The Czech government will no longer go forward with a proposed measure to ban sales of food products containing CBD which was due to come into effect in mid-June.
Prime minister Petr Fiala announced that the measure would be suspended as a result of a meeting he had with other ministers and the country’s anti-drug co-ordinator.
“We have agreed that the upcoming measure on the sale of CBD will not come into force now,” Fiala said following the meeting with deputy prime minister Ivan Bartoš, minister of agriculture Zdeněk Nekula, minister of legislation Michal Šalomoun and national anti-drug co-ordinator Jindřich Vobořil.
The prime minister added that a ban would be counterproductive for both consumers and the industry.
On 17th May, Fiala said: “A working group will meet this afternoon to look for a way to ensure that foods containing CBD do not fall under this ban now, as this would represent a major complication for users of this substance and for a number of Czech entrepreneurs.”
The Czech government is, however, still looking to regulate the CBD market. “The group will also work to ensure that the market for CBD products is governed by clear and predictable rules,” Fiala said.
Pushback against recreational legalisation
While the ban proposal, which the agriculture ministry issued in April, was met with concern by the industry, the prime minister’s recent announcement that the measure would be dropped and replaced with a discussion potentially leading to the regulation of the CBD market was welcomed as a positive development by the Czech hemp sector.
Jan Martin Pad’ouk, head of research and development at Czech hemp company CannaFamily, told CannIntelligence: “The CBD food supplement market was completely unregulated in the Czech Republic and now, finally, we are heading towards some regulation.”
According to Pad’ouk, the push to ban CBD food products may be part of a wider opposition to the legalisation of recreational cannabis in a country where THC consumption rates are among the highest in Europe.
“My personal opinion is that it was some kind of a pushback as we are trying to establish the adult-use market,” Pad’ouk said. “We are trying to legalise here, and people from the same party opposing this proposal are trying to push back in this way, it seems quite clear.”
Shortly after the measure against the sale of CBD food products was proposed, Fiala said he would meet with Nekula to find “a more viable solution than a total ban”, which wouldn’t be “a proper one” based on feedback he had received from the general public as well as entrepreneurs.
This is why the government’s decision to suspend the ban did not come as a surprise to the sector.
‘More papist than the Pope’
According to Hana Gabrielová, president of the nonprofit hemp association Czech Hemp Cluster (CzecHemp), the ban proposal may have been the product of a “bureaucratic attitude” on behalf of some administrators.
“Sometimes our officers are, so to say, more papist than the Pope,” Gabrielová told CannIntelligence. “They try to show that they are doing a great job and they don’t realise what the effects and the impact of their decisions on the market may be.”
In the Czech Republic, as in all EU member states, CBD food supplements are considered as novel food products and are therefore required to undergo the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) novel food process.
While a number of applications from CBD companies have already been validated by the agency, no products have yet been registered and, in June last year, Efsa put the process on hold with a controversial request for applicants to submit further toxicological research which has delayed potential registrations indefinitely.
In this context, all food products containing CBD should not be allowed on the market in any EU country, including the Czech Republic.
A ban on CBD food supplements, though, Gabrielová said, would only fuel the circulation of unsafe products.
“These products are not going to disappear from the market – they would just move to the black market where they would be completely out of control, so this would not help food safety at all,” she said.
The traditional food argument
Before the Czech government’s step back on the ban, the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) tried to stop the measure by asking the EU member state to consider hemp extracts with “natural occurring levels of cannabinoids” as traditional food – as opposed to novel food – which would spare them from the obligation of registering with Efsa.
The EIHA said that the Czech ban proposal came after a EU Council meeting which took place at the end of February and whose summary report contains a statement treating all hemp extracts as novel foods.
EIHA president Daniel Kruse said: “We regret that the Czech minister of agriculture considered the possibility to follow the position of some EU member states that pushed for such statement without taking into consideration the use of hemp extracts with natural occurring levels of cannabinoids as traditional food.”
Speaking with CannIntelligence, EIHA managing director Lorenza Romanese said that the industry association used Article 4 of the EU novel food regulation to object to the Czech government’s consideration of all food products containing CBD as novel.
It is not the first time the EIHA has questioned the European Commission’s decision to consider all CBD food supplements as novel food. But this time, Romanese said, the organisation had better chances to push its position through.
“The Czech government, to which we had access for dialogue through the CzecHemp cluster, our member, cannot stop the clock on a mechanism such as this, which is what Efsa did, so they would have had to respond,” she said. “If they had acknowledged our claim, this would have benefitted the entire sector, not just the Czech one.”
If this is the case, it may suggest that the Czech Republic is willing to go against the EU in setting its own domestic cannabis policy, which could be a harbinger for what it does with recreational cannabis.
– Tiziana Cauli CannIntelligence staff
Photo: Oleh Morhun