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 police seize 2.4 tonnes of cannabis near Bordeaux

France’s Economy Minister has praised the work of Bordeaux law officers, after they seized more than 2.4 tonnes of cannabis resin with an estimated street value in excess of €19 million.

French police seize 2.4 tonnes of cannabis near Bordeaux

Bruno Le Maire and Minister Delegate in charge of Public Accounts Gabriel Attal in a joint statement: “Once again, Customs distinguished itself with an exceptional seizure of cannabis, recalling its key role in the fight against drug trafficking. We congratulate the customs officers for their daily commitment to the protection of our fellow citizens.”

Two people were taken into custody after officers stopped a lorry from Spain on the A63, near the Saugnac-et-Muret toll area, just south of Bordeaux, on Monday.

According to Le Figaro, the drugs were hidden in side compartments of the lorry, and concealed by its stated load of wheat, and were discovered by a sniffer dog during the stop.

In total, 2,414.8kg of cannabis resin and 9.75kg of cannabis herb were intercepted by the Bordeaux brigade, with an estimated value of more than €19 million on the illicit market.

Since the end of July, 2022, Customs officials have seized nearly 73 tonnes of drugs, including 41.2 tonnes of cannabis.

The French drugs squad is now investigating to determine the point of origin of the drugs, as well as their destination and the crime network behind the smuggling attempt.