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.

“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.

Agius has argued that the CBD cannabis flowers that police seized fall under that definition; prosecutors, on the other hand, say that cannabis flowers are not “products” and are therefore excluded.

The Prime Minister has said that he hopes police enforce the law in the “spirit” it was intended. Agius continues to face criminal charges.

Agius’ case is mirrored in similar ones across various member states.

The premise of such prosecutions is arguably on shaky legal ground, given a 2020 European Court of Justice judgement which concluded that CBD is “not a drug”, given its lack of psychoactive properties.

European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides reacted to that ruling by announcing, in October 2021, that the Commission considers CBD as a form of novel food provided key food safety regulations are met.

Releaf’s letter was signed by the lobby group’s president Andrew Bonello. Co-signatories include top representatives of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership Europe,  European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, Correlation-European Harm Reduction Network, academics from the University of Manchester, University of Malta and University of Greenwich and a Moviment Graffitti member.

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