Is France close to legalizing cannabis? As the world's seventh-largest economy, France has been slowly inching toward legalization (emphasis on slowly). As of late, it has taken a more proactive approach toward developing a route for legalization. While France’s medical cannabis and hemp markets lag behind others in Europe, it’s poised for success once it legalizes weed.
What's Legal and What's Not?
Until recently, France had some of the strictest laws against cannabis use in Europe, despite having some of the highest cannabis usage rates on the continent. In 2018, France allowed citations instead of arrests and trials for possession of cannabis. Instead of going to jail, an individual would pay a €200 fine. In 2020, the punishment for cannabis consumption was reduced to €200, as well.
Distribution and Cultivation
While the punishment for possession and consumption in straightforward cases was reduced, selling cannabis earns you a hefty fine and jail time. Trafficking cannabis could get you up to 10 years in jail and a €7.5 million fine. The sentence can be doubled if you're caught selling to minors or near an educational facility. If caught growing plants, you could get up to 20 years in jail or a fine of up to €7.5 million.
In June 2013, France allowed the production and distribution of cannabis medicinal derivatives. Only available by prescription, the medications were meant for treatment-resistant conditions. However, the lack of prescriptions, the high expense of medication, and the lack of domestic production have basically made it impossible for medical patients to purchase cannabis.
CBD and Hemp
Despite its conservative stance against cannabis, France is one of the biggest producers of industrial hemp in Europe. In France, CBD is recognized as a non-intoxicating substance and can be sold in selected shops as long as the products contain less than 0.2% THC. In shops, hemp flower is sold for consumption as “tea” to avoid legal troubles.
In November 2020, the European Court of Justice ruled that CBD was not a narcotic. Since then, cannabis CBD shops have increased. At the beginning of the year, France had 30 and now the number has reached 300. Locations can be found in large cities like Paris, Marseille, Lyon, and Bordeaux.
France Asks the Public’s Opinion on Cannabis
France has never been closer to legalizing cannabis, although it still has a long way to go. Recently, a group of 33 members of parliament began a consultation initiative asking the public their thoughts on the effectiveness of the current system, risk perception, decriminalization, and legalization.
Just 12 days after the start of the consultation, the group received over 200,000 responses. The responses are meant to help plan for a potential reform going into the 2022 elections for President Emmanuel Macron's program. The outpour of public comments is a good sign for the future of legalization in the country.
French Mayors on Cannabis Use
A recent survey conducted by Le Parisien surveyed a few dozen French mayors in Ile-de-France, the highest populated region in France. Surprisingly, half of the Paris region mayors supported cannabis legalization. 22% were against and 28% cited a lack of information and did not comment.
Medical Cannabis Pilot Program
On a separate but similar note, France is moving forward with a medical cannabis pilot program that would supply medical cannabis to a select group of 3,000 patients free of charge. Currently, the government is selecting a handful of suppliers of flower, oil, and capsules that meet their rigorous pharmaceutical quality standards.
Cannabis prescriptions for the pilot program are expected to be issued by the end of March 2021 at the latest. Only patients with the following medical conditions are eligible to participate in the experiment:
- Refractory neuropathic pain
- Certain intractable systems in oncology linked to cancer or anti-cancer treatment
- Certain forms of drug-resistant epilepsy
- Palliative situations
- Painful spasticity from multiple sclerosis or other pathologies of the central nervous system
For a period of 2 years, researchers will prescribe cannabis in a controlled and limited setting. While flower will be available, only vaporization will be allowed. Smoking cannabis will still be illegal and can earn users a fine.
France is working on multiple fronts to research medical cannabis and develop a legalization program that can be approved by even the most ardent of opponents. As an economic powerhouse in Europe and the rest of the world, France's entry into the cannabis market will bring in billions of euros for the country and open up access to cannabis for everyone.