Will France Become the Next Country to Legalize Cannabis?
In terms of the cannabis industry, 2021 will likely be a critical year. Will France become the next country to legalize cannabis? As one of the harshest cannabis laws in Europe, France has banned its use since 1970, doesn’t permit medicinal use, and doesn’t distinguish between personal and trafficking use, as some countries do.
Despite this, France is the country where cannabis use is highest. The French were the only European country where more than 11% of their population reported using cannabis in the past year, according to Statista. In France, cannabis has been used since Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign of 1798, when his troops turned to cannabis due to a lack of alcohol. However, despite Napoleon’s ban on cannabis, the drug became increasingly popular.
The issue of legalizing cannabis is again in the spotlight in France as a new survey conducted by Le Parisien polled French mayors in Paris and found that 50% of those surveyed were in favour of decriminalizing cannabis (only 22% were opposed, and 28% said they needed more information). Recent surveys indicate that this is also in line with public opinion.
There has been a softening of attitudes towards cannabis in France in recent years. In 2018, President Emmanuel Macron introduced on-the-spot fines, under which police can fine users up to €200 (C$285). However, these fines are still not decriminalized, and judges can still impose harsh penalties if they so choose.
In doing so, it brought France in line with its neighbours, like Germany and Italy, resulting in fewer French people needing to cross the border to obtain drugs. Belgians, Luxembourgers, and Swiss are permitted to use cannabis recreationally without fear of repercussions.
A Rapidly Growing Global Business
Several cannabis companies are already offering stock shares and attracting investors worldwide, as the rapidly expanding cannabis industry is expected to reach 300 billion dollars in the next ten years. In 34 states across the U.S., cannabis with available THC content is already legal in varying degrees.
There is public support for the project. According to Peter Schechter of Altamar, millennials, Generation Xers, and baby boomers say the use of marijuana should be legal. Currently, one in three Americans lives in a state where recreational cannabis is legal, and 66% support legalization.
Recent medical trials in France could pave the way for medical legalization soon. On March 27 of this year, Mexico’s Supreme Court voted on legalizing recreational use. Although marijuana is becoming more legal, many questions remain regarding its legalization. Are criminal organizations likely to expand or decrease as legalization grows? Despite political polarization, will cannabis legalization plans succeed despite its reputation as a “gateway drug,” or will tax revenue derived from its profitability encourage governments to legalize the plant?
Jeanroy points out that the name itself is an important social symbol. “You can distinguish ‘cannabis’ from ‘marijuana,’ which is a very U.S.-centric name that is slowly disappearing from industry terminology.” The cannabis industry is divided into four segments, each path towards decriminalization and depenalization.
Cannabis markets face different challenges as they become more mainstream. Industrial hemp markets, CBD wellness markets mainly in Europe, medical cannabis markets, and adult-use/recreational markets are interconnected. They are, however, rather segmented in terms of regulation. According to Jeanroy, the development of these markets varies widely depending on where you look due to different rules in each country.
The cannabis industry in Canada is unique among global powers. “Canada has an advantage right now because they have access to some financial services, whereas in other countries, they are not offered the same opportunity for financial growth. As an example, US-based companies can only operate within their respective states. This prevents them from exporting to other countries and collaborating with them.”
What’s Happening in Europe
The legalization of cannabis varies drastically from country to country. Both the use of medical cannabis and recreational cannabis is fully legal in Canada and Uruguay, whereas only the use of medical cannabis is legal in Luxembourg and Ecuador.
Today, medical cannabis use is under clinical trials in France and Germany, while in other European countries, cannabis use in any form remains illegal. Considering what Jeanroy advises, the international advancement of the cannabis industry must take a more human-based approach to regulation.
Whenever I talk with people about cannabis, I see many of them who, at first, look at it negatively and then later become moved when, for example, one of their parents feels better after using it for medical reasons. Seeing other people that people consume [cannabis] for different reasons is one of the most critical aspects of the debate – to humanize and prove that people consume it for various reasons.
In terms of de-stigmatizing cannabis use, France is on the verge of a breakthrough. While Denmark has the highest cannabis use in Europe, its laws are some of the most restrictive, says Altamar’s Muni Jensen.
France is gaining ground in several cannabis markets simultaneously. There will be around 3,000 patients using medical cannabis. After two years through a pilot program, we regulated CBD wellness. France will regulate medical cannabis in France within the next year or two. France can be ‘unlocked,’ but it will feel the effects throughout the EU, says Jeanroy.
The European Union is scrambling to regulate in response to global demand for a profitable industry going global. Cannabis regulations could change dramatically, and the market could expand globally within five years. According to Jeanroy, a senior adviser on France’s medical cannabis trial, marijuana isn’t a consumer good like other goods. Unless you go into that market, you cannot fathom its social impact and history.
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