CBD, Hemp

Guide to cannabis legislation in Europe

European flag, the stars have been replaced by cannabis leaves

While Germany recently legalised the use of recreational cannabis on 1 April, the issue is still widely debated in the rest of Europe. In Europe, legislation on recreational cannabis, hemp and cannabinoids such as CBD is subject to frequent changes. These changes reflect growing recognition of the potential health benefits of cannabinoids and the economic opportunities that cannabis represents in general.

This guide explores the regulations that influence the cannabis market in Europe. We will then delve into the legal specifics of various European countries. We will look at recent changes in legislation and their impact on both consumers and businesses. Finally, we will look at future prospects and potential reforms that could reshape the standards governing cannabis and hemp..

Before getting to the heart of the matter, it's important to review a few basic concepts...

What is the difference between cannabis, hemp and CBD?

"Hemp" and "Cannabis" actually refer to the same plant.

  • Chanvre" is the French translation of the Latin word "Cannabis". It is more commonly known as hemp for varieties containing less than 0.2% THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) for seed and fibre production. These are more commonly known as cannabis for varieties with a higher THC content and intended for medical and/or recreational use.
  • Le CBD (cannabidiol), for its part, is a compound (cannabinoid) extracted from hemp. Hemp has a variety of uses, while CBD is exploited for its relaxing properties.

What is the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation?

The distinction between the decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis lies in their respective approaches to the consumption, possession and sale of this plant.

  • La decriminalising cannabis means reducing criminal penalties associated with its possession and use, often by replacing prison sentences with fines or alternative measures. However, production and sale generally remain illegal.
  • On the other hand, the legalisation of cannabis goes further, authorising not only consumption and possession for personal use, but also regulated production and sale of this substance. This allows strict control of quality, distribution and associated taxes, while putting in place policies to prevent and treat abuse.

So, while decriminalisation eases the penalties for cannabis, legalisation establishes a complete and transparent legal framework for its regulation and use.

Overview of current legislation cannabis in Europe

Regulation of cannabis, CBD and hemp in Europe is as varied as the nations that make it up. The various Member States have set up their own regulatory systems, reflecting their different views on the plant. Nonetheless, legislative harmonisation is underwayThis is thanks to the directives and rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which have an impact on national regulations.

While countries such as the The Netherlands adopts a flexible policy by authorising the sale of recreational cannabis and CBD with few restrictions. Sweden consider CBD to be a medicineThis makes its distribution subject to strict regulation (with a doctor's prescription only).

What's more, the CJEU decision which states that CBD should not be classified as a narcotic has prompted Member States to review their laws. This progress has facilitated the relaxation of laws relating to CBD and its acceptance as a wellness product in several nations.

This heterogeneity of regulations represents a challenge for companies operating in the EU, and highlights the need for more homogenous legislation at European level.

Latest legislative changes

Recent years have seen considerable legislative changes in Europe concerning cannabis.

The status of recreational cannabis in Europe (Belgium and neighbouring countries)

Cannabis in Belgium

Recreational cannabis containing more than 0.3% of THC is banned. The consumption of products derived from plants with more than 0.3% of THC is prohibited. Until 6 September 2017, possession of up to 3 grams of cannabis or a plant with more than 0.3% of THC was tolerated; since then, Belgium has reverted to a policy of prohibition, while subjecting possession and consumption of cannabis to a "low prosecution policy priority" when the following conditions are met:

  • The holder of cannabis is an adult, i.e. a person over the age of 18.
  • The quantity of cannabis held is for personal use, i.e. a maximum of 3 grams or one cultivated plant.
  • The detention is not accompanied by aggravating circumstances or disturbance of the peace.

With regard to CBD products, we invite you to consult our article CBD legislation in Belgium in 2024.

Cannabis in France

France is one of Europe's leading cannabis consumers. However, the 1970 law strictly regulates the use, possession and distribution of cannabis.

  • Possession or consumption of recreational cannabis is prohibited in all placesThere is little distinction between therapeutic and religious uses, although certain tolerances exist in overseas territories such as Polynesia. The application of the law varies according to individual and geographical interpretation, which raises questions about revising the legislation.
  • Growing cannabis for personal use is strictly prohibitedThe law provides for severe penalties for breaches. The distribution of cannabis is considered a crime, with penalties of up to life imprisonment and heavy fines. In practice, sentences may be less severe.
  • CBD is not classified as a narcotic in France, which makes it legal.. The sale and possession of hemp flowers with a low THC content (<0.3%) is permitted, but the cultivation of CBD hemp by non-growers is prohibited.

Cannabis in Luxembourg

Since 21 July 2023, the Luxembourg allows its residents to grow their own recreational cannabis plants. Under the law passed in June 2023, up to four plants may be grown per household, and the plants must not be visible from the public highway. From now on, the labels on seeds sold must also indicate the THC content, the country of origin and the producer's contact details.

Cannabis is now legal to grow, but it is also legal to consume, but only in private places and in the presence of minors. The possession, consumption or sale of cannabis in public places remains prohibited in Luxembourg.

Cannabis in Germany

Recreational cannabis has been legal in Germany since 1 April 2024. 

With the legalisation of cannabis in Germany, the government aims to combat the black market and reduce the risks associated with the consumption of poor-quality or dangerous products, as well as limiting the use of cannabis containing unknown levels of THC.

The law on cannabis, known as the Cannabisgesetz (CanG), also provides for information campaigns and intervention programmes aimed at young people, while banning advertising and sponsorship linked to cannabis consumption.

