France has the highest use of cannabis in Europe, but it still remains illegal for both adult and medical uses. On the 13th of January 2021 the French government launched a consultation, asking the public’s opinion on the legalisation of cannabis for adult use. This consultation is open until the 28th of February, and already has over 200,000 respondents; where normally these surveys would receive around 30,000 responses

As it stands cannabis remains illegal in France for medicinal use. The law permits home cultivated hemp flowers to contain up to 0.2% THC, otherwise it may be regarded as unlawful. However, this grey area concerning THC concentrations was recently ruled unlawful by the European Court of Justice, which is promising news for wellness and therapeutic consumers of cannabis.The parliamentary group leading the investigation into all uses of cannabis are expected to draw conclusions on recent studies later this month on the CBD wellness sub-topic.

Moreover, as of this year France has begun its first medicinal cannabis trial. Tilray and other major cannabis companies have been contracted to supply medicinal cannabis products to more than 3,000 patients for the duration of the trial. While reform in this area has been slow compared to other European countries, these advancements certainly signal the possibility of more meaningful reform in the near future. 

Possession and consumption of cannabis for adult use is also illegal in France. Fines are the most typical punishment for these offences, and as of recently they introduced a mandatory fine of €200. One study found that there are 900,000 daily consumers of cannabis in France, and around 5 million users each year. Moreover, it is predicted that the impact of lockdown restrictions has likely increased cannabis use in France, as with many other countries. 

The prevalence of cannabis use in France shows that despite being illegal it is still widely accessible. Without a regulated market cannabis remains in the hands of organised crime groups. This is of a particular concern in areas of France with higher levels of deprivation, where drug related crime is more pervasive. Therefore, it makes sense that the French parliament seeks to explore the impact of the illicit market, and the potential benefits of a regulated market.

Since March 2020 the parliamentary committees (for Economic affairs, Social affairs, Cultural and Educational affairs, Law, Finance, and Sustainable development) have been collecting information on 4 types of cannabis use: hemp; therapeutic cannabis; ‘well-being’ cannabis; adult use cannabis. The aim of this investigation is to better understand the impact of current cannabis control, and the potential benefits of reform and regulation. The report on CBD wellness hemp is set to be published February 10th, and the ultimate one regarding adult use by April this year. 

Last month Volteface’s interim Head of Policy Josh Torrance, Steve Rolles of Transform, Neil Woods from LEAP UK, and representative from LEAP France gave a presentation to the French Parliament on the social, economic and public health benefits of a regulated cannabis market. These public consultations form another element of this fact finding mission. The purpose of this survey considering adult use is to better understand public opinion on cannabis, and whether there is an appetite for reform. 

Questions in the consultation include:

“Do you think that the current policies on cannabis are effective in the fight against drug trafficking?”

and 

“Do you think the risks associated with cannabis are the same, more serious or less serious than those associated with alcohol consumption?”

Once the data from the survey has been collected it will be published in a report, expected in Spring of 2021.This parliamentary investigation signals the potential for future cannabis reform in France. But it’s important to consider how this debate is perceived in the political and public spheres. 

What we see today is that cannabis is a right-wing topic in France. Where the lefties and Greens are accused of laxism when they try to defend regulation, the most progressive of the conservative work on a secured approach where they conciliate health and security concerns on a very strict basis. The majority, which has been elected in part for its liberalism and its dynamism seems now outpaced by the one that opposed the subject for years.” – Aurélien Bernard, co-founder of Augur Associates and Newsweed.

Typically those in favour of cannabis reform are from the political left, with social conservatives less in favour of reform. However, it’s interesting to see that a right winged MP is leading the committee investigating cannabis for adult use. Robin Reda, of Les Republicans, argues that the sheer prevalence of cannabis use in France is enough justification for political action. Stating that ‘No one should be happy with our current policy when this repressive stance is clearly not working’. However, these views are in conflict with those of the governing party, LREM, who have ruled out the possibility of cannabis reform during their term. Like the UK, the prospect of cannabis reform is often met with great resistance, with Gerald Darmanin strongly contesting the idea of legalising “this shit”. 

“Politically, cannabis in France has almost been decriminalised at each presidential election during the 30 past years. But so far, it was just a bait for voters. The novelty and magnitude of the current process should not be underweighted. A transpartisan Information Mission, lead by the majority party of Emmanuel Macron is objectively working on the subject and should open new horizons to help get rid of old clichés and dogmatism.” – Benjamin Jeanroy, CEO of Augur Associates, a Paris-based Cannabis consulting firm.

In France the narrative around cannabis is entrenched with stigma and misconception, and the political debate still remains dominated by prohibitionist ideologies. It is hoped that the information gathered over the next year will help to better inform this debate ahead of the 2022 presidential election. It is also encouraging to see the citizens of France actively engaging in the consultation. Perhaps this will lead to reform in the near future, but in the meantime it will be interesting to see how this influences the nature of cannabis discourse in France.

This piece was written by Ella Walsh, Content Officer at Volteface. Tweets @Snoop_Ella

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