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European Union Considers Increasing Hemp’s THC Limit

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Apr 12, 2019   
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The European Union could soon change its legal THC levels in approved hemp varieties from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent. The possibility stems from the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development’s recent approval of a batch of proposals for reforms to the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

Among these amendments is the proposal that would increase the allowable THC levels in hemp back up to 0.3 percent to be in line with non-European countries, such as the US and Canada. Some had called for the levels to be increased to 1.0 percent, to match the legislation in neighboring Switzerland. But a smaller increase was thought to be the most favorable and have the best chance to pass a vote. 

The amendment has been approved by the committee, but it will still need to be agreed to by the full EU Parliament and the EU Council. If these bodies further ratify the measure, the new 0.3 percent limit could come into effect as early as January 2021. 

Previously, the EU limit on THC in hemp has been as high as 0.5 percent, but waves of reform over the past few decades have driven the limit lower and lower. 

In 1984, when THC limits were first determined in Europe, this 0.5 percent limit was set to reflect the scientific beliefs of the time. After just three years, this cap fell to 0.3 percent as a measure for the “protection of public health”. And in 1999, the limit fell once again to 0.2 percent, where it has remained until this day. 

According to the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA), this was done to “prevent the cultivation of illicit drug type cannabis in industrial hemp fields”, but they argue that “no evidence was ever presented to support this opinion”, and so the limit should be amended back to pre-1999 standards.

Reacting to the recent committee vote, Lorenza Romanese, the Managing Director of EIHA, told HempToday, “[the vote] represents a major step forward for the sector. EIHA worked hard to assure the positive vote.” 

The EIHA believe that raising the limit, even incrementally, will help the European hemp industry keep pace with the competition in North America and in Asia. Romanese says that the current rules on THC levels “restrict the choice of varieties for European farmers”. Currently there are around 60 varieties of hemp that are available for European farmers, but the EIHA believe that raising the limit will encourage a greater diversity of products in the European hemp market. 

In addition to maintaining a healthy and competitive industry, the EIHA also argue that “there is no reason for a THC limit of 0.2 percent” and state that “0.2 percent [THC containing hemp varieties] are as safe as 0.3 percent [varieties] regarding drug abuse and there will be no noticeable effect on illicit cannabis production [from changing the limit].”

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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