A ministerial order had banned the sale of hemp flower and leaf loaded with CBD, from December 31st 2021 – but the Conseil d’Etat has provisionally overruled that decision, pending further examination of the order.
CBD is derived from cannabis but contains none of the psychoactive compounds, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), found in cannabis that would make users “high”.
In its ruling, the court noted that the flowers and leaves of certain varieties of cannabis were “devoid of narcotic properties” and could therefore be marketed in France.
In a statement, the court said: “The interim judge … considers there is a serious doubt as to the legality of this general and absolute ban because of its disproportionate nature”.
But what does its decision actually mean?
Hemp flowers and leaves back on the market
A handful of sub-varieties of cannabis Sativa L, including so-called “industrial” hemp, are authorised for “cultivation, import, export and industrial and commercial use” in France, as specified in the ministerial decree of 30 December 2021, which nonetheless prohibited the sale of hemp in the form of raw leaves and flowers.
These varieties contain a very low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another active ingredient in cannabis, which has psychotropic effects. As long as the plant has a THC content of less than 0.3 percent, its leaves and flowers can be sold commercially.
However, the rules for cultivation, sale and consumption remain unchanged. Only registered hemp growers are allowed to grow these strictly controlled plants and may only cultivate the varieties listed in the official French catalogue.
The sale of hemp flowers and leaves is forbidden to under 18s, as a precaution as health authorities still admit to knowing little about CBD.
CBD-based products are also authorised, under certain conditions
Numerous CBD-based products such as resins, creams, oils, sweets or cereal bars were unaffected by the ministerial ban, which primarily targeted CBD for smoking – but tisaines and herbal teas were temporarily banned, as they could contain raw flowers or leaves.
Following the Conseil’s decision, the only requirement is that the finished CBD product must have a THC content of 0. As with leaves and flowers, the sale of these products is prohibited to minors. Most shops also advise against selling CBD to pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Importantly, producers and sellers cannot claim any therapeutic benefits of CBD, as the medical use of cannabis is only just being examined by France’s medicines authority, the Agence nationale de la sécurité du médicament (ANSM).
High levels of THC remains illegal
The rest of the leaves, flowers, resins and products derived from cannabis with a THC content of more than 0.3 percent are considered as narcotics and their use, possession, sale or trafficking.
Consumption is a criminal offence punishable by one year’s imprisonment and fines of up to €3,750. Growers and sellers risk up to 10 years in prison.
By way of comparison with products sold legally, cannabis sold on the black market has an average THC content of 11 percent for weed and 26.5 percent for resin, according to the latest figures from the Observatoire français des drogues et des tendances addictives (OFDT).