The Times of Malta reports
A local cannabis-focused lobby group has taken its concerns about police wrongfully prosecuting CBD users to Europe.
In a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Releaf noted that people were being arrested in multiple member states for having imported CBD cannabis – despite the Commission having said in 2021 that CBD qualifies as a form of novel food.
Letter to the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Parliament on the status of Cannabidiol (CBD) and Hemp products, and the establishment of a human rights-based approach for people who use drugs in the European Union.
President Ursula von der Leyen
President of the European Commission
President Charles Michel
President of the Council of the European Union
President Roberta Metsola
President of the European Parliament
- Prime Minister Petr Fiala
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union
The European Drug Report of 2022 by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) highlights that cannabis remains the most widely consumed substance, with over 22 million European adults reporting its use in the last year. Furthermore, when one looks at the level of drug law offences in the EU, one finds that in 2020, an estimated 1.5 million drug law offences were reported in the European Union with more than half of these offences (64 % or 1 million) relate to use or possession for personal use.
The EMCDDA report explains that various member states have in recent months implemented or are in the process of discussing the implementation of different regulatory models for cannabis. Moreover, the expansion of the legal cannabis trade of low THC cannabis products in Europe is evidenced by the registrations of cannabis plant varieties, product trademarks, hectares of hemp grown and applications for novel food products. Additionally, shops selling low-THC cannabis products, including foods, cosmetics and herbal smoking materials, now exist in many EU Member States. These products are marketed for their low THC content or as sources of other cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD).
Interestingly, in 2020, the European Court of Justice stated that plant-derived CBD was not a ‘drug’, as the current scientific understanding of this substance was that it does not have psychoactive properties. This understanding builds on the evidence based information presented by the WHO in 2018. In fact, the WHO Committee recommended that cannabidiol in its pure form not be controlled under the conventions as it does not have psychoactive properties and has no potential for abuse and no potential to produce dependence.
On 29 October 2021 Ms Kyriakides on behalf of the European Commission confirmed that, the Commission considers that cannabidiol (CBD) can be qualified as food provided that all conditions of Article 2 of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 are met, and the Commission had in fact received several applications for the authorisation of CBD as novel food.
Nonetheless, European Union citizens continue to be arrested in Malta, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and other European Union member states and wrongly accused of importing within the Schengen Area a prohibited
narcotic as prescribed by the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The criminalisation of people obtaining a registered product manufactured within the EU and following EU health and safety regulations is not proportionate to the potential severity of the offence. Furthermore, a similar approach is in direct breach of the foundational values we share as a European family, that is: protecting human dignity, promoting freedom, equality, and human rights, and advancing principles of democracy and the rule of law.
On 7 September 2022 a press release by the Czech Presidency of the Council gathering EU National Drug Policy Coordinators reported that around two million people in the EU use cannabis regularly and reconfirmed that half of all criminal drug offenses are cannabis-related. The National Drug Coordinator, Jindřich Vobořil highlighted that the following months will be challenging, but decriminalization and more emphasis on prevention and the regulated legal cannabis market will be the way forward.
In summary, CBD has no potential for abuse, and is allowed within the EU, yet continues to incriminate or fine innocent citizens. Nonetheless, the incarceration of innocent people for the non-violent crime of consuming a substance such as CBD and Hemp, a product without key psychoactive characteristics of higher-THC cannabis products, casts a dark shadow on the EU’s promises of being a champion for human rights, and of promoting ‘better connections’ across the region.
As President of ReLeaf Malta, a small NGO working directly with people and families negatively impacted by the criminalisation of cannabis, and more recently imported CBD and Hemp, together with a number of other EU registered NGOs and experts, I am writing this letter to beseech your urgent attention to address these newfound pockets of human rights abuses and to collectively act to restore dignity, and respect for the privacy and freedom of EU citizens.
Pertaining to the principles included in the EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025,
‘‘the coherent, effective and efficient implementation of measures should both ensure a high level of human health protection, social stability and security, and contribute to awareness raising. Any potential unintended negative consequences associated with the implementation of the actions should be minimised, and human rights and sustainable development promoted’’
there is the urgent need for the European Union Commission to issue a recommendation to member states promoting a human rights-based framework for people who use drugs, with particular urgency revoking any criminal consequences for the possession, purchase, travel and sale within the Schengen Area of CBD and Hemp based products. The COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION (EU) 2021/1534 of 16 September 2021 on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and other media professionals in the European Union is a perfect example of how the European Union Commission acts in a coherent approach to uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms enjoyed by all EU citizens.
The rotating Presidency of the Council, together with its Parliamentary dimension occupy a pivotal role to facilitate and promote dialogue across decision makers, national parliaments and experts in the field of drug policy, human rights and EU law on the importance of prioritising a human rights-based approach to drug policy. By mapping legislative differences across the EU and negative consequences associated with the implementation of criminally sanctioned drug policies, member states would have a better opportunity to develop a collective basis for a European Union Decriminalised and Harm and Risk Reduction model for cannabis, acting also as a blueprint for other geopolitical regions in the world.
The noble democratic principles upon which, we, as European Union citizens, build and model our communities and future, are best represented by the proactive voice of people’s representatives elected to
the Parliament of the EU, and commitment of upholding the highest standards in democratic representation. The establishment within the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) of a Permanent Rapporteur on the state of human rights for people who use drugs in the EU would ensure better monitoring and reporting of human rights abuses whilst issue evidence-based recommendations to individual member
In conclusion, whilst recognising limitations included in the EU acquis, I am confident the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, together with the four fundamental freedoms of the Single Market: the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital, will be placed at the helm of present and future discussions on the well-being of EU citizens, including the legal status of CBD and Hemp.
Law Enforcement Action Partnership Europe (LEAP)
Robert Luis Fenech
Moviment Graffitti Malta
International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Service (ICEERS)
EC Member Coordination/Treasurer
The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD)
Dr Felipe Neis Araujo
Lecturer in Criminology
The University of Manchester
MSc Conflict Resolution and Mediterranean Security
MSc Addiction Studies
Dr Giulia Zampini
Associate Professor in Criminology and Social Policy
University of Greenwich
Correlation-European Harm Reduction Network
Right Reporter Foundation
Hungarian Medical Cannabis Association
“The criminalisation of people obtaining a registered product manufactured within the EU and following EU health and safety regulations is not proportionate to the potential severity of the offence,” the advocacy group told von der Leyen.
Activists want the EU Commission to issue a recommendation to member states to revoke criminal consequences for anyone possessing, purchasing, selling or travelling with CBD or hemp-based products within the Schengen area.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most common compound in cannabis after THC. While THC is what gives cannabis its psychoactive effect, or ‘high’, CBD has no psychoactive properties. It is often used for its medicinal properties.
CBD cannabis looks identical to its THC equivalent.
Releaf’s letter, which was endorsed by a number of academics across Europe as well as local activist group Moviment Graffitti, cites Malta, Spain, Ireland and Italy as member states where such arrests have taken place.
Locally, the most high-profile such case concerns the arrest of doctor Andrew Agius, who was arrested and charged with importing cannabis earlier this year after police seized CBD cannabis flowers from his clinic in Paola.
The arrest came just months after legislators passed a new cannabis law that, among other things, stipulates that CBD “products” with less than 0.2% THC do not qualify as cannabis.