The German government is setting up its policy in several stages, known as "pillars:

  • The first pillar concerns the legal regulation of the possession, consumption and cultivation of cannabis at home, in force since 1 April 2024, as well as the creation of "cannabis clubs" from 1 July 2024.
  • The second pillar envisages the sale of cannabis in specialist shops, although the government has not yet presented any legislation on this subject.

The conditions for legalising cannabis in Germany are as follows have been resident in Germany for more than 6 months and be over 18 years of age. Cannabis clubs are also reserved for adults who have been resident in Germany for more than 6 months. These non-profit-making associations will be able to sell their members a maximum of 25 grams per day and no more than 50 grams per month.

Non-German residents have no legal means of acquiring cannabis. If they possess cannabis, they are liable to prosecution for illegal drug acquisition or importation, punishable by fines and prison sentences of up to 5 years for unauthorised possession of narcotics, and at least 2 years for offences treated as drug trafficking.

New policy directions on CBD in Europe

Implications of the Court of Justice of the European Union

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has radically influenced the regulation of CBD in Europe. In November 2020, a landmark decision was handed down: "A Member State may not prohibit the marketing of cannabidiol lawfully produced in another Member State".she wrote in a press release. This is despite the fact that CBD "is extracted from the entire Cannabis sativa (hemp) plant and not just from its fibres and seeds".

This ruling underlined the importance of unified regulation within the EU. In addition, the CJEU specified that any limits imposed on CBD must be aimed at protecting public health. These limits must not exceed what is strictly necessary to achieve this objective.

The repercussions of these rulings are considerable. They affect both the marketing of CBD and its reputation and potential on the European market.

WHO recommendations on CBD

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also played a key role in shaping the international perception and regulation of CBD. In 2017, it suggested that CBD should not be classified as a controlled substancebecause of its no psychotropic effect and risk to human health. A controlled substance is any form of drug that the federal government has categorised as having a higher than average potential for abuse or addiction. These drugs are divided into categories based on the potential rate of abuse or addiction.

In addition, thehe WHO has recognised CBD as a promising treatment for epilepsyincluding adults, children and animals. She also underlined the potential of CBD in the fight against severe pathologies such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, psychosis and Parkinson's disease.

The WHO's recommendations have stimulated a worldwide re-evaluation of CBD. This movement has led to growing recognition of its therapeutic virtues and more flexible regulations.

Impact of the regulatory framework on the CBD market

Influence on hemp producers

field of hemp in belgium

Current legislation is having a significant impact on hemp growers. The gradual legalisation of CBD has led to a boom in demand for low-THC strains. This has led to an expansion in cultivation areas and increased diversification of hemp-based products.

Faced with these opportunities, producers face major challenges. They must comply with constantly changing regulations and invest in standardised growing and processing techniques. In this context, professional associations are becoming crucial for defending the interests of producers and stimulating research aimed at improving the quality and efficiency of production.

As the European leader in this sector, France's producers have been quick to adjust to new market opportunities. They are facing up to the pressure of production costs and are calling for uniform regulations across the EU to simplify cross-border trade.

Consequences for CBD traders and consumers

The CBD retail sector is experiencing unprecedented growth, with an increasing number of specialist shops and online platforms. This dynamism has its roots in theGrowing consumer interest in the beneficial effects of CBD on well-being.

However, this growth is accompanied by considerable regulatory challenges. Traders are navigating in a unclear legal frameworkIt's a market punctuated by uncertainties and legal risks. Decisions such as the prohibition of certain cannabinoids reduce the range of products available and can threaten the survival of companies.

Consumers are directly affected by these regulations. It determines the accessibility, quality and safety of the CBD products available. While some benefit from a wider, regulated choice, others suffer from constraints or inconsistent product information. It therefore seems essential to establish transparent and uniform regulations.

Future challenges and expected reforms

Harmonisation of European legislation on CBD

The challenge of harmonising the regulation of CBD in the European Union is a major one. Standards currently differ from one Member State to another, with THC levels ranging from 0.2 % to 0.3 %. This diversity hampers cross-border trade and the uniformity of the internal market.

Initiatives are being taken to achieve uniform regulations. These include rulings by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and guidance from EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) for CBD as a new food. The ambition? To achieve a legislative framework that guarantees public safety while promoting the economic development of hemp.

Standardisation would also clarify the rules for consumers and increase confidence in CBD products. By guaranteeing consistent quality and safety across Europe, it would simplify market dynamics.

Current debates and future prospects

The discussions surrounding CBD in Europe focus on its legality, regulation and impact on public health. For example, France recently categorised certain cannabinoids as narcotics, while admitting CBD with less than 0.3 % of THC. These exchanges highlight the complexity of regulating CBD and the importance of striking a balance between control and accessibility.

Changes are on the horizon, such as the potential reclassification of CBD by the European Commission. This would affect the rules on novel foods and could broaden the range of CBD-based products available on the market.

In addition, WHO recommendations and research into the effects of CBD could enrich our understanding of its benefits and risks. These advances could lead to more precise regulations, adapted to the latest scientific discoveries.


Legislation on CBD and cannabis in Europe is currently undergoing major changes. This change reflects a desire for more uniform regulation and a more accessible market. Faced with this situation, it is crucial for producers, traders and consumers to keep abreast of developments and prepare to adjust to the new directives.

The outlook for the future is hopeful: it suggests possible reforms. These could simplify commercial procedures and facilitate access to the various CBD products. This highlights the crucial importance of remaining vigilant about legislative developments. Active involvement in the ongoing discussions is essential if we are to contribute to the development of a regulatory environment that favours both balance and innovation.