Renowned for its cultural sophistication, one might assume that French culture would warmly welcome cannabis. Just the contrary is true, though — today, France remains one of the few European nations with essentially zero medical or adult-use cannabis infrastructure, putting on an initially intimidating face for prospective cannabinoid entrepreneurs.
Just appraising France’s hardened exterior position on cannabis, however, would overlook its surprising acceptance of CBD. It’s unclear when, if ever, France will follow the rest of Europe’s lead on cannabis law. In the meantime, selling cannabinoid products in France certainly isn’t impossible even if the process presents unique challenges.
Are cannabinoids legal in France?
Some cannabinoids are legal for sale in France, but only by a hair’s breadth. CBD only became legal in France in 2021¹, for instance, by a court ruling that determined existing bans on CBD products were unconstitutional. This same ruling, though, determined that flowers of the hemp or cannabis plant containing CBD were still illegal, a ruling that was itself overturned two years later².
In summation, France has largely been forced to make certain legal concessions for the sale of CBD by pressure from its citizenry. After the dust cleared from a spate of overturned CBD rulings, it became clear that CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC are legal in France. The nation has not made any concessions for other cannabinoids, however, and THC remains strictly illegal in France except by specific government authorization.
History of cannabis in France
In 2015, archaeologist Hervé Delhoofs discovered a vase³ within the burial site of an ancient Gallic woman who died at around age 30 in the 2nd century BC. Further investigations found that the vase had been used to house wine infused with Cannabis sativa.
This isn’t the only evidence that the Galls and related peoples of ancient Europe used cannabis in the distant past, but it’s compelling on its own. It appears that cannabis was a component of most religious and healing rituals of ancient Europeans with knowledge of its medicinal properties decreasing rather than growing over the centuries.
By the year 1800, Napoleon’s French found cannabis to be so disruptive that it was banned throughout occupied Egypt⁴, where French troops had seized upon the intoxicating properties of hashish in a culture where alcohol was religiously banned. Nonetheless, cannabis found its way back to France, where it played a pivotal role in the nation’s arts and culture of the mid-1800s.
Most famously, the use of cannabis amongst the literati in Paris led to the rise of the Club du Hashischins, whose members included Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas among others. Baudelaire became notable for his poetic description of the hashish experience in Les paradis artificiels, considered a seminal piece of psychonaut literature to this day.
History of cannabis laws in France
Even in 1800s France, cannabis was firmly illegal with strict punitive measures put in place to disincentivize its sale and use. This uniquely anti-cannabis stance persisted throughout the 20th century with France being one of the key signatories of the 1953 Geneva Convention on drugs⁵, considered to be one of the first international anti-drug policies.
In 1991, controversy erupted as a non-governmental organization was denied importation of cannabis into France for administration to 10 terminally ill patients. In its defense, the court issuing the order referenced France’s adherence to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs⁶, which made imports of cannabis products illegal.
France is unusual in its strictness in following this Single Convention, however, with many other signatories allowing medical cannabis programs. The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that France remains uniquely held back by its anti-cannabis stigma, a stigma over two centuries in the making.
Which cannabinoids are legal in France?
As it stands, the only legal cannabinoid in France is CBD. It wasn’t until 2013⁷ that France allowed the processing of cannabis into strictly medical products, which could be acquired with a doctor’s prescription only when all other available prescription treatments failed. Five years later, France announced it was launching a full inquiry⁸ into the potential medicinal benefits of cannabis, which would involve volunteer patients with various conditions.
The inception of this cannabis “medical experimentation” was delayed until 2021, and reports indicate that some French citizens with epilepsy, neuropathic pain, and cancer have now received cannabis therapy. This highly limited, experimental program remains the only state-authorized form of THC cannabis commerce in France.
Is CBD legal in France?
Yes, French courts have been forced to admit that CBD products containing under 0.3% THC are admissible under both French and EU law⁹. As a result, products containing CBD but no more than 0.3% THC are now allowed for sale in France, opening up the French CBD market like never before.
Is CBG legal in France?
It does not appear that France’s good graces with CBD extend to similar compounds. It was necessary to impose immense pressure against the French court system to even allow CBD commerce, meaning that selling cannabinoids like CBG in France could still be many years away.
Is THC legal in France?
