March 1 may not go down in history as a revolutionary date in France—like, say, the July standbys such as Bastille or Independence Day—but it will still stand as a significant one in the world of cannabis.
The French government has finally seen the light and announced that medical cannabis is here to stay. They have, as a result, now agreed to a decree authorizing the medical cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical cannabis in the country as of today.
The move has been a long time coming, particularly given the forward motion of another large economy, Germany, which kicked off this process, albeit messily, in the spring of 2017. Nevertheless, several promises at a national level later, German confirmation of a recreational market in the offing (along with several other EU countries implementing one—see Malta and Luxembourg), not to mention COVID and a national lawsuit that ended up changing EU policy on CBD, the French have arrived.
Medical cannabis will, in the future, be cultivated in France, along with the establishment of a medical supply chain.
Now, as the Germans have already found out, the real fun begins.
There are likely to be all sorts of contretemps over interpretation by an industry tired of endless loopholes. There are also going to be interesting challenges to a law clearly written to favor the pharmaceutical industry if not create a medically certified (EU-GMP) supply chain.
Here is the first twist. According to Article 2, the production, including cultivation, manufacture, transport, import, export, possession, offering, acquisition, and use of cannabis in France, are still prohibited unless a medical authorization has been specifically issued by the relevant authorities—in this case, the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products.
Look for all the same issues in Germany, plus a few more, as the French now move to establish the domestic medical cannabis industry.
This means that the biggest public Canadian companies which have not already done so, are going to establish at least some kind of foothold in France. The national medical trial kicked off last year where corporate participants had to donate meds and equipment. It also means, no doubt, that there will be entries into the market by other pharmaceutical firms, if not a rush to set up domestic distribution companies (just as has already occurred in Deutschland).
What this all leaves very unclear however, is whether the French authorities will continue to accept flower cannabis as medicine. Given the language of the resolution, however, specifically “only growers who have contracted to supply their production (to a licensed and authorized manufacturer) may cultivate cannabis plants for the purpose of manufacturing medicines,” it appears that flower may be on the way out. Unless, of course, someone sues first.
What has France got Against Cannabis Flower?
It seems very clear that whoever is writing official French cannabis policy right now failed to get the memo that France just lost a war on the banning of the CBD flower front.
In January, in fact, while trying to establish the regulatory environment for a CBD market in the wake of both the Kanavape case and an EU decision on the matter, the French government was slapped down by the nation’s highest court (at least temporarily) when the authorities also tried to ban the sale of CBD flower.
Don’t think such a decision has gone unnoticed at any federal French agency. This is either sloppiness or, more realistically, a final attempt to cut off the flower discussion at a federal level for both THC and CBD.
Don’t expect the industry to sit this one out, particularly having just won several major victories.
Pharmaceutical Interests vs. the Rest of the Industry
Here is the thing to remember. The forces arraigned against the plant are moving in lockstep, and this position is increasingly falling out with court challenges. Such legal showdowns are likely to be necessary everywhere, and France, so far, has been one prime example of that, and at an EU level.
That beats the record, so far, of other challenges launched from other sovereign countries in the bloc. See the failed attempts of the Spanish cannabis club industry last year at the same nosebleed level. In fact, so far, the Spanish industry (in direct comparison) has yet to succeed legally even at a federal one. Perhaps, unlike the French, the Spanish already have tried to cut off the entire recreational discussion by (so far) allowing a limited number of cultivation licenses.
Indeed, that is the strategy Germany tried to take—and ended up with large public Canadian companies instead, not to mention a new government which has been essentially forced into moving forward on recreational reform, no matter how slowly it is dragging its feet.
It is not clear who would move into this slot in France, but with cultivation footprints now firmly established in other EU countries (including Portugal, Denmark, and Deutschland) it is highly unlikely that these folks will be focused on domestic cultivation in France in quite the same way as they were back in 2017.
This is also what the French government intended. European leaders and regulatory agencies are so far not seeing cannabis as an economic development.
However, as history (including in France) has long taught, incremental moves in the face of an overwhelming political, medical, and social paradigm shift rarely hold the dam for long.
This development in other words, no matter how overdue, may not be exactly the storming of the Bastille, but, perhaps, will finally light the powder keg.
Vive la cannabis revolution!