Political situation of cannabis in France: interview with Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy

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Interview with Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy, French cannabis policy expert

Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy is one of the leading experts on cannabis policy in France and Europe. He studied Political Science at Sciences Po Paris and International Peace Studies at the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica. He has worked at the UN before creating his specialized cannabis consultancy Augur Associates.

Why are you in the cannabis industry?

I think, first of all, I’ve always been passionate about it as a consumer. And then, I think it’s because of my work in international relations, studying inequalities between the global south and the global north. Learning how the general framework on cannabis was set up in the beginning, and then how it was created, I think that’s what started my passion for drug policy.

What is the political situation of CBD cannabis in France?

In 2018, the first CBD stores began appearing in France, and since then, there have been ups and downs in terms of the regulations governing the sale of CBD. Historically, we have a very strong industrial hemp industry in France. Originally the French hemp growers’ associations wanted nothing to do with CBD flower(where CBD and other cannabinoids are found) . cannabinoids editorial note), because they thought its regulation could jeopardize their work. As a result, French industrial hemp farmers were actively trying to maintain the status quo. But they couldn’t stop the change, and now they are very interested in CBD flower.

Is the French government interested in legalizing CBD flower?

The government is reluctant, because it is really about not giving the impression that they are legalizing cannabis as such, due to the symbolic power of the flower or bud. Also because Macron doesn’t really have control over the police and has to give them benefits and do only things that don’t contradict them or their culture too much. This is why France is reluctant to legalize CBD flower, even though the changes needed could easily be put in place. We have all the tools to bring about such CBD regulation in France, because three years ago there was a report in the National Assembly, heavily influenced by a report from our consultancy Augur Associates. And, in November of this same year, 2022, there was another resolution accepted by the French Senate.

What exactly did the French Senate approve regarding cannabis in November 2022?

The Resolution proposed the full legalization of CBD in all its varieties, the development and support of an innovative and sustainable agro-industrial sector for local industrial hemp farmers, as well as a push in public policy to favor the consumer with hemp-derived products. The content is quite similar to that proposed in the National Assembly – editor’s note.

The resolution is symbolically great, because it goes in the right direction, taking up most of the recommendations already included in the aforementioned report of the National Assembly. But the politicians in power are still far from putting these recommendations into practice, or even considering their implementation.

What should CBD businesses and their customers take away from the French Senate resolution?

It means that in France we still have a very complex situation, especially for producers and distributors of CBD cannabis, because the sale of any type of CBD flowers is still officially prohibited. For now, CBD can be sold in France, because we are waiting for the court ruling on this issue, which is still pending. After the widely followed KanaVape case, the government had to acknowledge that CBD was legal. But what they actually did was to issue another decree, and this helped in many different ways. For example, we moved from a legal THC limit of 0.2% to 0.3%, and expanded the list of available cannabis seeds. A couple of other things were also done, although it is still prohibited to sell CBD flowers directly to consumers. That was challenged before the court, which ruled quickly on the form and said, “this is urgent, so we are allowing this behavior until we reach a final decision” – which has not yet happened. Yes, there are now stores selling CBD to end customers, but they are also waiting for the court’s decision, which is expected before the end of the year. The recommendations of the rapporteur public were in the sense of allowing direct sales to consumers (in France, the rapporteur public is a magistrate member of an administrative jurisdiction or the Disputes Tribunal who intervenes publicly at the hearing to analyze the dispute and propose a solution – editor’s note). However, if the verdict still says they cannot sell CBD, French CBD stores will have to close again and the whole matter may go back to the European Court of Justice. The process is not over yet.

How is recreational cannabis use regulated in France?

This issue is what we call an electoral snake: it always comes back, but is never resolved. Before Macron was first elected, he appeared to be unopposed to the issue of legalizing recreational cannabis in France. Then, progressively, as the first campaign unfolded, he changed his position. Finally, he presented a project, which is a form of decriminalization, but which in reality only worsened the current process.

Why do you comment on the worsening of the cannabis situation in France?

Macron’s bill did not eliminate the possibility of someone being arrested or imprisoned for smoking a joint, or for the simple possession of a few grams of marijuana. In France, it is the gendarmerie police that decides whether to fine or arrest you. And obviously, those who get caught in public are people who can’t consume at home. They are usually young people with an immigrant background, living in economically impoverished areas. This created a new problem, in terms of serious indebtedness of people and their families. It’s a bit of a social justice issue.

Are there any changes to cannabis policy in France on the horizon?

For now, the prospect of change in French cannabis policy is extremely distant. I would even say that, if there were to be any change now, it would probably be terrible, because the level of awareness of that issue among our political class is extremely poor. Even legalization advocates on the left side of the political spectrum are often stuck in the vocabulary and thinking of the old days. For example, they advocate monopoly production or arbitrary THC limits. The fact that cannabis reforms are taking place elsewhere and that we can watch them unfold will hopefully serve as a lesson to France and then we will move forward. I don’t think we are ready for change now because of the lack of knowledge of the political class. However, there is a growing push, coming from criminal law actors (police, justice), as well as from local elected officials.

