Irish authorities are facing a backlash over a regulatory “grey area”, following police raids on a family-run CBD shop.
The owners of a vegan CBD cafe, with premises in Galway and Kilkenny, say their business has been raided by Garda three times in the last two years.
On Thursday 4 February, officers are said to have entered the Kilkenny site of Little Collins CBD Dispensary, following complaints to a local radio station from residents about the “cafe which smells like cannabis”.
Staff at Little Collins, which sells CBD oil and hemp flower products as herbal remedies, teas, oils, ointments and butter, were advised that their products which contain less than 0.2 percent of THC is against the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977.
Business owner JP O’Brien says he has now been told he will be closed down if he continues to trade.
Mr O’Brien currently has a case for judicial review pending in the high court, following charges brought against him last year.
The Irish Times reported that in August 2020 Garda contacted Mr O’Brien informing him they were instructed to charge him with four offences under the 1977 Act.
The charges related to him being found in possession of “hemp trim” and CBD products.
However in December 2020, following the outcome of the high profile KanaVape case – in which theEuropean Court of Justice (CJEU) uled that CBD could not be classed as narcotic – Mr O’Brien launched a high court challenge arguing his prosecution, arising from selling certain hemp products is invalid under the Constitution and EU law.
Mr O’Brien, and his wife Ide, opened Little Collins in November 2018, after returning to her country from Australia.
He says he wrote to law enforcement in Galway in relation to the products before opening and was not advised of any concerns.
He sought additional reassurances from Garda before opening his Kilkenny store six months ago and was again assured that as long as the products did not contain more than 0.2 percent THC there would be no issue.
The couple say their Galway store and family home were first targeted in 2019, and in May 2020 searches are said to have been carried out at the homes of two of their customers.
The authorities have now faced a backlash from industry bodies and leading campaigners, who say CBD which contains any amount of THC is being treated as a narcotic in Ireland, despite the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 being silent on whether concentrations of 0.2 percent are controlled substances.
Chris Allen, of Hemp Federation Ireland, told Cannabis Health that industry advice from Irish authorities that EU regulatory adjustments only relate to synthetic and isolated cannabidiol products was “incompatible with central EU administrative procedures”.
According the Allen, the EU Commission’s written advice, public statements, as well as administrative adjustments under EU food law and cosmetics regulations, following the KanaVape case, reflect the fact that the EU does not consider hemp as a drug and does not regulate it as a controlled substance under the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
“Ireland’s views were sought and included in the process of reaching a unified EU position in advance of the UN vote on changes to the UN Single Convention in December. The EU voted not to include cannabidiol with 0.2 percent THC within the list of controlled substances,” she said.
“Ireland’s current position is profoundly incoherent, which is why the situation we find ourselves in does not exist in any other EU Member State.”
Ms Allen continued: “Little Collins CBD dispensary is a family run business. JP and Ide provide quality cannabidiol products to people in Galway and Kilkenny via their beautiful vegan coffee shops, all of which are double lab certified and their customers are at the centre of everything they do.
“The situation they now find themselves at the centre of now is really very distressing and completely unnecessary. It stems from a very poor understanding among regulators in Ireland about the hemp industry generally and especially cannabidiol and food products.”
A number of other CBD and hemp businesses in Ireland have had similar experiences to Mr O’Brien, many of which have now stopped trading due to fear of prosecution.
“Lots of Irish businesses in Ireland suffer similar treatment,” added Ms Allen.
“The Irish hemp industry is one of the oldest in the EU. Many Irish farms and businesses have been operating for more than 20 years and enjoyed uninterrupted trade in hemp products, including hemp foods, prior to 2018.
“The psychological impact of the actions of Irish authorities on people has increased as the sense of injustice people feel grows more acute.”
Mr O’Brien, who is being represented by high profile barrister, Micheál P. O Higgins SC says he has been advised by his legal team that an injunction would likely be unsuccessful due to the “grey area” in regulation.
But he told Cannabis Health he “will not give up” and is confident that the judicial review will be successful.
“The only real way that they can win is if they can prove that our product is a public health risk, which I’m afraid they are not going to be able to,” he said
“For the past few months there has been a massive groundswell of unrest about the cannabis situation in Ireland.
“It’s so unethical and outside the bounds of what we expect from a government who are meant to be looking after its citizens.”
Mr O’Brien continued: “At times we have felt extremely helpless and frustrated but we will never give up.
“We want to destigmatize cannabis and promote education and that is what our store is about. You never find bongs or grinders, it’s coffee, tea and sober people working in a normal environment bringing cannabis into the everyday.
“That’s what Little Collins has been about every day for the last two and a half years.”
He added: “We’re private people, we didn’t ask for any of this attention, we just need the government to acknowledge that we are not breaking the law.”
The Irish socialist political party People Before Profit, has now called for clarity on the guidelines around CBD products.
People Before Profit TD, Gino Kenny, who previously campaigned for medical cannabis legalisation, said in a statement: “There is currently a contradiction in how the present laws are interpreted. One state body, such as the Health Products Regulatory Association (HPRA) states that trace amounts of THC can be permissible in CBD products that are sold, while the customs authority goes by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 which holds THC in any amount as illegal. The misuse of drugs laws need to be amended so they synchronise with the regulations of CBD products as a food supplement.”
Carlew councillor Adrienne Wallace added: “CBD products are well known for providing medical relief to people with various ailments…The Justice Minister needs to weigh in and set the record straight.
“These are difficult enough times for people and small businesses and this is a waste of Garda resources.”
The Garda press office told Cannabis Health that An Garda Síochána does not comment on named entities or statements from third parties, but referred to the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 2016, which states: “CBD is not a controlled drug following extraction from the plant, as it is not psychoactive.
“However if CBD-containing products or preparations also contain THC, in any quantities, these are considered controlled drugs.
“Whilst there is currently no legal exemption under the Misuse of Drugs legislative framework for CBD-based products containing any amount of THC, it is envisaged that national legislation will be am
ended in the future to exempt CBD-based products containing trace amounts of THC at levels not greater than 0.3 percent from legal controls under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations.”
It added that all cases of drug seizures by An Garda Síochána are subject to analysis by Forensic Science Ireland.
The Department of Health refused to comment on Garda operations.
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