France’s Ministry of Health announced on Thursday it had approved the sale of marijuana-based medicine Sativex, a step that brings it into line with the 17 other European countries that already allow the product to be prescribed.
The move is a big step for France with cannabis-based medicines having long been banned from the market. However in June last year Health Minister Marisol Touraine passed a decree that opened the possibility of medicines like Sativex being authorized.
Tuesday's announcement "is a step prior to the marketing of the product, which will take place at the initiative of the laboratory" a statement from the Ministry of Health said. The product is expected to be available in 2015.
However, the prescription of Sativex will be strictly controlled and will only be available to those with multiple sclerosis, a debilitating condition which affects the nervous system.
Despite the hopes Sativex will soothe “severe muscle spasms, which are do not respond to other treatments,” it will only be prescribed by certain doctors, including neurologists. And because it’s considered a narcotics-based medicine, users can only get a month supply at a time and must renew their prescription every six months.
Sativex will be available at local pharmacies, where it will have to be stored in a safe. Opiate-based medicines are subject to the same storage regulations.
Still, the announcement drew cheers from a Sativex distributor. The medicine is already available in countries including Germany, Spain, UK, Sweden and Italy.
“It’s good news for French patients who are nearly the last in Europe to have access to Sativex,” Almirall Laboratories head Christophe Vandeputte reportedly told Le Monde. “The approval to sell Sativex in France represents the successful end of three years of talks. It was a delicate case in an explosive environment.”
France already allows the medicine Marinol, a synthetic form of marijuana’s key ingredient, but under tightly controlled and limited circumstances.
French law remains firmly against medical and recreational marijuana.
That has not stopped cannabis supporters from challenging the rules. In March cannabis users across the country took a high-risk step of registering “Cannabis social clubs” with local authorities as official non-profit organizations. The stunt is a bid to win public backing but it could land them up to 30 years in jail.
The Loire Atlantique regional council in the western city of Nantes was one of numerous local authorities to receive an official application to register as a non-profit group from a local cannabis social club.
In registering their weed-smoking social clubs with local authorities throughout the country, those behind the stunt hope to illustrate what they see as disproportionate and unfair laws against cannabis use, and force a change in legislation.
Cannabis-growers in France today face a harsh legal reality. Anyone caught cultivating the plant can face up to 30 years in prison and a whopping €7.5 million fine - penalties on a par with those reserved for terrorists in France, according to Europe 1