No, THC is largely illegal in France with the only exceptions being made for terminally or chronically ill patients who did not experience improvements with mainline treatments. As a result, France maintains a highly cautious approach to its THC laws, a stance that is beginning to be revisited and discussed publicly in order to align with the evolving perspectives in Europe.
Does France have adult-use cannabis?
No, adult-use or recreational cannabis is not legal in France. The nation has not even decriminalized small quantities of cannabis, a measure that many European nations have taken as a way of side-stepping comprehensive cannabinoid reform.
As a result, possession of even small amounts of cannabis in France could lead to arrests, fines, or even prison times. It is highly recommended that you do not possess or travel with THC-rich cannabis in France.
Can you import cannabinoids into France?
Importation of CBD products into France is possible, though a greater number of restrictions face entrepreneurs who would do so compared to other EU nations. The French judicial system has only begrudgingly admitted that CBD products are not marijuana, after all, and the overall position of the French government remains remarkably hostile against cannabinoids of all kinds.
Those seeking to import cannabinoids into France are strongly cautioned to work with a distributor that already operates within the EU or EEA. The French legal case that led to the legalization of CBD specified that only CBD products made in EEA countries are strictly legal, raising potential issues with the import of American CBD.
When offered in bulk, there’s usually nothing about CBD itself that indicates its nation of origin. Paperwork and packaging will say otherwise, though, underscoring the importance of working with a cannabinoid producer with operations in the European Economic Area.
Are there cannabinoid manufacturers in France?
No, there are not very many cannabinoid producers in France, and those that exist make medical cannabis products for the French government. Processing hemp into CBD extracts remains illegal in France, a fact that is quite ironic given the nation’s position on Cannabis sativa within the context of agriculture.
Summary: Is France ready for cannabinoids?
Stricken by continual riots and a refugee crisis over the last decade, it’s a small wonder that France has not remained abreast of the latest developments in the fineries of cannabinoid law. It seems that the French will continue to endure a lack of access to cannabinoid products for the foreseeable future, as their government shows no signs of expanding hemp commerce beyond CBD.
If CBD is the cannabinoid you want to offer to France, you happen to be in luck. The nation now accepts CBD imports as long as they are made in an EEA country. Other cannabinoids like CBG, though, may draw undue attention from French authorities despite their similarly non-psychoactive properties.
As CBD becomes more popular in France, it’s inevitable that the hearts of citizens and even bureaucrats will be softened to the benefits of cannabis, a plant with which the French have a unique history. Long-gone, though, are the socially disruptive hashish cafes of Baudelaire and Dumas — cannabis is becoming an everyday item for the rest of the world, and France will eventually follow suit.
1. Reuters. (2021, June 23). French court overturns ruling saying sale of cannabidiol is illegal. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/french-court-overturns-ruling-saying-sale-cannabidiol-is-illegal-2021-06-23/
2. Sabaghi, D. (2023, January 5). France’s Court Overturns Government Ban On Sale Of CBD Flowers. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dariosabaghi/2023/01/05/frances-court-overturns-government-ban-on-sale-of-cbd-flowers/?sh=7318ba3444c1
3. Bennett, C. (2020). The Cannabis infused Wine of Dionysus? www.academia.edu. https://www.academia.edu/44689568/The_Cannabis_infused_Wine_of_Dionysus
4. Booth, M. (2015). Cannabis: A History. Macmillan.
5. UNODC – Bulletin on Narcotics – 1953 Issue 3 – 011. (1953, January 1). United Nations : Office on Drugs and Crime. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1953-01-01_3_page012.html
6. SINGLE CONVENTION ON NARCOTIC DRUGS, 1961. (n.d.). United Nations. https://www.unodc.org/pdf/convention_1961_en.pdf
7. TÖRnkvist, A. (2013, June 10). French law on pot-based medicine takes effect. The Local France. https://www.thelocal.fr/20130610/legalized-cannabis-tea-could-be-on-drug-menu-for-french-patients-in-pharmacies
8. Jean-Luc MOUNIER. (2019, June 2). France to launch medical cannabis experiment in coming weeks. France 24. https://www.france24.com/en/20190602-france-launch-medical-cannabis-experiment-authier
9. Sabaghi, D. (2021, December 14). European Union Increases THC Level For Industrial Hemp. Why Does It Matter? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dariosabaghi/2021/12/14/european-union-increases-thc-level-for-industrial-hemp-why-does-it-matter