E.U. CBD: Crisis = Opportunity

CBD in Europe has been handed a unique situation. We have the history (12.000 years of use, Europeans smoked hemp before tobacco), the science (35.353 studies on PubMed alone), economics (read: JOBS!), disintermediation of mafia (state or private), huge potential improvement in public health, and massive public support behind us. This opening gambit by E.U. regulators is a gift, a tool for us to leverage what we want in terms of regulations but also in building consumer demand; done right from this 98% of adults will know about CBD and half will want to buy it. It’s a gift of epic proportions for the right team. A group with smarts + courage + professionalism. Younger people, those with a vision for the future and less invested in fibre, meager CAP subsidies, and monopolies on seed working against farmers. Consumer demand counts for something, yet archaic E.U. regulations discount the market, which is the ultimate arbiter, not bureaucrats illegally protecting us from ourselves. The Market is less enamored with approved strains better for fibre and a few for seed, but rather The Market now demands more Cannabinoids and terpenes. And that’s where the approved varieties fall far short. “Anti-science E.U. Ignores W.H.O. and Bans Non-intoxicating, Safe, Effective, Popular Cannabinoid From Legal Industrial Hemp.” Take it and run, that’s a PR gift from God.

“We decide something, then put it in the room and wait for a while to see what happens. If there is no big shouting and no riots because most people do not understand what has been decided, then we go on – step by step until there is no going back.” Jean-Claude Juncker, former President of the European Commission (2014-9), in The Brussels Republic, “Der Spiegel,” December 27, 1999.

That’s also how the FDA in the U.S. does it; float trial balloons to see what happens. The latest balloon floated in Brussels was a sucker-punch by EFSA regulators to European CBD companies and associations last week, appearing to sink the industry’s plans to go through the Novel Foods (NF) regulatory process like the same regulators asked them to, to get CBD legal. Once the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) announced they had a quorum to do so, EFSA pulled the plug. In a way that was a gift, because it saved the industry millions of Euros chasing certification that was never intended to be granted.

EIHA pinned its future existence on its new NF project, it amounted to a million Euro blank check in perpetuity for EIHA.

But in crisis lies opportunity, in this case huge opportunity. For EIHA to state this will destroy the entire hemp sector is not only hyperbole but self-defeating, conceding the war before the first skirmish. Sun Tzu would be appalled. Seed and fibre aren’t going anywhere. The WHO report on CBD proves this is not a science-based decision, but a political one. Like in the US, E.U. regulators want to turn CBD over to their friends at Big Pharma.

(As an aside: I, too, have had my mission interrupted by regulators and associations reacting to them. In 2001 DEA tried to legalize 96% of hemp products outright with no max THC, as its mission changed after 9/11. Fiber hemp association Hemp Industries Association (HIA) sued to stop it, killing the market for hemp foods for years and almost taking Canadian hemp with it. At the time I was flush with cash after selling my company for millions, riding massive momentum and now free to concentrate on running just HempNut Inc. instead of two companies; there was nothing that could stop it. Nothing, that is, except HIA suing DEA for legalizing hemp and killing the hemp food market for years.)

It’s clear that lobbying and litigation is needed to deal with these whims of unelected bureaucrats illegally making new law. Blind compliance is not a good strategy when you have better, more righteous alternatives after 12.000 years of use. One way to influence Brussels is by getting what you want in a member state first. Show that it works and why, and that the sky didn’t fall in.

The E.U. is a collection of 27 member states, and like states in the U.S. they have a degree of autonomy. Just as it is easier to do hemp in Colorado than Kentucky, I suggest finding an E.U. member state more receptive to the carrot of lobbying with the stick of litigation, a smaller one. While in theory the laws across member states are harmonized, the devil is in the details; enforcement varies widely. Cannabis in the US is state-by-state; it might yet get to that on the Continent. Get medieval on regulators the way say Bayer would. We have history, science, economics, and consumer demand on our side.

Leverage production there and sell throughout Europe. Simultaneously, do what Big Pharma would do: hammer each nation’s Health Ministries with science and the very long and very uneventful history of CBD there. Get the natural and unavoidable component of NF-exempt hempseed oil, CBD, also declared exempt. Concurrently, get the Economic Ministries on board because not just jobs, but JOBS! Same with the Agriculture Ministries.

By allowing regulators to define Cannabis, CBD, and the process, you’re ceding them a false narrative. Like other substances, it’s so big it doesn’t neatly fit into the “either food or drug” classification. Leverage that. Don’t give their wishful narratives credence, don’t stop pushing back, and don’t admit defeat of the battle. Incite the “big shouting and riots” Juncker mentions, both among the industry as well as consumers and patients.

Associations need to work for all of the industry this time, not just certain members. Support general Cannabis legalization, as hemp will always be yoked with the weight of marijuana prohibition, an anti-science law steeped in a history of racism. As goes Cannabis reform so goes hemp. Support the movement even if traditionalists are opposed, long preferring separating rope from dope. Those days are over, they are entwined more than we want them to be. Legalization of marijuana is closer by the day. Hitch a hempen rope to it, pressure Geneva to deschedule Cannabis in December. Italy’s #iocoltivo movement might break it open. They’ll drop like flies after.

Resist the temptation to apply scientific rigor to a political problem. Like Schedule 1 in the US, the decision wasn’t based on science or public health, just politics. It needs the carrot of lobbying backed with the stick of litigation.

Develop a hard-line left- or right-wing hemp association, so as to be able to use them to shift the Overton Window. It’ll make EIHA (or whomever rises to the challenge) appear even more reasonable.

Like bureaucracies, trade associations’ prime directive is to expand influence and budget. Second is to help only members get an advantage over non-members, and often only certain members at that. Since the general industry is not a stakeholder for them, associations will manipulate regulators for their members’ benefit (while disingenuously telling them they represent the entire sector). That’s why HIA slowed U.S. hemp legalization for years, to protect members with investments in Canadian hemp from the “scourge” of U.S. hemp.

In crisis lies opportunity. Change the mindset of defeat, otherwise you’ve lost the war before you even started. This is a huge opportunity handed to the European CBD industry. Embrace it, own it.

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