Regulating the low-THC cannabis market in Europe

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Thursday, 24 October, 2019 - 13:20 to 14:50
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In 2011, Switzerland changed for practical reasons the legal limit separating industrial hemp from illicit cannabis with a new threshold of 1% THC instead of 0.2%. Five years later, Swiss cannabis producers started marketing “legal cannabis” with low THC and high CBD levels as a tobacco substitute. CBD cannabis products became available throughout the country and sold by some of the main supermarket chains as well as most newspaper and tobacco shops.

While flowers (Marijuana) to smoke is generally the only product for sale in supermarkets and tobacco shops, specialized shops and websites also sell various other products (oils, tinctures, crystals, edibles, cosmetics, e-liquids, etc.) based on CBD extraction from the cannabis plant. In some ways, Switzerland has experienced a cannabis market revolution similar to those occurring in North America with one important difference: the Swiss cannabis doesn’t allow to get stoned.

Since 2017, herbal cannabis and cannabis oils with less 0,2% THC have been offered for open sale in health food shops or specialist shops in several EU countries, including France, Italy, Luxembourg and Austria. Sales have taken place based on the claim that these products have little or no intoxicating effect and therefore are not controlled under drug laws. Contrary to the Swiss regulation, low-THC flowers has not been regulated for inhalation use, and is considered as a non-food consumer product by EU lawmakers. Despite the hype on this market, there is a substantial lack of information on consumers’ attitudes and motivations toward low-THC cannabis consumption. In the same vain, current understanding of purchasing, consumption and substitution patterns and drivers are limited to the anecdotal debate.