French Hemp Farmers Face Tight Restrictions in Conflict With EU Rules

By Aurelien Bernard

France is historically a land of hemp. Used mainly for its oil and its fibers, hemp was manufactured for the canvases, ropes and sails of boats that explored the world’s seas during the Age of Discovery from the 15th through 18th centuries.

At the peak of hemp farming, hemp covered 175,000 hectares, or more than 432,434 acres. The development of motor boats and the mechanization of cotton cultivation contributed to hemp’s decline. But hemp is making a comeback. While only 3,800 hectares, or 9,390 acres, of hemp were grown in 1991, more than 15,000 hectares, or more than 37,065 acres, are now being cultivated in France more than a quarter-century later.

French law, however, restricts the work of the hemp industry to fiber and seeds, and forbids work with the flower, the part that contains most of the cannabinoids. These restrictions cause two issues for hemp farmers: the inability to sell their flowers, and the difficulty of extracting cannabidiol (CBD) from fiber.

CBD is legal in France. So, where does it come from if it cannot be produced domestically? From abroad. Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the United States and China are the main suppliers of CBD isolate in France.

France’s ban on hemp flower processing  is not consistent with European legislation, which does not limit the cultivation of hemp to a part of the plant. European and French law have already been decided on this subject: A country within the European Union does not have the right to restrict the common organization of markets in the hemp sector.

The French law restricting hemp production to fiber and seed conflicts with the European Union’s allowance of hemp production on the whole plant. Should the laws be reconciled, a CBD hemp industry and CBD flower shops could develop in France, similar to the country’s Swiss neighbors.

Some hemp farmers and shops already operate in this gray area between EU and French regulations. While the farmers are relatively discreet and navigate in the gray market, shops have begun to sell CBD flowers more openly.

At the European level, the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) is trying to defend the interests of the hemp industry. The association recently asked the European Union to raise the THC limit from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent, citing that the lower limit could put the EU at a competitive disadvantage compared with North America or Asia, where limits already extend to the higher 0.3 percent THC content.

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