Okay, it’s an admittedly vague title, but it’s still true. France’s upcoming medical pilot program involves supplying medical cannabis to patients for free, and though the program was postponed, France just released the companies that won the bid to supply this free marijuana.
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Let’s be honest, France is not the most liberal when it comes to marijuana. Unlike its neighbors Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and Germany, France does not allow for any decriminalization, personal use, or medical legalization measures. In fact, not only is France still rather conservative when it comes to cannabis, but the country was willing to allow a whole lawsuit with the EU (which it lost) just to keep CBD out. (Of course, this move was likely for the protection of pharmaceutical interests, but we’ll get into that later.) Now, with the recent announcement of a medical pilot program, France is promising to give out cannabis for free, and already lined up the companies that will provide it.
France and cannabis
The idea that France is about to give away cannabis for free is certainly a 180⁰ turn from its current laws. It is illegal to both use and possess cannabis in France. France doesn’t even make a designation between personal possession and trafficking, meaning how a case is treated is determined by the amount of cannabis in question, and what the prosecutor decides. So, if a person happens to get caught with a bunch of marijuana for their own personal medical use, it could actually be determined as trafficking. Punishments range from fines of €3,750 – €75,000, and prison sentences of 1-5 years. Cultivation is also illegal as use and possession are illegal, and no medical program exists…yet.
Selling and supply crimes are always illegal, and in France a person can incur 5-10 years in prison, along with a fine. If an offender has been found to be part of a criminal organization for trafficking, they can face life in prison, and a €7.5 million fine.
In 2018, as more and more countries relaxed their cannabis policies, France stepped it up a notch, handing out on-the-spot fines to users. Something that started out as a test in small communities before being enforced as a federal policy. The fines certainly aren’t paltry, with those caught being forced to pay €200, although the amount can be decreased to €150 if paid within two weeks, and increased to €450, if left outstanding for over 45 days. Though the excuse for them is to curb drug violence, there isn’t much about such fines that would do this, making it much more likely as a play to grab money from citizens.
Interestingly, France falls into the industrial hemp loophole, something that is seen in many places due to contradictory or inconsistent cannabis laws. France never actually illegalized the production of hemp, and is the only Western European country that didn’t do this. While it didn’t produce much hemp in the last century, hemp production did increase again between 1993-2015, with half the hemp in Europe at that time originating from France, making France the second biggest hemp producer after China.
What this means is that there’s a lot of hemp around. And what we know about human nature (I feel pretty confident stating this as a fact) is that if something is available, and it’s desired, it’s going to be used. It might be illegal to ingest any form of cannabis in France, but there’s more than enough access to it for those who want it.
So, what’s the deal with medical?
As mentioned in the previous part, France hasn’t been all that quick to start a medical cannabis program. And, in fact, only just laid the framework for a medical cannabis pilot program last year. In October of 2020, the French Minister of Solidarity and Health, Olivier Véran, signed a decree for a new medical cannabis pilot program in which France said it would provide medical cannabis for free to patients in need. Last summer, due to reactions to the coronavirus pandemic, the beginning of the program was pushed back from late 2020, to early 2021.
Will it benefit everyone in need? No, unfortunately not. Approximately 3,000 patients suffering from: chronic pain, epilepsy, cancer symptoms – or cancer treatment symptoms, palliative issues, and painful spasticity from multiple sclerosis or other comparable central nervous system disorders, would receive this free treatment.
The program is slated to run for approximately six months, which makes ostensibly more sensible than – for example – Ireland, which instituted a five-year pilot program, or Switzerland which started a 10-year program. In this way, France is acting much more pragmatically, expecting to get a decent answer in half a year. Considering how quickly the cannabis world changes, anything longer seems absurd. For the program, cannabis would be distributed as dry flower and oil.
This program is of interest to those requiring medications for their ailments, but it also seems to have another purpose. It was announced that specific companies could apply to supply this program, with the idea that whichever companies were chosen would be most likely to gain hold of the cannabis market upon an official medical legalization. Application requirements were published for any company or organization that wanted to participate in cultivating and supplying this cannabis, with a close date of November 24th for applications.
