What is the new rule on cannabis?
The French Senate has given the green light to a two-year trial of legalising cannabis for prescription by doctors. The decision must now be published in the Journal Officiel before it becomes law.
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Once grown, the cannabis plants are then dried. Photo: AFP
So it will be legal to take it?
Not for everyone. The drug will only be used for medical purposes, and must be prescribed by a doctor.
There are also stringent controls written in to the bill for doctors – cannabis can only be prescribed “as a last resort, after trying other available therapeutic treatments” Professor Nicolas Authier, the head of pharmacology at Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital Centre’s pain clinic, told FRANCE 24.
Some of the conditions that it could be prescribed for include cancer, certain types of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, palliative care, and pain that does not respond to usual treatments.
According to patient groups, somewhere between 300,000 and 1 million patients could be eligible to use it.
So how will French patients get their cannabis, if they get a prescription?
The supply chain is another area that is tightly controlled by the bill, so don't start growing it in your back garden.
“The challenge is ensuring a French supply chain for the production [of these pharmaceutical products],” said French MP Jean-Baptiste Moreau.
He represents the département of Creuse, which has made a bid to the government for a licence to produce medical cannabis, under tightly controlled conditions. It is hoped that this will also boost La Creuse's sluggish economy.
For the early part of the trial, France will have to import cannabis until it can get its own supply set up. People growing cannabis for medical use must comply by strict EU regulations to make sure the product is of consistent quality.
Is this likely to lead to a further loosening on the laws around cannabis?
The French government is clear that it won't. It follows a relaxation of the laws last year that allowed cannabis with very low concentrations (less than 0.2 percent) of the psychoactive ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) but that is as far as the government appears willing to go.
Professor Authier added: “There is little risk that medical cannabis will be abused for recreational purposes. […] It has different uses with different objectives. Those who take codeine for pain and those who smoke opium are taking the same substance but they don’t have the same purpose. Similarly, medical-grade cannabis will not satisfy those looking for psychoactive effects.”
So those who want to use the drug for non medical reasons will have to either continue to go to countries such as the Netherlands where it is legal, or risk arrest in France.