What’s the story behind the new cannabis-selling ‘coffee shops’ in Paris?

Two "coffee shops" selling legal cannabis opened their doors in the French capital last week. So what's the story?

What's the story behind the new cannabis-selling 'coffee shops' in Paris?
What are these “coffee shops”?
Two shops selling cannabis and cannabis or more specifically “cannabidiol” based products (CBD) opened in central Paris and just outside the capital last week. 
Cofyshop, the first of its kind in the French capital itself, is located in the trendy 11th arrondissement and the other, E-Klop is in Puteaux, a west Paris suburb. 
How come they are opening now?
There has been a softening on cannabis laws in France which means that it is legal to sell a weak version of the drug. 
In order to be within the law, the product sold must contain less than 0.2 per cent of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
The products do however contain CBD — short for cannabidiol — which is believed by some in the scientific community to have anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties without the psychoactive effects (the “high” or “stoned” feeling) that THC provides. 
Have they been popular?
There have been queues down the street outside Cofyshop in the 11th arrondissement since it opened on June 5th. 
In fact, one of the two security guards who were quickly hired to cope with the queues told The Local on Monday that the shortest waiting time during opening hours was two hours. 
And at its peak on Saturday, there were 500 people waiting outside the shop, according to reports in the French press
Why are people going there?
Julie, 30 who works in fashion told The Local: “I'm a regular cannabis smoker and this is a chance to try what is legally available.
“I usually buy from a regular dealer illegally because France doesn't give people a choice,” she said. “In other countries it's no problem to smoke weed but in France it's a taboo.
Despite the jars of product in the shop labelled with signs saying “Do not smoke”, Julie was among the many people who said their intention was to smoke what they bought. 
Another person who had braved the big queue, Fabrice, 28, an academic in the French capital said that he was there out of “curiosity”. 
“It's the first shop like it in Paris and I want to see what it sells and try out the legal version of cannabis,” he told The Local. 
“I'm sure this is just the beginning of a massive trend and that soon these places will be popping up everywhere. I wouldn't be too happy if I was a dealer,” he laughed.  
Meanwhile Mario, 45 who works in a shop said that he was there partly because his dad takes it for medical reasons. 
“I thought I'd come down here and see what they have,” he said. “I'm also a regular weed smoker as I'm sure most people here are and I hope this will be the beginning of making cannabis legal in France.”
“People drink so much here yet weed is considered taboo,” he said, adding that he thought it was time the French approached weed differently. 
One woman Lucie, a student aged 19, who was queuing with a group of friends said that she also was “intrigued” by the experience of buying it legally. 
“I want to try CBD,” she said. “I don't think it will be as good as the stuff you can buy in the street because it doesn't have as much THC but it will be fun to try anyway.”
What does the owner say?
Joaquim Lousquy is the brains behind Cofyshop and says the product, which he imports from Switzerland, is “sure to be a success”. 
“We're the first in Paris and we're selling a products that makes people happy,” he told The Local. 
“We've opened in a trendy part of the city which is working out really well for us.”
Lousquy said that he recommends people put his cannabis in teas, cakes or simply eat it . 
He said he wouldn't recommend smoking it because “smoking is bad for the health”.
“I imagine a lot of people are going to smoke it or take it in herbal tea, but that's their business,” he said, saying that he, at least, was working within the law. 
“The effect is nothing, he said, adding quickly, “well, it's small anyway but it will probably help most people feel relaxed.”
So far, Lousquy said, he's seen all kinds of people come into his shop, including a wide variety of age ranges. 
This isn't Lousquy's first experience of pushing entrepreneurial boundaries. 
He is also the owner of XDolls, France's first ever sex doll brothel in Paris, which rents out sex dolls named Lily, Sofia, and Kim. 
And what about the neighbours?
Not everyone has been caught up in the excitement over the new shop. 
Outside Cofyshop on Monday one woman shouted at the store's security guards about people being “obsessed with hash” and about the “bad smell” on the street. 
Meanwhile one of the shop's neighbours, Marlene aged 72, told Le Parisien that since Cofyshop opened it “smells of hashish in the street and it wafts up to our flat”. 
Are there any others around France?
So far there's one in the northern city of Lille and in the southern city of Montpellier but there are likely to be more opening if the queues in Paris are anything to go by.
What does the law say?
In France, regular cannabis remains illegal despite growing pressure on the government to legalize it.
The new cannabis-selling shops are taking advantage of a grey area in the law which has not classified the legal status of CBD (cannabidiol) products made from hemp. 
In November France's Ministry of Heath indicated that its presence in consumer products “appeared legal” as long as the level of THC – responsible for the effects on a person's mental state – did not exceed 0.2 percent.
The products in these shops contain only a small amount of THC which means that they have no effect on a person's mind unlike normal cannabis available illegally. 
However the consumer may feel relaxed after using the product although its effects are still debated in the medical community.

