Absinthe Laws

Is absinthe banned where you live? The answer is probably not. Absinthe was banned in most Western nations in the early 1900’s, but loopholes in the laws and repeals of the ban allowed the production, distribution, and consumption of absinthe to pick up again in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Most countries do not have a legal definition of absinthe (unlike wine, beer, and most other spirits) which allowed the absinthe revival to flourish in recent years. However, the lack of a legal definition for absinthe means that absinthe bottlers can label their product in any way they like, regardless of how closely the recipe matches the superior traditional blend. As a result, while the laws on absinthe bottling and labeling may be lax, the laws tend to restrict the levels or grades of thujone contained in an absinthe blend. Thujone is the potent psychedelic chemical present in absinthe.

Absinthe Law by Nation/Region

United States
Federal law allows for the root ingredient of absinthe, Artemisia absinthium (wormwood), to be present in foods and beverages, but foods and beverages that contain this ingredient must be free of thujone, the psychoactive chemical present in absinthe. The loophole that exists for thujone is that wormwood is the only ingredient regulated for its thujone content, so while thujone present in wormwood may be considered illegal, another substance, such as sage oil, that does contain thujone, would not be restricted.

Thujone is regulated in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as opposed to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Thujone is considered to be a very minor psychoactive chemical in United States law, similar to chocolate or caffeine, substances which are also regulated by the FDA.

As of 2007, the regulations on sale and possession of absinthe in the United States were relaxed, with several foreign and domestic brands approved for distribution. An American absinthe distillery, St. George Spirits of Alameda, California, opened up shop in 2007. St. George Spirits is the first American absinthe distillery since 1912.

Liquor laws in Canada differ in the provinces, with no blanket national regulations. As of this writing, there is no law that bans or outlaws absinthe in Canada, but like in the United States, there are laws governing the amount of the psychoactive chemical thujone, which is present in absinthe.

British Columbia has no regulation for thujone content, essentially legalizing absinthe in any form there. The provinces of Ontario, Alberta, and Nova Scotia allow the sale of absinthe with a thujone content of about 10 milligrams per kilogram. The remaining Canadian provinces do not allow the sale of absinthe containing thujone.
As the laws governing thujone content in Canada vary by province, the laws are subject to change.

European Union
The sale of absinthe is currently permitted in all E.U. countries, with thujone levels allowed at a much higher rate than in the United States and Canada.

Absinthe was outlawed in its home nation for nearly a century, from 1910 to 2005. The only laws currently governing the production and sale of absinthe in Switzerland are that the absinthe must be distilled and uncolored. If Swiss absinthe is colored, it must not be artificially colored.

Bottlers of absinthe in France have been finding loopholes for decades, and the current law states that substances called absinthe are illegal, though they can be produced and exported. The common French name for French absinthe is spiritueux à base de plantes d’absinthe, or “wormwood-based spirits.” Due to certain chemical restrictions governing the presence of fennel (one of the “Holy Trinity” ingredients) in absinthe, the pure absinthe produced and sold in Switzerland is almost totally illegal in France.

Curiously, though the major outrage over absinthe “addicts” began in England, the U.K. has never outlawed the drink, and holds no current restrictions of its sale, distribution, or possession. Enjoy.

Absinthe is readily available in most parts of Australia, with even lesser thujone restrictions than that of the European Union’s – compare the 25 mg/kg allowed in the E.U. to 35mg/kg allowed in Australia. Absinthe distilleries are rare in Australia, but at least one exists, the Tamborine Mountain Distillery on Australia’s Gold Coast.