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Paris: Cannabis ‘coffee shops’ raided and closed by police

Two new "coffee shops" in Paris that sold products derived from cannabis have been closed after being raided by police.

Paris: Cannabis 'coffee shops' raided and closed by police
Photo: The Local
Police raided the two “coffee shops” on Wednesday morning and took three people in for questioning. The cafes were immediately closed and it's not clear if they will reopen.
 
The new cannabis-selling shops in Paris, which opened in the 2nd and 11th arrondissements of the city, took advantage of a grey area in the law which has not classified the legal status of CBD (cannabidiol) products made from hemp, including toothpaste, creams, cakes and teas as well as cannabis.
 
The products in these shops are supposed to contain only 0.2 percent of THC which means that they have no effect on a person's mind unlike normal cannabis available illegally.  
 
But earlier this month French prosecutors signaled they were not happy with the new businesses when they opened an official probe to “verify whether the legal conditions of sale of certain forms of cannabis are being respected”.
 
Even Health Minister Agnés Buzyn signalled she wasn't exactly high on the idea, saying the cafes had taken advantage of a grey area in the law.
 
She told France Info on Tuesday that she wanted a ban on “selling products” based on cannabis.
 
“We will ask them to stop selling drugs,” she said.
 
One of the businesses named Cofyshop, located in the trendy 11th arrondissement, was selling cannabis for between €11.50 and €13 per gram, as well as teas and massage oils has been so popular that there were queues down the street and owner Joaquim Lousquy, 29, had to hire two security guards to deal with the sheer number of customers. 
 
In fact, the store, which opened on June 5th, was also forced to close on several occasions after running out of stock, according to reports. 
 
Lousquy believed the “coffee shop” and the products they sold were entirely within the law.
 
 
What's the story behind the new cannabis-selling 'coffee shops' in Paris?

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HEALTH

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.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE:

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.

‘Reassured’

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.”

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