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VIDEO: Why CBD cannabis health shops are blossoming all over France

A recent decision by the European Court of Justice which prevents France from classifying cannabis-derived products (CBD) as narcotics has led to dozens of CBD wellness shops springing up all over France.

VIDEO: Why CBD cannabis health shops are blossoming all over France
Nathalie Pagé, a 52-years-old hemp cultivator, sells her cannabis products at the market of Crest, south eastern France. Photo: Philippe Desmazes, Bertrand Guay/AFP

Tomany Macalou got his green light for a Paris cannabis shop last November, when a European court chided France for cracking down on cannabis products stripped of the THC molecules that get people high.

Moving fast, he joined a new crop of entrepreneurs entering a less-illicit side of France’s cannabis market, offering buds but also teas, candy and oils containing only cannabidiol (CBD), the plant’s other main ingredient.

“Some use it to lower their blood pressure or help with insomnia,” Macalou told AFP at his shop, Cannabillion, just a few blocks from a police station in eastern Paris.

Traditional marijuana remains illegal in France, and even though President Emmanuel Macron’s government lowered fines for its use, it has no plans to join the legalisation trend in many countries.

But strict rules on hemp use — products can be made only from the plant’s fibres or seeds, not the leaves — made CBD sales a risky business.


Video produced by Alex Dunham

The law also says only trace amounts of less than 0.2 percent of THC can be present, a level that is easily exceeded — though still harmless — when extracting CBD from flowers, and none at all in items destined for human consumption.

Two years ago, authorities shut down dozens of businesses that had hoped to ride the wave of popularity for a compound that promises natural relaxation and other health benefits, though some experts dispute the health claims.

In November, however, the European Court of Justice said France was violating EU free market rules by forbidding imported CBD obtained from the entire plant, flowers and all.

“I knew the decision was coming, so as soon as it came I felt confident enough to go ahead,” Macalou said.

‘Radically changed’

France is already Europe’s largest producer of hemp, though mainly for the construction and textile industries.

The country now counts some 400 CBD shops, according to the SPC alliance of hemp professionals.

That’s nearly four times the number that were operational before the government’s crackdown two years ago, representing a market worth €150 million to 200 million ($180-$240 million).

“The context has radically changed,” said Aurelien Delecroix, the SPC’s president. “At the time, the association with recreational cannabis was incredibly damaging for the sector.”

But a growing appetite for natural remedies is attracting a wider range of clients, he said, and most shops have dropped their transgressive vibes for more a sober ambiance: Think pharmacy or organic grocery, not an Amsterdam coffee shop.

“I find it enjoyable and relaxing,” said Thomas Leclair, an architect in his 30s, who was at Cannabillion to buy tea as well as herb “so I smoke fewer cigarettes”.

“I also bought some oils that you put under your tongue: My roommate says it helps ease the pain when she has her period,” he said.

No high here: A saleswoman with a jar of CBD marijuana buds at “Le Chanvrier Francais” in Paris.


Jonathan Msika worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 20 years before he made the jump to CBD, opening his Perfect Time boutique near the Place de la Nation in the capital.

“I have elderly clients who say they come here because they’re reassured by the atmosphere. They wouldn’t go to stores that are darker,” he said.

But France’s hemp laws haven’t changed since the European court ruling, meaning shops like his remain vulnerable to administrative closures.

The case was brought by two people in Marseille selling a “Kanavape” e-cigarette that used cartridges imported from the Czech Republic, and who were given suspended prison sentences.

A parliamentary panel report released Wednesday called for an easing of the rules, in particular by lifting the limits on trace THC amounts, to help the CBD market catch up with those in Britain, the United States or Switzerland.

The SPC estimates that could create a billion-euro market within just two years.

“If you have a shop that doesn’t bother the mayor, and get along with the police, work with the authorities and don’t attract the attention of a strict public prosecutor, you’ll be alright,” Delecroix said.

“But if you don’t, you could be taking a big risk.”