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The state of cannabis in France is a hot topic right now. As of late, French lawmakers have been reconsidering their prohibitive stance on cannabis, but any substantive change seems to be at least a couple of years away. Until recently, France had one of the harshest marijuana laws in Europe. Ironically, the French are considered to have one of the highest cannabis user counts. Let's take a deeper look into the state of cannabis in France.

Cannabis gained wider popularity during Napoléon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798. Soldiers would substitute hashish for the unavailable alcohol, but this made the French government uneasy. In 1800, consuming hashish was banned, albeit, the substance still made its way to the motherland after the occupation ended in 1801.

Today, France enjoys the fruits of cannabis exporters nearby. As one of the major markets in Europe, France could be a major player in the cannabis industry throughout the world. In fact, the government’s Conseil d’Analyse Economique believes there are 700,000 daily marijuana users and 1.4 million regular users in France. With so much potential to grow in the cannabis market, is France ready to make the inevitable leap to medical or adult-use marijuana or will lawmakers keep coming up with excuses for prohibition?

Social Equity

Bryan Keogh, economics and business editor at The Conversation, highlights an under-analyzed issue relevant to cannabis legalization in France. According to his doctoral research, the French legalization debate is conveniently ignoring the issue of mass incarceration of Muslims for non-violent offenses, including cannabis possession.

Keogh’s research, based on data from the French Ministry of Justice, showcased the fact that one-fifth of French prisoners were incarcerated for drug-related offenses. Unfortunately, France’s “absolute equality” ethos prevents the collection of hard data on race, ethnicity, and religion. Sociologist Farhad Khsrokhavar believes that half of France’s 69,000 prison population are Arab Muslims despite being just 9 percent of the national population of 67 million.

Medical Program

In June 2013, French lawmakers made medical cannabis use legal, but the law’s conditions severely limit who can and can’t use the derivative-based medication. In 2014, the French Ministry of Health approved the use of Sativex, a 1:1 THC:CBD sublingual spray, for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients only.

Furthermore, MS patients must exhibit muscle spasms that haven’t been alleviated with previous prescription medication or treatment. Finally, patients must receive the prescription from a licensed neurologist or MS specialist who is specially trained in prescribing cannabis. The limited availability of cannabis-based medication has pushed France to reform its lackluster medical marijuana laws.

Medical Cannabis Reform

In 2018, the French Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) announced a two-year plan for a trial program of a more robust medical marijuana program. A rough outline of the plan is available and will focus on studying real-world use of the plant while providing access to certain patients.

Insider sources told Marijuana Business Daily that medical consumers wouldn’t see products on the hospital pharmacy shelves until 2020, at least. In 2022, after the two-year plan is complete, France could technically move forward with its medical marijuana program. The plan is to provide medical cannabis to patients with intractable conditions. Approved medical conditions include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Severe and refractory epilepsy
  • Palliative care
  • Supportive care in oncology
  • Multiple sclerosis spasticity

ANSM suggested that five THC and CBD cannabinoid ratios should be available including 1:1, 1:20, 1:50, 5:20, and 20:1 ratios. Patients can expect to receive sublingual cannabis products, flower, oils, and capsules at hospital pharmacies.

A Call for Legalization

In a scathing report authored by two experts for the economic analysis council (CAE), the experts urged the French government to legalize recreational cannabis. The CAE released a report titled “Cannabis: how to take back control” in which they stated that “the system of prohibition promised by France for the past 50 years has been a failure.” They estimated that cannabis legalization could produce up to €2.8 billion per year and 57,000 jobs. Shortly after the publication of the report, a resounding number of public figures published a petition in a local media outlet calling for the legalization of cannabis.

A Brief Encounter with Cannabis Coffeeshops

For a brief moment, CBD coffeeshops were sprouting up across France, but their legal status was in question. French authorities inevitably cracked down on these retailers that sell CBD-rich flowers. Ingrid Metton, a lawyer who helped shop owners during the raids, told Radio France Internationale that “French law is extremely vague about CBD, quite simply because the law was not made for this kind of business.”

While hemp is legal in France, sellers can only use it for industrial purposes. Hemp grown in France must contain no more than 0.2 percent THC. CBD sellers took advantage of a legal loophole to sell imported hemp flower and products since 2017, but the popularity of such shops attracted law enforcement’s attention.

France’s dalliance with CBD sales was short-lived but showcased a demand for the plant by recreational consumers. Across the world, countries have been legalizing the plant for medicinal and recreational purposes. France is holding back as it learns from other countries, but sooner or later, they’ll have to make their own mistakes.

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