The news is now official on the medical cannabis front; Sativex, now medically derived from the cannabis, was granted market approval on French territory on 8 January 2014. A key milestone finally achieved which was only one of the many administrative obstacles on the road to commercialisation of this product.
On the face of it, legal cannabis has many supporters in France. Numerous local, national as well as international associations – which are well known throughout the rest of Europe – are part of the pro-cannabis landscape in the country although their visible presence in the traditional press is slight.
In November 2013, a survey carried out by the CSA institute showed that 63% of the French people were opposed to the decriminalisation of cannabis, with not surprisingly, a score of 51% in favour when the demographic of “those under 35” is isolated. All the same, these are rather disappointing figures if you take into account the supposed cliché of the fun-loving, wine-drinking and cigarette-smoking Frenchman.
Sativex will arrive in 2015
The news is now official on the medical cannabis front; Sativex, now medically derived from the cannabis, was granted market approval on French territory on 8 January 2014. A key milestone finally achieved which was only one of the many administrative obstacles on the road to commercialisation of this product. The Admirall laboratory will take over this process of commercialisation and is set to decide the date when the product will be available by prescription. In accordance with the policy adopted in the other countries where it is available the buccal spray will only be prescribed to patients suffering from multiple sclerosis by specialist doctors. It is, nevertheless, probable that the drug will only be available from 2015; a drawback and a source of multiple frustrations for the patients who have been waiting for this solution for a long time.
The political stampede
The imminent arrival of Sativex is excellent news for the multiple sclerosis patients and for the French cannabis community and is a direct consequence of the legalisation of products derived from cannabis, a process which had quietly taken place in June 2013. But whilst few members of the government comment on this considerable change in the legalisation of soft drugs in France, this has not always been the case.
In more general terms, for the past few decades, representatives from different political parties, generally liberals or those with a green agenda, have expressed opinions on a general need to legalise cannabis. The reasons cited are numerous and for the most part have to do with international significance, such as the end of the policy of prohibition for soft drugs which benefits a black market and is the source of dramatic economic, societal and public health-related consequences.
As such, the French have seen several liberal politicians urging the government and public opinion alike to recognise facts in changing the reputation of cannabis in France. But with the exception of Noël Mamère (formerly “The Greens”), who had championed this cause as one of the points of his campaign during the 2002 presidential elections, few among them received the attention they deserved.
In fact, only the ministers or other politicians benefiting from satisfactory media coverage were widely represented in the press in terms of their stance on legalisation before ultimately being rebuffed by their respective parties, and in certain cases, by the highest levels in French government.
At the end of 2012, the Minister for Housing, Cécile Duflot, then the Minister for Education, Vincent Peillon, each in turn expressed their views, “calling for” decriminalisation, like many other ministers having already broached the topic and who had taken the opportunity to reaffirm their own position. Nevertheless, the sense of joy was short-lived since the individuals concerned were called to order by the Prime Minister’s office the day after their respective statements. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at the time “there will be no decriminalisation”, quickly adding “so there is no cause for controversy”. In other words, maintaining that the matter was officially “closed” and now confined to French political taboos is quickly becoming the euphemism of the century.
Since then, in accordance with the instructions given by Mr Ayrault, who pointed out that “ministers must focus on their own mission,” only politicians working at a lower level of legislative power now appear bold enough to broach the subject.
What do the people want?
Although the different generations have difficulty in agreeing on the benefits and risks of cannabis, as the aforementioned survey carried out by the CSA Institute seems to indicate, private companies and the general public alike find it hard not to get swept along by the whole medical cannabis train.
As far as hemp is concerned, numerous industries in France are interested by the “new” opportunities it affords, notably in construction, the textile industry and the food processing industry. In November 2013 Sensi Seeds documented an initiative from certain local governments and encompassing several regions, which aimed to re-establish some hemp cultivation in the country. Many other regions already had similar projects in place and further echoed these, bringing the total area under hemp cultivation in France to 12,000 hectares in 2013, out of 15,000 hectares throughout the whole of Europe (source: National Federation of Hemp Producers).
On a community level, the aforementioned article already reported on the cultural initiatives in Brittany aimed at foreign visitors and local residents. Now, it is a question of educating the French agriculture professionals in order to optimise the French “hemp industry” which should be able to respond to the increasing demand for hemp-based materials. Various information platforms for stakeholders in the “hemp industry” emerged in 2013, notably l’Espace Eco-Chanvre in Brittany and 3CA in the Champagne-Ardenne Region.
As for the gap that exists between hemp and cannabis, it is comfortably bridged from the nutritional or even cosmetic point of view. Legal cannabis has been a front-page topic over the past few years, giving it pride of place in search engines (i.e., Google, Yahoo, etc.), a place it is now no longer ashamed of occupying and France has not been left behind in this.
Internet users or marketing professionals keen to promote ranges of hemp-based products, therefore, no longer hesitate to include in their branding the once feared terms “cannabis” or “marijuana”, in the guise of educational politeness. A seemingly insignificant, albeit culturally considerable change when compared with a time not that long ago when people were hesitant over how they expressed themselves: “Hemp? … Isn’t it also … you know?” was the only politically correct way of asking for clarification from one’s partner in conversation.
The “politically correct” culture continues apace but the external observer cannot help noticing that despite every effort on the part of the established powers that be, the expression “you can’t stop progress” seems to have a life of its own. A partial victory for France’s cannabis community which – sooner or later – will perhaps see cannabis consumption decriminalised or legalised, simply because common sense and medical progress cannot continue to encounter complete opposition for long.
Sensi Seeds, as ever, will closely monitor the French cannabis situation and is delighted to see the cause being furthered, slowly but surely.