Italy’s Minister of Health Moves to Classify CBD as Narcotic

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The move by the Italian government, by way of two decrees, effectively serves as a ban on the country’s CBD market.

 

What happened to making progress?

In many ways, the story of CBD has so far been one of immense success. As domestic interest in this non-psychoactive cannabinoid continues to inspire substantial sales in America, the rest of the world has begun to take a shine to it as well.

To be certain, the U.S. was far from the first nation to get into the CBD game. Regardless, the purchasing power of American buyers has defined the domestic market as the example to follow. That includes large gains in Europe, where CBD is establishing a foothold in national markets as well.

This makes recent news that Italy’s Minister of Health has classified CBD as a narcotic a truly startling turn of events.

In addition to the decree issued by the Minister of Health categorizing CBD as a narcotic, HempToday reports that Italy’s Customs and Monopoly Agency released a separate order in tandem. This subsequent decree warned retailers “not to hold and sell . . . inflorescences (flowers), oils and resins or other products containing substances derived from hemp sativa.”

First published in Italy’s Official Gazette, the decrees — as taken together — effectively outlaw CBD in Italy outside of medically-approved usage.

Giacomo Bulleri, an Italian lawyer familiar with his country’s cannabis sector, confirmed the outcome in a conversation with the website Fanpag.it

“This decree specifies that CBD for oral use extracted from cannabis is in the drug table and can only be produced with the authorization of AIFA (the Italian Medicines Agency),” said Bulleri. “Therefore, the oils on the market for undefined use are illegal.”

Essentially, Italy has added CBD to the country’s table of medicines.

While not a perfect comparison by any means, one can look to the way the U.S. “schedules” controlled substances in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act for some idea of where Italy’s actions may lead. No matter how you slice it, the outcome of these decrees is restricted access to a compound that seems to have a lot of uses that shouldn’t necessarily require a doctor’s input.

There’s also another conflict in the form of (you guessed it) yet another decree.

“The moves set up an apparent conflict in Italy,” HempToday points out, “following a separate recent decree from the Agriculture Ministry that listed hemp flowers for ‘extraction uses’ as an agricultural product, and not a drug.”

Furthermore, the outlet also highlights a potential reason for the move: setting the table for Epidiolex to hit the market.

Manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals out of the U.K., Epidiolex is a CBD-based drug that has been found to be effective in treating patients suffering from several debilitating forms of epilepsy. In what can be assumed was welcome news for Italians suffering from conditions like Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastault Syndrome, GW recently requested authorization to begin selling Epidiolex on the Italian market.

“Observers have noted that the decree establishing narcotic status for CBD is, in part, preparation for the introduction of Epidiolex,” reports HempToday. “GW is slowly expanding its distribution of Epidiolex in Europe, with rollouts also afoot in the U.K., Germany, Spain and France. GW made cannabis history in 2018 when it earned approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for Epidiolex, making it the first cannabis-derived prescription drug to gain federal approval in the United States.”

Okay, so if Italy’s new decrees are prep for the arrival of Epidiolex, where does that leave smokeable hemp? As is so often the case when it comes to matters of cannabis legality, the answer is something akin to ‘we’ll have to wait and see.’

“It remains to be seen what will happen in Italy with smokable hemp,” HempToday concludes. “Sold as pre-rolled cigarettes and loose in pouches, smokable hemp has rapidly grown in popularity in Italy and Switzerland over the past couple years.”

The reason for this uncertainty?

The nebulous nature of the Customs and Monopoly Agency’s stop-sell order, which was limited only to extracted CBD and thus did not explicitly cover hemp flower. For now, it seems like smokable hemp is still kosher, though, as HempToday points out, “hemp inflorescences can also contain hemp seeds, which are technically legal in Italy, raising still further potential confusion.”

Big picture: the real story lies with what happens at the European Union level.

In July, the European Commission issued a preliminary conclusion with ominous possibilities for the larger CBD and hemp industries. That conclusion, which would classify hemp extracts, including CBD, as narcotics for all EU countries, continues to face resistance from European stakeholders reportedly “blindsided” by the decision.

In a worrisome sign, HempToday notes that the efforts of CBD advocates have thus far failed to yield any results.

“There’s been little indication so far that they’re having any success. European hemp interests have said if the EC does not change its position on extracts, it could have a drastic negative effect on the CBD sector, and the hemp industry overall.”

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