Kava's Legal Status

Kava's legal status has had a long and bumpy ride. Today, most major countries regulate kava in some form, but it's rarely prohibited from personal use. And yes, the legal status of kava in the United States is that it is not banned. Poland is the only country in Europe--and possibly worldwide--where kava is definitively banned. It is illegal to import, sell, cultivate, or even possess kava in Poland.

In the rest of the world though, kava's legal status can be quite murky. Some laws in some countries are difficult to decode, and we present you with our findings below.

NOTE: For a continuously updated list of kava kava's legal status around the world, look to our Kava - Worldwide Legal Status post on Makaira's Blog.  She updates it whenever something relevant is published.

After Poland, Australia has some of the most far-reaching legal restrictions on kava: as of June 25th, 2007, amounts of kava over 2 kilograms can only be imported for medical or scientific research purposes, and a permit is required for importation. Travelers to Australia can import up to 2 kilograms of kava in their luggage for personal use, but it's illegal to sell kava in Australia.

Kava's legal status in France is unclear. Some sources we found suggested that France has banned all importation of all kava supplements, but the whole herb may still be available from French herbalists. Similarly, after the "kava scare" of the early 2000's, Switzerland banned the sale of Laitan, a pharmaceutical that contained a synthetic form of the kavalactone kavain. However, it may still be possible to buy kava root powder in Switzerland.

Norway doesn't have specific bans of most herbal products, but we have been told that the national health council considers them to be prescription medications, regardless of what they are!

Britain has banned the sale of all medicines containing kava extracts, but importing it as a dietary supplement is still legal, although it seems that they have made it illegal for consumption. We couldn't figure out the laws, and we don't know if the U.K. can either.

Finally, a few countries in Europe and elsewhere have followed Britain's less-than-clear approach to defining kava's legal status: though banned from commercial sale, kava appears to be legal for individuals to import in Ireland, Sweden, and Canada. Health Canada (Canada's health regulation agency) issued a stop-sale order blocking the sales of kava products for human consumption in 2002 in response to a Swiss-German study that raised concerns about kava's effects on the liver. That study has now been debunked, but Health Canada's stop-sale order is still in place. However, kava manufacturers outside of Canada are still free to ship kava to buyers within the country.

As you can see, kava's legal status isn't always clear-cut. If you can add to this list or provide references, we would be grateful.