In a few short months, the French “coffeeshops” that sold CBD in defiance of authorities have predictably waded into a swamp of conflicting regulations and laws.
Throughout summer 2018, shops selling CBD flower started to thrive in France, where entrepreneurs took advantage of French law that allows legal sales of hemp strains below 0.2 percent of THC, but restricts the use of flower. They were further emboldened by judgments that order European countries not to restrict hemp cultivation and possession.
Not surprisingly, in a country where cannabis use is still forbidden and its prohibition is enforced, authorities from the Ministry of Justice issued a bulletin saying that its members feared “for the health and security of its citizens,” as CBD could become a danger for the public.
Several waves of raids followed. The first on June 27, 2018, was aimed at two of the most visible shops in Paris, Cofyshop and Bluedreamlab. Then about two weeks later more raids hit four other shops in Paris, including Root’s Seeds and Canna Coffee, Bestown and The Hemp Concept. In between, a few more were targeted in the country’s western region of Bordeaux, and in the east in Dijon and Reims.
The entrepreneurs were accused of promoting the use of and selling narcotics, even if their products were less than 0.2 percent THC — some were as high as 0.6 percent THC. French law indeed restricts any effort to encourage narcotics use, and sometimes, posting a sign with a green cannabis leaf is enough to attract the attention of legal authorities.
French law can be confusing. In this case, the rules classify THC as a narcotic but don’t consider hemp strains and their derived products as narcotics, even if THC is present.
France, which is the world’s third-largest producer of hemp, behind China and Canada, restricts all uses of cannabis but allows the cultivation and industrial and commercial use of specific hemp strains below 0.2 percent THC, considered non-psychoactive. It doesn’t restrict the presence of THC in the final product — that could bring the entire hemp industry to a halt.
Even if French authorities have twice wished that only products with zero THC be allowed, first by by the Interministerial Mission to Combat Drugs and Addictive Behavior (MILDECA), linked to the Prime minister, and a second time by a division of the Minister of Justice, as released by NORML France, the latest enforcement appears to have no legal basis.
Three types of prosecutions will be the subject of a fierce battle during future trials. The coffeeshop raids typically are faced with three types of prosecutions, including:
- Narcotics trafficking, with products over 0.2 percent THC
- Narcotics trafficking, with products below 0.2 percent THC
- Promotion of the use of narcotics
What future do CBD shops have in France?
The last directive from the French Ministry of Justice illustrates what could be the future of CBD shops in France. The ministry recently released a statement that repeats the directives of MILDECA, and asks prosecutors to investigate if CBD shops’ products are legitimate.
For the products to be legal, the ministry asks for four conditions:
- CBD should come from authorized hemp strains.
- CBD should come from authorized parts of the hemp plant — not the flower or leaves, only fibers and seeds.
- The plant should contain less than 0.2 percent THC.
- The finished product should contain no THC.
CBD comes from the flower, and at some very low levels from the others parts of the plant. CBD from hemp is no different than CBD from marijuana. Some trace of THC will remain, even with a 99.9% CBD isolate.
Are the French government’s demands realistic? At least, they are not scientifically based. Does it mean the CBD is forbidden? No and no.
It only means that French CBD companies will have to be clever to continue selling their products, or just to set up in Spain, Switzerland, or any other European country to continue shipping products to France.
The topic won’t be closed soon; the legal battles are not likely to conclude before the end of 2019.