There was a time when dozens of ‘CBD cafés’ suddenly opened up across France. While this event dates back to June 2018, the legalisation debate is still a very hot topic in France to this day. So, did cannabis already get legalised in France? What’s the legal situation of cannabis in France like today? Let’s dive right in.
What is the legal situation of cannabis in France?
The legal situation of cannabis in France is pretty straight forward: Cannabis is illegal in France. However, a report that was published by the French newspaper ‘Le Monde’ in 2017 estimated that in 2017 there were around 5 million cannabis users in France, of which 700,000 were said to be daily users. So it is no surprise that these ‘CBD cafés’, where cannabidiol (CBD) cannabis flowers were being sold, were such a hit. However, ‘legal’ would not be an accurate description of the current situation of cannabis in France, as the possession and use of cannabis in France have been illegal since 1970.
Still, during France’s brief experiment with cannabidiol, many cannabis enthusiasts stood up and took the chance to speak out about the problem. On the 19th of June, 2019, numerous French academic elites published an open letter in the popular french news magazine L’Obs, condemning the total failure of cannabis prohibition and appealing the nation to ‘Légalisons-Le’!
Interestingly enough, this was only shortly before an economic advisory council to the French prime minister issued a report criticising France’s drug war as an expensive ‘French failure’ and calling for the legalisation of cannabis for financial reasons.
So, that being said about the legal situation of cannabis in France: Which punishments can you expect?
The law includes a punishment of up to one year in prison plus a fine of up to €3,750 for the mere use of cannabis. Further, according to the French law, the production or possession of cannabis (even if it is for personal use) can be punishable with sentences of up to 20 years in prison and financial penalties that can amount to 7,500,000 euros.
However, in favour of the cannabis-using french population, the Minister of the Interior indicated that he is willing to implement the reforms which were promised by President Emmanuel Macron during his 2017 campaign. The idea was to substitute arrests and trials with citations. This was finally implemented in November 2018, when the penalty for the use of cannabis was reduced to a fixed 200 euro fine.
The rise and fall of CBD cannabis flowers
In November 2017, the Minister for Health announced that the presence of CBD in products for consumption was authorised, providing that they have a maximum of 0.2% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (the psychoactive element in cannabis). This was followed by mass openings of ‘CBD cafés’, but they were quickly shut down by a prohibition of the sale of CBD flowers shortly after.
The reason for this shutdown was that Agnès Buzyn, France’s health minister, was of the opinion that shops were a threat to public health because they were encouraging drug use. She further explained that they existed because there was a legal loophole which she promised to close, adding that the government would find a way to put them all out of business within weeks.
‘We’re not fighting like mad to ensure that the French stop smoking [tobacco] for them to start smoking cannabis’, Buzyn said. Consequently, The ‘CBD cafés’ vanished within a month.
Other CBD products
CBD products that merely contain CBD are still legal, as long as they don’t contain THC and are made from authorised cannabis plants that don’t contain more than 0.2% of THC. Products, particularly CBD-based e-liquids, are prohibited if they contain THC since the presence of THC in finished products, regardless of quantity, is prohibited.
Additionally, in accordance with the ban on CBD flowers, the CBD in CBD products is only allowed to come from the fibres and seeds of certified strains of the cannabis plant. The use of cannabis flowers for any purpose, be it industrial, commercial or personal, is strictly forbidden in France.
Cannabis derivatives are legal for the manufacture of medicinal products in France since 2013. However, the products can only be purchased with a prescription and will only be allowed to be prescribed when all other medications have failed to effectively relieve suffering.
While ‘the production, transport, export, possession, offering, acquisition or use of speciality pharmaceuticals that contains one of these (cannabis-derivative) substances’ is decriminalised, all cannabis products must be approved by the National Medical Safety Agency. This legislation makes it easier to conduct research on cannabinoids.
As long as the variety of hemp that is being used is authorised and contains less than 0.2% of THC, it is legal to produce and use industrial hemp in France. However, even with industrial hemp, it is illegal to use the flowers of the cannabis plant. Only the seeds and fibres are allowed.
Fittingly, France is the global leader in hemp seed production. Currently, France is responsible for 59% of the total seeds worldwide. France is also dominating the fibre application market — accounting for over half of the entire hemp-based pulp and paper production in Europe.
Closing thoughts on the legal situation of cannabis in France
Although cannabis in France is still illegal for personal use, it remains a popular drug in the French Republic. There are also exemptions for some CBD products which are permitted for medical use. Considering that the cannabis sector is estimated to represent up to 80,000 new job opportunities in France alone, France could benefit from national legalisation as the current unemployment rate is at almost ten percent.
Further, a January 2018 study authorised by the French National Assembly revealed that of the 117,421 arrests for drugs in France in 2010, 86% involved cannabis. More than eight out of ten drug crimes in France are related to cannabis. What’s more, cannabis arrests are rising in general, too.
The study goes on to state that the number of people who are arrested every year for the ‘simple use’ of cannabis in France increased from 14,501 to 139,683 between 2000 and 2015. Considering this tenfold increase, it is shocking to learn that, according to Statista, one in ten surveyed French citizens said they had used cannabis over the previous year, this is the highest of any European country.
To give you a final overview of the current laws and expectations, here is a summary of the different legal perspectives.
Current status: Illegal
Trend: Strict policies are decreasing (you will only get a €200 fine if you are caught consuming cannabis).
CBD cannabis flowers
Current status: Illegal
Trend: Policies just became more strict
Current status: Legal as long as the CBD only comes from the fibres and seeds of authorised cannabis plants with a THC content of less than 0.2%
Trend: No clear trend at the moment
Current status: Legal but only if every other treatment failed
Trend: Authorities are more and more open towards medical cannabis and the population seems to have a need for it
Current status: Legal as long as the plants’ THC content is less than 0.2%
Trend: No clear trend at the moment