Dear Kava Guru,
What is kava’s legal status? Is kava legal everywhere?
With all of the recent legal changes surrounding kava, it’s certainly hard to keep track of where it is and is not legal and what its actual legal status is in those places. For example, there was even a change as recent as June of this year – in Germany the Federal Administrative Court overturned the 2002 ban that had been placed on kava-containing products .
So, I am writing the following article to help clear up some of those confusing bits surrounding kava legalities.
Is kava legal in my country?
Thankfully the list of countries where kava is formally illegal or partially illegal is much smaller than the list of where kava is fully legal. So, I will do my best now to outline where kava is not legal and in what respects.
As mentioned above, in Germany there has been a recent victory for kava with the repeal of the 2002 kava bans. However, there are still limitations on the marketing capabilities of companies selling and distributing kava and kava-containing products – so the actual legal status of selling kava in Germany is still a bit foggy. The International Kava Executive Council (IKEC) and partners of the German Pharmaceutical Industry initiated the file that led to the repeal of the kava ban .
While the IKEC’s involvement in serving justice with regard to kava is an ongoing positive force – the pharmaceutical companies were (interestingly enough) where the initial bans were said to have come from. Of course it’s not entirely clear what is going on here, but I have my guru suspicions. My guess is that some members of the German pharmaceutical industries are seeing the potential for a grand investment in manufacturing kava-based pharmaceuticals. It is no secret now that kava has real anxiolytic properties, and pharmaceutical companies could certainly make a killing by joining in the battle to fully legalize kava everywhere; although ever fiber of my kava being would rather keep kava the pure, earthy and unadulterated natural remedy that it is.
In some countries kava has had quite the tumultuous legal history, resulting in the creation of actual legal bodies to deal with the regulation of kava. For example, in Australia the National Code of Kava Management has been implemented to deal with the supplies of kava coming in and out of the country and circulating throughout it. It would appear as though the legalities of kava are also not uniform across Australia – with the Northern Territories perhaps exhibiting a heightened legal sensitivity to kava: the sale of kava is illegal in this part of Australia and in a majority of cases the actual possession of kava is also illegal . The legal status is not any clearer in the other countries that have laws surrounding the regulation of kava.
Many other countries with laws surrounding the kava plant have regulations similar to the ones now in Germany – where kava is not actually banned, but where there are a series of regulations and restrictions placed on the sale of kava. Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and Canada are all countries that have these types of legalities surrounding the sale of kava, even though kava is not actually banned in these countries .
The U.K also has unclear laws regarding kava. While the sale, supply, and import of kava-containing products is illegal and could result in a criminal offense – there is nonetheless a kava bar in the U.K called the Kava Pub, so kava cannot actually be fully banned [5, 7].
In terms of fully locked-up laws regarding kava – Poland is the only country that I am currently aware of. In Poland kava is completely illegal in all respects – the import, sale, possession, distribution and all other related activities involving kava are completely prohibited in Poland .
Aside from the South Pacific islands, states within the United States of America are probably the next place to look for the most liberally kava-loving populations. Not only is kava no longer banned in the U.S, but there are also a rising number of kava bars: places where people can go to explicitly enjoy the relaxing and wholesome properties of kava. As far as my guru knowledge is aware, the U.S is the only other area that has a steadily rising-kava loving population outside of the South Pacific.
- Kava is explicitly banned in Poland only (as far as I know)
- There are unclear legalities surrounding the sale of kava in Germany, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands and other unclear laws and regulations in the U.K.
- Australia does not strictly ban kava, but its regulations and other legal structures that surround kava are so obscure and problematic that the use of kava in Australia can be difficult.
- The United States was at one time a country that banned kava, but is now a kava-loving nation!
Why is kava illegal at all?
Back in 2002 there was a popularized series of cases that declared kava had hepatotoxic properties – cases that brought kava into the eye of many legal systems across the globe. A series of studies funded and published by the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte, or “BfArM”) advertised unsubstantiated claims that kava was causing liver damage . However, as many reports and case studies have indicated, there are numerous reasons why these studies have since been proven to be inconclusive. Most recently a study presented at the 2014 International Conference on the Science of Botanicals indicated that the strains used in the BfArM study may be responsible for the hepatotoxic scare .
But, in order to stay on topic – I will simply direct you to other places on the site where I discuss these implications and the BfArM case in more detail:
Long story short, these German studies initiated a multinational discussion on the topic of kava and the possibility that it might cause liver damage. As a result a series of bans on kava’s sale and import from the South Pacific began to surface and controversial information about kava began circulating on a multi-national level. Kava and its friends have since had quite the battle trying to restore justice on a global front with regard to the improper legal restrictions placed on kava and its use or sale.
The Kava Act
As a result of these many legal issues and the large body of information now surfacing with regard to the Piper methysticum plant, primary export nations within the South Pacific have enacted and implemented The Kava Act. The Kava Act is intended to regulate the cultivation, sale and export of kava – ensuring that only regulated and permitted strains of noble kava are in legal circulation. The Vanuatu Parliament enacted the Kava Act back in 2002 in order to respond to the global circulation of misinformation regarding kava. The Kava Act prohibits the sale of any other kava cultivar outside of noble kava strains. The Act is part of an international effort to regulate the sale and export of kava – in order for it to be used properly as it was intended for its natural and beneficial properties .
International Kava Executive Council (IKEC)
There is one primary executive body that is at the forefront of the battle to serve justice when it comes to fighting for the legal status of kava on a global front – the International Kava Executive Council (IKEC). The following definition is from the IKEC’s official Internet home page:
“The IKEC is an international organization consisting of delegates from the Pacific and the EU, focusing on re-establishing the kava trade between the kava-producing South Pacific Island States and the countries of the European Union ”.
The IKEC is headed by Roy Mickey Joy – the Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union. Currently Mr. Joy is working with the IKEC and other governing bodies to lift the few bans that remain on the sale, cultivation or export/import of kava – with a particular focus on the bans that surround kava and its use in the EU .
My guru instincts tell me that it will just be a matter of time before kava (pure noble kava) is legalized completely on a global scale. With people like Mr. Joy and others involved in the battle to legalize kava and all activities related to kava kava – I believe that our beloved Piper methysticum is in very good hands. There are only a few pockets of the world where there are still laws restricting the use of kava and these pockets are actively intertwined with people and government bodies who are fighting for such restrictions to be lifted.
Ahhhh, I certainly cannot wait until the day when I’m welcome to bring my kava bowl to all corners of the world and sit and share the joy of kava with all of those around me – what a beautiful day that shall be!
1. Lealaiauloto Aigaletaulealea Tauafiafi. “Kava Lifted: German Court Lifts Ban on Pacific Kava”. Pacific Guardians, Dec 06, 2014:
2. Lebot, Vincent and Patricia Simeoni. “Identification of factors determining kavalactone content and chemotype in Kava (Piper methysticum)”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Vol. 56: 2008, p. 4976-4981.
3. INSIDER T.V. “New Science May Boost Kava Market”. http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/videos/2014/05/insider-tv-new-science-may-boost-kava-market.aspx.
4. International Kava Executive Council [IKEC]. “News”. http://www.ikec.org/?q=node/10.
5. Kona Kava Farm. “Kava Banned Countries”. http://www.konakavafarm.com/kava-banned-countries.html.
6. Radio New Zealand International. “Vanuatu Wants Kava Bans Lifted”: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/249183/vanuatu-wants-kava-bans-lifted.
7. Wikipedia. “Kava”. Last updated Sept 1, 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kava.