As more European countries update their legislation to allow the use and commercialisation of cannabis, investors and consumers alike are wondering which cannabis products are legal and which cannabis products are still illegal to buy in Europe, especially with cannabidiol (CBD) being so popular these days.
Are CBD marijuana buds legal in the European Union, or will buying CBD buds get you in trouble with your local authorities?
Cannabis and CBD production
CBD is one of the major cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Studies show that CBD can produce a wealth of health benefits, including but not limited to anxiety relief, pain relief and improved sleep. What’s more, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved CBD as a treatment for two rare forms of epilepsy, admitting that CBD can help with medical issues.
Now, CBD is extracted from cannabis buds. But the thing is, the cannabis Sativa plant species has many variations, each containing varying amounts of the different cannabinoids. CBD and the other major cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabichromene (CBC) or cannabigerol (CBG) — just to name a few –, can be found in wide-ranging amounts in different variations of the plant.
And this is where the taxonomic problems begin. Marijuana is cannabis, but cannabis is more than marijuana.
Cannabis vs marijuana vs hemp
The European cannabis market is expanding quickly, and cannabis-based products are now in high demand. But manufacturers across the continent are using all sorts of marketing tricks to convince customers that their products are better than their competitors. And these marketing tricks often involve using the terms cannabis, marijuana and hemp interchangeably, when each can be used to mean different things.
Cannabis, hemp and marijuana are all plants belonging to the same species — Cannabis sativa. To put things into perspective, think of it this way: The Chihuahua, the Bloodhound and the Great Dane all belong to the same species — Canis lupus familiarise.
If you look at these creatures, you can see the similarities between them, and you could call each of them a dog. But you couldn’t say they’re the same. Well, that’s cannabis for you.
Hemp and marijuana are basically variations of the same thing. They look similar, but they’re not the same. However, you could call both of them cannabis without being mistaken.
Over the centuries, humans carefully selected the hemp and marijuana plants to suit their purposes, just like they did with dog breeds. Sure, you can trace their lineage back to the same plant or the wolf, respectively, but there are so many differences between them that they’re no longer the same thing. Nowadays, they serve different purposes.
Marijuana vs hemp
Even though they might have similar appearances, there are significant differences between marijuana and hemp plants. One of the most significant differences — which is also the one relevant to this topic — is their chemical composition or cannabinoid profile. That is, how much of each major cannabinoid they contain.
THC is one of the most abundant cannabinoids in the cannabis Sativa plant, and it’s the chemical compound that produces the psychoactive effect that cannabis is renowned for. Marijuana can have THC concentrations of up to 30 percent, depending on the strain. On the other hand, most hemp species contain less than 0.3 percent of THC.
Both hemp and marijuana contain CBD. However, just as marijuana farmers grew different strains to produce more THC and, thus, produce a more powerful high, hemp farmers grew different strains to produce more CBD and less THC.
Differences between hemp CBD and marijuana CBD
Now, you might be curious to learn the difference between hemp CBD and marijuana CBD. The funny thing is that there’s no difference between them, but there are a lot of differences between marijuana CBD oils and hemp CBD oils.
If you buy a CBD isolate, the product will contain 99 percent CBD, so it doesn’t really matter if the cannabinoid was isolated from marijuana or hemp. However, there are notable differences between full-spectrum CBD oil extracted from hemp and CBD oil extracted from marijuana.
Related: Full Spectrum CBD Oil vs CBD Isolate
Full-spectrum CBD oil contains other substances besides CBD. Although the oil is rich in CBD, it will also contain cannabinoids like cannabinol (CBN), CBG, THC (less than 0.2 percent since hemp does not contain a lot of THC to start with) as well as flavonoids and terpenes.
The oil doesn’t contain enough psychotropic substances to make you high, but its contents work in synergy, producing the entourage effect.
CBD oil extracted from marijuana (which is often marketed as cannabis oil) contains much of the same substances as the CBD oil extracted from hemp, albeit with a notable difference. Its THC content is high, usually between 5 and 30 percent.
Marijuana CBD oil can get you high, and its elevated THC content makes it illegal in most European countries.
The legal status of hemp and marijuana in the European Union
You might be wondering why it’s important to know the differences between hemp and marijuana. Well, the European Union’s legislation treats each plant variation separately.
Hemp legal status
You can legally grow hemp in every EU member state, as long as the plants contain less than 0.2 percent of THC. The growth and distribution of industrial hemp benefit from a clear legal framework, so manufacturers can use the plant to produce clothing, food, beauty products and novel foods.
According to a resolution voted on by the EU Parliament in February 2019, EU member states can make medical marijuana available for pharmaceutical purposes. This should enable EU member states to define the conditions needed to conduct scientific research on using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
It’s important to note that the resolution is a recommendation, and every member state can abide it or ignore it at its discretion.
Some countries, such as Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Greece, have already legalised the use of marijuana flowers and extracts for medicinal purposes in recent years. Doctors can prescribe marijuana for severe ailments, such as AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer and more.
