No, the Arrival of CBD Coffeehouses Don’t Mean Paris is the New Amsterdam

With the swift opening of several coffee shops dispensing cannabis products, one might think Paris has become Amsterdam and France is now CBD heaven. In fact, as it is often the case with cannabis, it is more complicated.

French media reported in May 2018 that some coffeeshops — in which no coffee is served — have opened in France, especially in Paris.

The self-proclaimed “coffeeshops” neither sell THC, nor can their clients smoke the products they do sell inside the shop, as is the case with the real Dutch coffeeshops. The French shops sell strains of cannabis with less than 0.2 percent THC and 5 percent CBD, in defiance of French authorities.

As a person who knows the French law pretty well — and all the loopholes that allow some parts of the cannabis industry to thrive in France — I have difficulties  understanding what went through the minds of these would-be “light ganjapreneurs” to launch their business here, but they now face a massive and outright ban by law enforcement.

French law versus European law

To really explain what is happening, we have to dive into the French law. Frnce firstly forbids cannabis, but authorizes the cultivation of 22 certified hemp strains below 0.2 percent THC, which can only be used for their fiber and seeds. The flowers have to be destroyed or exported.

Then come the exemptions:

  • For the hemp hurds, used by the building industry
  • For CBD, which is not considered a narcotic in France
  • For hemp-derived products

The use of hemp flower is strictly forbidden by French Law.

The European cannabis law, on the other hand, authorizes all the parts of the legal strains of hemp to be used. Moreover, some European countries have tried in the past to restrict the hemp use, for economical or sanitary reasons, but the Court of Justice of the European Union stated that a country cannot oppose or restrict the European law on hemp.

Does France have to respect the European law? In theory, yes. In fact, it depends whether the country prefers to pay a fine or face a trial. Moreover, if France insists on the prohibition of the hemp flower , a trial would take years to find that the French law violates the European one.

All was going well, until…

Despite the French law, some CBD or seeds shops started to sell CBD flowers when the Swiss market began to sell strains with THC below 0.2 percent. The flowers were sold as infusions not to be smoked. Some shops were aware of the discrepancy between French and European law and sold it openly, while others were selling it under the counter as a “restricted but it’s OK” product. Some did not even consider the law and started selling the product as though it was truly legal.

Three months ago, a franchise made it into the media. Bestown had five shops selling CBD weed. It received a lot of television coverage, and news presenters  reported it as “legal cannabis.” Then in May 2018, a Cofyshop opened in Paris. No more infusions, the CBD weed is sold in jars, with a scale to weigh the bags, and borrowed names of similar to cannabis strains like “Super Skunk” and “Northern Lights” instead of Fedora or Felina, the real name of the original and legal strains allowed in France. The media ran reports about the first French coffee shop.

Health Minister Agnes Buzyn had to take a position on this new subject and her reaction was not ambiguous.

“These coffee shops will close in a few weeks,” she said.

And now comes the law enforcement

A logical reaction to a potential drug sold openly, law enforcement first conducted seizures, which were carried out on June 21, 2p018. The owners of the shops did not stay in custody long, and were released on good faith, but are forbidden to sell CBD flower and resin until their products are tested, and the decision to allow selling it or forbidding it has been made by the government.

All shops face the same threat, even if they remain open. A giant game of cat and mouse has started. On one side, some entrepreneurs that are willing to respect the French law and sell an authorized product under European law. On the other, French authorities that cautiously restrict any cannabis-based product must now decide how to proceed.

France has now two possibilities:

  • Take into account the European law and create a regulation for CBD flower below 0.2 percent THC with requirements for testing, traceability, and advertising, all of which can serve as a precursor to a fully legal recreational cannabis market.
  • Continue a prohibition model in conflict with European law and ban CBD flower. The country could then face a European trial, and based on past jurisprudence, has many chances to lose.

What do you think will happen with cannabis in France? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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