Cannabis: French high court ruling puts CBD products back on sale

France’s highest administrative court has temporarily overturned a ban on the sale of cannabidiol (CBD) flowers and leaves in France, less than a month after it was introduced by the government. This is just the latest stage in France’s convoluted history with cannabis.

A worker prepares CBD dried flower buds at a CBD cannabis production company.
A worker prepares CBD dried flower buds at a CBD cannabis production company. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

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?

READ ALSO The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

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). 

READ ALSO Why CBD cannabis ‘health shops’ are blossoming all over France

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).

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French MPs vote to add the right to abortion to the constitution

Lawmakers in the French parliament voted on Thursday to add the right to abortion to the constitution in response to recent changes in the United States and Poland.

French MPs vote to add the right to abortion to the constitution

Members of parliament from the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party and the ruling centrist coalition agreed on Thursday on the wording of the new clause, which was then put to a larger vote.

“The law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntarily end a pregnancy,” reads the proposed constitutional addition to article 66.

It was passed in the Assemblée nationale with a large majority – 337 to 32 against, but still needs to be approved in the Senate.    

“It’s a big step… but it’s just the first step,” said centrist MP Sacha Houlie from Macron’s Renaissance party.

The initiative was prompted by the US Supreme Court’s explosive decision this year to overturn the nationwide right to termination procedures for Americans.

In Europe, the conservative government of Poland has also heavily restricted abortion rights.

LFI lawmaker Mathilde Panot said the move was necessary in France to “protect ourselves against a regression”.   

In a speech to parliament, she cited the late French writer and women’s rights activist Simone de Beauvoir.

“We only need a political, economic or religious crisis for the rights of women to come into question,” she said.

The agreement was a rare instance of cooperation between the hard-left LFI and the centrist allies of President Emmanuel Macron – who no longer have an overall majority in the National Assembly.

A previous attempt to inscribe the right to abortion as well as contraception into the constitution, with different wording, was rejected by the conservative-dominated Senate in October.

Many conservative and Catholic politicians have announced their misgivings, seeing it as unnecessary given the legal protections already in place.

“It appears totally misplaced to open a debate which, although it exists in the United States, does not exist in France,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement this week.

“No political group is thinking about questioning access to abortions,” she said.

Parliamentary records initially showed Le Pen voting in favour of the change on Thursday, but these were later corrected to reveal she was not there for the vote. Her spokesman said this was due to a medical issue. MPs from her party and the right-wing Les Républicains abstained.

Abortion was legalised in France in 1974 in a law championed by health minister Simone Veil, a women’s rights icon granted the rare honour of burial at the Pantheon by Macron upon her death in 2018.