Curiously enough, most EU member states allow doctors to prescribe medical cannabis. However, only a few of the doctors currently operating in the EU do so. This might happen because the consumption of marijuana, even for medical purposes, has been stigmatised for a long time and has a bad reputation.
On the other hand, this might also happen because the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is a relatively new field, in which most European doctors lack experience.
The recreational use of marijuana is causing quite a stir in the complex laws and regulations of the European Union. In 2018, The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) stated that the controlling of cannabis plants and products is mandatory by international law.
However, each EU member state has the authority to decide how to handle cannabis. This makes the European legislation complicated and oftentimes outright confusing when it comes to marijuana.
In about half of the EU member states, even the possession of small amounts of marijuana can lead to imprisonment. Other states have gained worldwide recognition for being lenient with marijuana users.
In the Netherlands, you can legally consume marijuana in coffee shops, but the sale and personal possession of marijuana are still punishable by imprisonment under Dutch law.
In Spain, it’s now legal to grow cannabis for personal use. Some regions in Spain tried to pass regulations that would legalise marijuana coffee shops, but Spain’s Supreme Court claimed that the cultivation and distribution of cannabis — even among members of organised social groups — is drug trafficking.
Portugal has decriminalised all drugs and legalised medicinal marijuana, but it’s still illegal to buy or sell drugs.
The legal status of marijuana buds in the European Union
Since individual EU member states do not follow the same legislation when it comes to marijuana, buying and selling it across state lines is often more complicated than it seems. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot buy CBD marijuana buds legally in the EU.
Now, the first thing you should know is that most of the CBD marijuana buds you can legally buy online are simply CBD hemp buds. Hemp is legal across the EU, so growing, processing and selling hemp buds makes more sense than selling marijuana buds from an entrepreneurial point of view because of the wider distribution possibilities.
Even so, selling CBD marijuana buds to a sophisticated market can have its advantages.
The rise of cannabis light in Europe
Through careful selective breeding, Swiss cannabis farmers developed marijuana strains that contain high concentrations of CBD — up to 26 percent — and low concentrations of THC — less than 0.2 percent –, which made them legal in most European states.
These strains of marijuana quickly became popular throughout Europe, and they were imported by headshops across the EU.
Cannabis light was only recently banned by the Italian state. From 2016 to May 2019, Italian entrepreneurs used a loophole in the Italian legislation that allowed them to commercialise any type of cannabis-based product — as long as its THC concentration was lower than 0.2 percent — to sell cannabis to the public.
In May 2019, the Italian state closed the loophole in its legislative system by banning all derivatives of Cannabis sativa, a ban that affected an estimated 2,000 cannabis businesses that had a total revenue of around €150 million.
Where can you buy CBD marijuana buds in Europe?
The consumption and distribution of marijuana are illegal in Switzerland. However, the Swiss lawmakers do not consider any product that has a THC concentration that is lower than 1 percent as marijuana.
Moreover, the Swiss government made it legal to sell cannabis-based products in tobacco stores, so CBD marijuana buds are easily accessible.
The cannabis industry is quickly gaining ground in Austria. The Austrian government decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use in 2016. Additionally, it’s legal to commercialise cannabis products, as long as their THC concentration is lower than 0.2 percent.
Moreover, it’s currently legal to grow and sell cannabis plants in a vegetative phase.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
This might not come as a surprise, but you’ll be relieved to learn that you can buy CBD marijuana buds legally in Amsterdam, more specifically, in its famous coffee shops.
Amsterdam’s coffee shops offer a wide variety of marijuana buds, and you can find strains that are suited for novice users and experienced users alike.
Even though the production and distribution of marijuana are illegal in Spain, Spanish citizens can grow their own cannabis for personal use.
In addition, Spanish residents are allowed to join private pot clubs that have flourished in the last few years in large cities such as Sevilla or Barcelona. The club membership allows Spaniards to purchase or smoke marijuana.
Marijuana is still illegal in Germany, but the German legislative system is lenient with cannabis users. Owning a small amount of weed for personal use is not a prosecutable offence. The German Supreme Court set a limit of six grams of marijuana, but in some places that limit is increased — such as in Berlin, where the limit is increased to 15 grams.
However, buying CBD buds in Germany might not be as easy as you might think. During a series of raids in Munich, a small headshop selling hemp CBD was searched by no less than 40 policemen. This was, understandably, a pretty big shock for other CBD bud sellers and may have made them wary of selling CBD buds in Germany.
Are CBD marijuana buds legal in the EU?
The current legislative status of CBD marijuana buds is complicated, and you should be careful to respect your local laws. In theory, you could buy cannabis light flowers in most EU member states, but doing so might get you in trouble with the local authorities.
However, with the recent legal developments regarding CBD and medical marijuana across the continent, the future of cannabis business in Europe is looking bright.
At the moment, the cannabis regulation regarding CBD marijuana buds is chaotic and confusing. However, the profits registered in North American states that legalised marijuana for recreational use should convince European lawmakers that clear regulations are going to encourage businesses to invest and stimulate local economies.