France still has some of the most stringent anti-cannabis regulations in Europe but things are slowly changing, opening up huge opportunities in the world’s seventh largest economy (France’s GDP growth has recently been overtaken by India and it has dropped from sixth place).
This is good news for cannabis startups as France is the number one European country for cannabis use. Between 2015 and 2017, according to Statista, just over 11% of the French population said they had used cannabis over the previous year, the highest of any European country.
Until recently, France had some of the most onerous punishments for cannabis use in Europe, with offenders receiving fines of €3,750 and a-year-long prison sentence. Germany and Italy amongst others, moved to decriminalise use and President Macron campaigned for a partial decriminalisation in order to free up police time to deal with more serious crimes. It was also a move which brought it more in line with its neighbours — in Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, people are allowed to use cannabis recreationally without fear of reprisals — and reduced the fear that people would just head across its borders to score drugs as well as being an attempt to control the black market. France brought in new regulations in 2018 where people who are found with cannabis for personal use (i.e. not in large quantities) are now given much lower fines of €150-200.
In line with other European countries, France allowed the use of cannabis-based medicine in 2014 and more recently, in September 2018, the French Health Association, ANSM (Agency nationale de sécurité du médicament et des products de santé) published its findings into the medicinal use of cannabis, which it now publicly supports as a medicinal response to help reduce pain, control epilepsy, and help in cases of palliative care and cancer. In all cases it doesn’t recommend smoking cannabis but rather taking the drug in other forms.
One-third of 17-year-olds smoke ten cigarettes a day, most have already drunk alcohol and 10 percent of them consume cannabis at least ten times a month.
Interestingly, the map for Cannabis use divides the country into two halves where teenagers are far more likely to have tried and use cannabis if they live in the south.
So, while the political stance seems to have softened so too does the cultural and economic. Many shops have opened up in the past year across France’s major cities selling a certain type of legal cannabis. As a rule cannabis contains over 113 different types of drug but it is the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which causes the psychoactive, or mind altering, impacts. Many dealers sell cannabis with THC levels of 10-15%. French law now states that the drug cannot be sold at more than 0.2% THC so these new shops now sell cannabis which is lower than the legal limit. To keep on the right side of the law, they do not advocate smoking it but making teas with it. For the first time in their lives, French people are able to buy drugs at a cashiers desk and get a receipt.
The use of cannabis in France dates back to Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign of 1798 when due to a lack of alcohol, his troops turned to cannabis instead. Despite being banned by Napoleon, soldiers brought the drug back with them and cannabis use steadily grew in popularity. Now due to recent legal loopholes (many cities have chosen not to prosecute these shops and are allowing them to continue trading in the “legal grey zone”), it looks likely that France will see an increase in legal drug activity in the years to come.