We have seen a tremendous global shift in attitudes towards cannabis so far this year. Specifically, the plant’s medical applications and its potential both socially and economically. Legalisation and decriminalisation in countries such as the US, Canada, Germany, Greece, Poland, among others, shows there is great momentum behind this multi-billion dollar industry.
France, however, continues to police its people with an archaic (and increasingly isolated) attitude towards cannabis. In fact, the current law has more or less remained unchanged since its introduction in 1970. It states that ‘possession of cannabis’ can be punished with up to one year in prison plus a fine of up to €3,750!
An Opportunity for Change
There did appear to be some semblance of progress in 2014 when the French government gave the green-light for Sativex, a cannabis-based treatment for multiple sclerosis, to be sold in French pharmacies. This move was met with vocal support among the medical community who felt it could have opened the door to full medical cannabis legalisation further down the line. However, three years later, as a result of a pricing war, the drug is still yet to have arrived on French shores.
Strangely, the attitude of the French government is in stark opposition to the perceived public view of cannabis. This is especially pertinent when you consider that France is among the world-leaders with regards to the percentage of people who use cannabis recreationally. The French Health Organisation reported that over 700,000 citizens consume cannabis on a daily basis with up to 1.4 million consuming the drug 10 times a month. This underlying marketplace, although currently illegal, demonstrates great potential for a future legal cannabis economy in France.
New Government, New Attitudes?
The 2017 French Presidential election witnessed unprecedented attention to cannabis law - with 4 out of 5 candidates supporting some form of decriminalisation or legalisation. Furthermore, the eventual winner, Emmanuel Macron, appears to be following through with his promise. At least he aims to introduce legislation that will eliminate mandatory prison sentences for minor cannabis offences.
This being said (as the more progressives parts of Europe have shown us), the decriminalisation of recreational use and the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes are seldom part of the same agenda. Although the progressive attitudes of politicians such as Macron are a step in the right direction, they are by no means an indication of any imminent reform.
European Leaders of Hemp
Despite France falling behind parts of Europe in the medical cannabis market, they are rather ironically the world’s leader in hemp seed production. Currently, France is responsible for 59% of the total seeds globally. The country also dominates the fibre application market - accounting for over 50% of hemp based pulp and paper production in Europe.
There is no doubt that France is now steering towards a more progressive political standpoint and the mounting evidence in favour of medical cannabis may well be the catalyst that sees the country introduce legislation similar to its neighbours. However, for now at least, France continues to watch from the sidelines as the European legal cannabis market blossoms.