And the suppliers will be…
When it comes to cannabis, there’s what it can do for a person, and what it can do for a company. In France, the announcement of a pilot program wherein France will give away cannabis for free, got a lot of companies salivating at the mouth. In a country with no official cannabis policies, any legalization would mark the beginning of a legal industry, and any company to get its foot in the door first would likely rule the roost. Which made it big news when France just revealed which companies won the ability to do this.
The companies picked are not French-based, but will work with French-based companies. Which means, out the door, France might have just given its future market to foreign investment over local business. This is a much worse thing to do in a poor country where the locals require the work and money to survive. In France, it feels like less of a crime against humanity, but it’s still something of note. Anyway, the following companies will now provide the pilot program, and accept no money from doing it in the process, providing the cannabis at their own cost:
- Althea and Little Green Pharma – both Australian based companies. Althea was authorized one lot as a substitute, and Little Green Pharma was authorized two lots as a main supplier, and one as a substitute.
- Aurora Cannabis and Tilray – Both based out of Canada. Aurora was authorized three lots as a main supplier, Tilray was authorized two lots as a main supplier, and two as substitutes.
- Panaxia – an Israeli-based company which was authorized two lots as a main supplier, and two as a substitute.
- Emmac Life Sciences – a UK based company which was authorized for two lots as a substitute.
There is absolutely nothing guaranteeing that any of these companies will remain suppliers in the future. All companies that applied were analyzed according to their supply abilities, manufacturing practices, and final products. You’ll notice how no US companies were picked.
Every lot that is designated to a company has a specification. Three lots are THC dominant, three are balanced between THC and CBD, and three lots are CBD dominant. Each lot has a main supplier from the list above, and a substitute supplier also from above, each of which works with a local French company. The French companies working in tandem are: Ethypharm, Medipha Sante, Neuraxpharm France, Boiron, Intsel Chimos, and Laboratoires Bouchara Recordati.
Why I find France to be dicey
This part is admittedly my opinion, but I’ll give it anyway since I think it should be said. France certainly looks like the honorable gentleman, offering cannabis for free to those in need, but there’s another side to all this that shouldn’t be forgotten. France recently did something that doesn’t seem to be well understood by the public, is often glossed over in news articles, and which makes the country’s actions questionable on a grand level.
France recently went through with an entire legal battle with the EU over the ability to keep CBD products made by EU standards, from crossing EU borders into France. The case of France vs the EU came with a bunch of implications, as it was heard by the top court of the EU – the European Court of Justice (CJEU) – in Luxembourg, and essentially set case law concerning cannabis (at least as far as CBD) in the EU, as well as setting a precedent for any country attempting to make restrictions on cross-boarder trading within the EU. France, quite luckily, did not win. This not only made France have to accept CBD coming from other EU countries, it made CBD legal throughout the EU.
The case itself is super interesting, but it’s not the issue. That a country might stand up for its own beliefs or desires is not strange or weird in any way. The issue is that the entire time France was pushing this legal battle, and acting concerned about the dangers of CBD – which it never was able to show at all – it was allowing the pharmaceutical version to be sold. France never banned synthetic CBD, only natural CBD!! Synthetic CBD is essentially the same as its natural counterpart, but is made in a lab by massive pharmaceutical and biotech companies. France was ruling out local farmers and producers in order to sell the products of pharmaceutical companies, and pretending that the ban on CBD was out of fear for its citizens.
In this case the pharmaceutical company is GW Pharmaceuticals, and the product in question is Epidiolex. France never had a problem with CBD at all, it just fought a years-long legal battle to help out GW pharmaceuticals. Is it really a shock that a country that would pull this, would also immediately sell out its new industry to the highest global buyer over promoting the industry for its own citizens? Of course, it is possible France is using these companies merely to get information before dumping them and allowing its own companies to take over. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Can’t say it’s not progress that France will give away cannabis for free to patients in need. In fact, it’s a really great beginning that will hopefully be followed up on with a really great medical program. That France is a little bit sneaky when it comes to cannabis can be overlooked so long as it does the right thing by its people in the future. However, I tend to think an eye should always be kept on a country that spent years on a lawsuit to sell out its own people for the benefit of a pharmaceutical company. But that’s just me.
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