Marijuana is not legal in France, and the country is seen as having some of the strictest cannabis policies in western Europe. Possessing cannabis is illegal in France, although in 2020, the country changed the law so that the punishment is now a €200 fine. Fines for using, as opposed to just possessing cannabis, however, can run into the thousands of euros, and can carry up to a one year prison sentence.
While France has long been said to have the highest number of cannabis users per capita in Europe, it has long lagged behind its western Europe neighbors when it comes to tolerance of the plant.
Medical cannabis program and Medical use in France
In March, 2021, France launched a two-year experiment to gauge the effectiveness of a nationwide medical marijuana program and to prepare the ground for future distribution, according to the Health Ministry.
Under the plan, some 3,000 patients in France will be treated with medical cannabis and monitored closely. The plan was initially passed in 2019 but was delayed multiple times, including because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some 170 hospitals will participate in the two-year experiment. Patients can take part if they have a medical condition which has not responded to pharmaceutical drugs. Some of the qualifying health conditions include epilepsy, neuropathic pain, chemotherapy side effects, a need for palliative care, and pain linked to multiple sclerosis, according to France24. Children may be eligible in cases of refractory epilepsy or cancer.
In principle, pursuant to Article R. 5132-86-1 of the French Public Health Code (PHC), the culture, manufacture, transport, import, export, holding, offer, transfer, acquisition and use of cannabis (plant and resin) and THC (natural and synthetic) are prohibited.
Nonetheless, derogations exist for medical purposes. The pharmaceutical establishments and any establishments authorized by the French Health Agency (ANSM) to manufacture, import, and distribute active substances may be allowed to perform the above-mentioned acts, including, since 1st March 2022, the culture and production of cannabis, subject that the concerned product:
- Received an authorization (i.e. Market Authorization, Early Access Authorization, Compassionate Access Authorization or Import Authorization); or
- Was registered as homeopathic drug; and
- Meet the requirements set by an upcoming Decree which will be published by the Health Ministry on a proposal from the Director of the ANSM and is manufactured as required by Article L. 5121-5 PHC or any equivalent internationally recognized standards to guarantee its quality, security and its medical purpose (in this case, the establishment is not allowed to offer and use the concerned product).
Cannabis plants may only be held and cultivated for medicinal purposes by growers who entered into an agreement with these establishments.
Medical use is also allowed for the purposes of research or product control as authorized by the Director of the ANSM.
Pursuant to Decree No. 2020-1230 dated of 7 October 2020, the ANSM is currently assessing the viability of a specific program in order to allow the medical use of cannabis, particularly for epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and palliative care.
If this program was in a first time indirectly limited to foreign manufacturers due to the prohibition to cultivate and produce cannabis in France even for medical purposes, the Decree No. 2022-194 dated of 17 February 2022 removed this prohibition (see above).
The Health Ministry should report on the evaluation of this program in September 2022.
The unlawful transport, possession, offer, transfer, acquisition or use of narcotic substances is punishable by: (i) 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of EUR 7,500,000 if committed by natural persons; or (ii) 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of EUR 37,500,000 (and various other sanctions that lead to the entity’s dissolution) if committed by legal persons.
Who can get medical cannabis and how much does medical marijuana cost in France?
Unless someone is part of the exploratory initiative, the only way to gain access to cannabinoid medicines in France is to get a prescription for Sativex from a medical professional who specializes in multiple sclerosis.
Such patients can only receive a 30 day supply and must renew the prescription every six months.
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France has yet to launch a comprehensive medical cannabis program and set prices for products. Like elsewhere in Europe, there has been controversy over the price of Sativex in France.
Cannabis has also been at the center of a highly controversial murder case in France. In April, 2017, Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman was murdered by her neighbor, who admitted to shouting verses from the Koran during the killing. In April, France’s highest court of appeal ruled that the murderer was having a psychotic episode at the time of the attack. Experts in the killer’s trial had asserted that his sanity had been permanently damaged following years of cannabis use, a ruling that sparked outrage and ridicule from many people in France and worldwide.
In France it is forbidden to produce, import and sell recreational cannabis containing THC.
On 13 January 2022, the French National Assembly dismissed a draft law related to the legalization of the production, offer and use of cannabis over the French government’s control.