The level of knowledge about cannabis among the French political class is extremely poor. Even those on the left who advocate for cannabis legalization tend to stick to the vocabulary and thinking of the old days. For example, they advocate monopoly production or arbitrary THC limits..

Does it mean that today there are no important politicians in France who say: “I am in favor of the legalization of cannabis”?

No, very few. The only ones who have adopted this position in their program are on the left, such as La France Insoumise (LFI) or the Greens. The socialists tiptoe around it, as in Germany, where the social democrats were not very supportive either. On the center right there are often politicians, for example local officials such as mayors or deputy mayors, who support the legalization of cannabis, if it does not harm them too much politically. And that’s where we have more engagement, because local politicians face the reality of things in their cities. Seeing the damage that drug enforcement causes in certain neighborhoods, people die. We have a city called Grenoble in France, which is near the Alps, and there are a lot of people killed. Or look at Marseille, where there are many important and visible people in the drug business. Obviously, some mayors are in favor of legalization because they understand that it is the only way out of this mess. However, national politicians do not listen to them or take them seriously. I would say that things in France have changed in the last five, six or seven years. If someone had talked about this on the news before, journalists would have smiled and not taken it seriously. This has changed. Now we can have a serious conversation. It still depends on where and with whom, but it has definitely changed.

What is the situation of medical cannabis in France?

Two years ago, a medical cannabis experiment began in which 3,000 patients suffering from five different diseases were observed. The follow-up was supposed to be evaluated in April 2023, but it looks like it will take another year. This is bad for two reasons. First, we continue to put patients in a very difficult situation. Patients who are not included in the experiment are still considered delinquent. Secondly, it is a budgetary issue. The government has no money for patients, or chooses not to allocate it to them. The five conditions currently allowed in the experiment are all long-term illnesses, which means that patients suffering from them are usually reimbursed 100% by the French Social Security. But the government doesn’t want to pay for medical cannabis. Nor have they figured out how it will be reimbursed not only for those long-term ailments, but also for other conditions that are not necessarily life-threatening, such as chronic pain. They do not know where to place cannabis in the medical system.

Are you personally involved in the regulation of medical cannabis in France?

About three years ago, we drafted a decalogue for health authorities on the possible administrative situations of medical cannabis products with marketing authorization. So they have the solutions or, at least, the options to regulate it. They have simply decided not to go ahead because they do not consider it a priority. What we also lack in France is patient involvement and influence. We have fairly weak organizations in that area, with no public support and very little private support from the cannabis industry.

We often hear that the Czech Republic is the country in Europe with the most consumers per capita, but other sources mention France as the leader. How prevalent is the recreational use of cannabis in France?

I hear the same thing. Often it is one or the other. I think this shows us that the policy we choose often has very little impact on the prevalence of cannabis use. Where it does have an influence is in the type of consumption. Does prohibition reduce problematic use? Does it reduce the number of first-time consumers? That is where we can see the difference in policies. In France we have a high prevalence of cannabis use, because it is part of the French culture. Cannabis is something we have been using for a long time. It started in Napoleonic times, but became massive after World War II, when France brought in many people from the Maghreb. (Northwest Africa – editorial note) to help rebuild the country, and these people brought with them the hashish culture. And hashish has continued to dominate in France for a long time, until recently.

What about young people and cannabis in France?

The problem is really with teenagers, who don’t take the authorities seriously because they’ve been told that if you smoke weed once, you’re going to go crazy and ruin your life. Then, when they smoke marijuana for the first time and realize that this is not the case, so they do not follow any other advice or information. In France, alcohol consumption is much more conscious and responsible than cannabis consumption.

Cannabis use in France.

There is one thing I still don’t understand: if so many French citizens use cannabis, why is it so unpopular with politicians?

It is only a political choice. Politicians think that cannabis will not help them win votes; on the contrary, they believe they would lose them. They believe they appear stronger when they support cannabis prohibition. Our current Interior Minister is really bringing back the vocabulary of the war on drugs. On TV they literally call it “cannabis shit”. It is terrible. And we see similar positions in other areas of drug policy.

I’ve heard that you can’t even wear a T-shirt with a cannabis leaf on it in France. Is this true?

Our drug laws are arbitrary by definition. We know that. They are made to control, not to protect. As for what is written precisely in the law, it is forbidden to show any narcotic drug “with a good face”. In fact, you can be arrested if you wear a cannabis leaf on your shirt. Does it happen often? I don’t think so. But could police officers do it? Yes, they have that power, and they can use it if they don’t like your face or your behavior.

About the interviewed expert

Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy is one of the leaders of the cannabis movement in France. He studied Political Science at Sciences Po Paris and International Peace Studies at the United Nations University for Peace. Drawing on his experience at the United Nations, he founded Augur Associates to bring his expertise to bear on cannabis policy developments, with an emphasis on understanding between industry stakeholders and policymakers.

Editorial note: After the interview was finished and edited, news came that CBD is legal in France in all its forms..

* Article adapted from the original interview by Cannactiva.

Lukas Hurt
Cannabis activist : Journalist focusing on cannabis-related issues in Central Europe

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