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Legal aspects of marijuana use

Country report – France

written by: Sébastien Béguerie
Last update September 2018 

France has some of the the toughest laws against cannabis consumption in Europe, yet the country also reports the highest usage rates in Europe. A parliamentary report, introduced on the 24th February, recommended introducing a fixed fine of 150 to 200 Euros for cannabis possession, instead of the harsher criminal penalties currently enforced by the French courts. Under current legislation, users can face up to a year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros.

The French Government permitted prescription of Sativex in pharmacies in 2014. However, as a result of a pricing war, it is still not supplied in pharmacies, four years after the decision.

Regulatory Environment

The upcoming revision of cannabis laws will be the first since their introduction in 1970. There are current political disagreements about whether criminal sanctions should apply if fines for possession are not paid. The current French President, Emmanuel Macron has voiced support for limited cannabis reforms, but he is unlikely to support medical or recreational legalisation.

French public opinion, formerly conservative on this issue, may be changing. According to an October 2016 IPSOS survey, 52% of French people consider legal regulation a good way to reduce the black market, and 43% of French people support the decriminalisation of cannabis (IFOP for Atlantico, January 2017). Public support for the introduction of fines for possession was reported at 69% in June 2017 (Odoxa - June 2017).

Healthcare Analysis

France has a universal healthcare system, largely financed by government national health insurance. In 2011, France spent 11.6% of GDP on healthcare, a figure much higher than the average spent by countries in Europe. Approximately 77% of health expenditures are covered by government funded agencies.

The French government generally refunds patients 70% of most healthcare costs, rising to 100% in cases of costly or long-term conditions. Supplemental coverage may be bought from private insurers, most of them non-profit, mutual insurers. 

Medical cannabis is legal in France since 2013 but no cannabinoid-based drug has been allowed to be sold since then. If a pharmaceutical company does manage to crack the reticence of the government, then the floodgates could open.

In order for patients to access cannabis, medical specialists must recommend medical cannabis before doctors can prescribe it. For Bedrocan, bediol and bedica prescriptions, patients must have a Special Permission for Compassionate Use permit (similar to a cannabis card in the US).

Bedrocan, Bediol and Bedica prescriptions are not restricted to specific conditions, but Sativex can only be prescribed for MS and a limited number of other conditions.

National Health Insurance partly covers the cost of the Sativex or Bedrocan purchases.

Activism for recreational use

Although France will be making the first changes to its cannabis laws since 1970 this year, we cannot class these changes as decriminalisation, as the French government still plans to retain the possibility of jail sentences for recreational or medical use. In the debate around this project we have seen that the main barriers to change are the rigidity of the government, who is unwilling to let go of outdated cannabis stigmas.

The French activist movement is not as sufficiently influential to lead massive legislative change, but we are seeing momentum grow since the legalisation of medical and recreational cannabis in United States and in Europe. Medical cannabis could  be as much a medicine as valuable as prescribed opioids, while from a recreational perspective, France already has grow shops, seed shops and CBD shops. Everything is legal except the plant itself. There is a great understanding of cannabis cultivation and manufacture in France. French individuals who want to work in the cannabis industry currently have to immigrate (to Spain or California for example). Only a true regulation would reveal the wealth of underground knowledge we have here in France. 

Economical situation 

Economic and financial arguments are beginning to emerge at the heart of the debate around cannabis legalisation and this could explain recent changes in public opinion. In fact, the economic appeal of Cannabis Tech in the US, Canada, Israel, Germany, Luxembourg and Greece creates a tidal effect, highlighting the economic stakes of cannabis legalisation in France. France could be one of the largest potential emerging market in Europe with an estimated €8.9b underlying market including €7.2b medical market. In France, the cultivation, import, export, industrial and commercial use of cannabis (fiber and seeds) is permitted, provided the THC content does not exceed 0.2% . Sale and consumption of cannabidiol (CBD), as medicine, e-cigarette liquid or hemp (leaves and resin) are not prohibited yet, and recently businesses have begun to sell these products. 

The forthcoming reform of cannabis legislation, which will institute a simple fine, doesn't explore the potential of medical cannabis in France, or the huge underlying market and economic growth potential of this sector. We can assume that legalisation of medical cannabis would fall in line with the current feeling that “France is back” on the economic field, a strong argument of the new governing party. It could be the great liberal reform that the French President would politically need in the second half of the term. It could be the reform uniting agricultural farmers as well as economic and ecological voters.

Local Players

Hemp industry is strong in France but dictate by a state monopoly. Hemp-it is the name of a French hemp company who is currently  leading the hemp seed supply chain in the world (https://www.hemp-it.coop). They are protected by a french monopoly from the French state because they are the only one to have received an authorisation to grow other cannabis variety that are included in the EU catalog. Even though the Hemp industry is important in France, it is only allowed to cultivate and process the stalk and the seeds of the plant. Using the flowers or doing any transformation from the flower remains illegal meaning that CBD flower and CBD extract are prohibited in France.

Medical situation 

On the other end, France has introduced a decree in June 2013 which allows the production, transformation and distribution of Cannabis flowers and its derivative in the case of a register medecine by the ANSM (Authorité National de Sécurité du Médicament) 

https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?
cidTexte=JORFTEXT000027513604&categorieLien=id

Originally this decree was passed to harmonized the French law on the European context for Sativex to enter the French market. Upon this decree the ANSM have allowed the Sativex to be distributed in French pharmacies. Nevertheless, the health authority in charge of  reimbursement for health insurance has disagreed with Sativex sale price and never made Sativex available in pharmacy since 2014 until today. 

However this decree remains and could potentially allow health professionals and pharmacist to be able to ask for a licence to handle imported medical cannabis from out of France, like Netherlands or Canada. However due to the large conservative influence of the French order of pharmacist, who still regard cannabis as a drug and not a medicine, there is a need to reintroduce Cannabis in the French pharmacopeae and to challenge the decree of June 2013 to understand how to apply for it to obtain a permit for production and distribution. 

Currently French patients must go to a dutch pharmacy to obtain their Bedrocan’s flower prescribed by a French doctor. This is not an acceptable option as it is very costly and physically demanding for patients with limited resources.  

On the other hand, among French health professionals  there is a lack of knowledge on cannabinoids, therefore  greater attention should be put on medical trainings. In that context every year since 2012,  UFCM I CARE is organizing a medical cannabis conference at a French medical university. 

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