classified cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug—an action that made hemp, the cannabis plant, and other cannabis-derived products illegal. Under these regulations, the cultivation and recreational use of hemp and cannabis were prohibited. However, these laws lumped marijuana and hemp together as they were both derived from the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa). In the 1990s, several stakeholders called for federal laws to allow the industrial production of hemp. The agitations supporting hemp production yielded results when Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill. 

Under the 2014 Farm Bill, formally called the Agricultural Act of 2014, industrial hemp was defined as a variation of the cannabis plant containing only 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Provisions of the Act allow the production of hemp for research and academic purposes and also provided a pilot scheme that allows certified local farmers to cultivate hemp legally with strict measures that it contains not more than 0.3% THC as defined. To create room for better supervision and enforcement of the new cannabis regulation, the 2014 Bill also extends the jurisdiction of hemp production to include the USDA and the FDA. The United States hemp industry took off immediately and witnessed an impressive boom as industries find more use for this product (CBD Awareness Project, 2020). 

Increased research into the cannabis plant suggests that CBD is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant with exceptional medical potentials. As expected, a push for the decriminalization of CBD ensued. An in 2018, a modification of the 2014 Farm Bill was passed. Officially known as the Agricultural Improvement Act, the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized hemp-sourced CBD. Eventually, CBD was removed from the list of the Scheduled 1 banned drugs. The 2018 Farm Bill granted commodity status on hemp and CBD, however, CBD and THC remain prohibited for use as dietary supplements. 


Drug laws in the European Union

The European bloc has a different perspective on the production, sale, and use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products. Cannabis regulation in the European Union has a conservative variation to the existing laws in other regions of the world. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drugs Addiction rules that the cultivation and supply of cannabis plants are legal, provided that they have low levels of THC. This regulation applies to all member states; however, the absence of no detailed description for “low levels” empowered member states to create a variation of this rule. The legal status is granted for the recreational possession of cannabis products as long as it fulfills the regulation of member states where it is sold (EMCDDA., 2017). 


In England, cannabis-derived products are legal provided that it contains no traces of THC. In France, the permitted level of THC in a cannabis product is pegged at 0.2%. To grant legal status for a cannabis product in Switzerland, it should contain no more than 1% THC. In essence, there is no harmonized regulation guiding the possession and use of CBD in the EU block. Member states have different regulations guiding the cultivation, importing, and marketing of CBD. These regulations also ensure that only quality CBD makes it to the market. Currently, the European Industrial Hemp Association leads a drive for hemp advocacy on many fronts by educating policymakers and citizens on the medical benefits of CBD in a bid to improve its commodity status (Karan, 2017). 


Comparison of CBD laws in both regions

In a broad scope, there exist variations and differences in the regulations guiding cannabis and cannabis-derived products in the United States and the European Union—both are regarded as big players in the CBD industry. Policy differences abound in the descriptions and legal framework surrounding cannabis products generally in these regions. 

In the United States, the existence of harmonized bills clearly defines the legal status of cannabis-derived products and cannabidiol. The provisions of these bills clearly differentiate between hemp, marijuana, CBD, and other cannabis-derived products. In the United States, the 2018 Farm Bill defines hemp as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers whether growing or not, with a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” Compared to the cannabis regulation in Europe, there exists no harmonized guideline describing legal hemp, marijuana, and CBD-derived products. Member states have different guidelines with variations in the legal definitions of cannabis products.  

Another difference in the cannabis laws between the two regions is the legal status of cannabis grown for personal use or medical use. Cultivation laws are more relaxed in the European bloc with some member states, like The Netherlands, allowing cultivation of up to five cannabis plants for personal use. In some member states, different regulations exist for personal use and cultivation. In Croatia, the personal possession of cannabis-derived products has been decriminalized, but owing a single plant for personal use is a punishable offense attracting up to five years’ imprisonment. CBD regulation remains fluid in both regions, and more changes are expected in the future.   



Ian Parkes

Ian has been writing for a number of high growth industries for the past decade. Having plied his trade in the craft beer industry, Ian drew parallels between that and the world of CBD and soon became fascinated. Ian enjoys writing about innovation in the industry, particularly as it relates to the development of the leading brands.

See all posts by Ian Parkes

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