Updated on December 28, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Although most people’s perception of France is a free-loving and tolerant nation, surprisingly, it has one of the strictest stances toward cannabis in Europe. Not only is its recreational use prohibited, but medical marijuana is illegal, as well. As public opinion shifts throughout Europe with a favorable view toward the medicinal use of cannabis, we may see things change in France.
Currently, there is no medical marijuana program in France, but public opinion and even some government officials favor change. In 2013, a positive move forward occurred. France’s Code of Public Health was amended by the Ministry of Health to allow cannabis-based medicines — namely Sativex. This spray, which is applied under the tongue, has equal parts THC and CBD.
There is currently no legislation within the French Parliament debating the legalization of medical marijuana. But as nations across Europe decriminalize cannabis and accept it as a valid medical treatment, certain ministers within the French government are starting to vocalize their support for a state-run medical marijuana program. Unfortunately, the government’s current stance on cannabis won’t allow the subject to be debated publicly.
Surprisingly, there is a long and colorful history surrounding the use of marijuana in France. In the 1800s, soldiers returning from Africa brought their taste for hashish home to France. The intellectual elite adopted its use, and hashish and cannabis became fashionable pastimes.
In the mid-1800s, a Parisian group called the Club des Hashischins explored using hashish to induce altered mental states. The club included notable figures like Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas. For decades, only small pockets of people in France used cannabis. As soldiers returned from Vietnam in the 1950s and 60s, that changed. The counterculture movement exploded, and it became popular among the masses.
Since the 1920s, the use of cannabis has been illegal in France. The “1970 Drug Act” confirmed this, grouping marijuana in with other drugs and labeling them “banned substances.” Today, the use of cannabis is on the rise — in fact, it’s the number one illicit drug used in the country. Many believe decriminalizing marijuana, or at least legalizing it for medical purposes, would decrease more dangerous and illegal behaviors.
The possession, cultivation and sale of any type of cannabis — whether it’s for medical purposes or not — is illegal in France. Those found in possession of even insignificant amounts of marijuana can be prosecuted and subject to extreme fines or jail time.
Sativex is the only cannabis-based medicine approved by the Ministry of Health. However, patients can only use it to treat the severe muscle spasms and spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis (MS).
Since medical marijuana isn’t legalized in France, no program oversees the use of cannabis or cannabis-based medication. Sativex is only prescribed to patients with MS who haven’t found success using other types of drugs.
To get a prescription, patients must visit a specialist — either a neurologist or another physician who specializes in multiple sclerosis. However, the National Agency for the Safety of Drugs and Health Products (ANSM) only permits certain doctors to prescribe Sativex.
After receiving a prescription, patients can only get a one-month supply from a pharmacy. They also must renew their prescription every six months.
There is no protection for patients found in possession of marijuana in France. Because medical cannabis is not legalized, anyone caught using or even with small amounts of marijuana can be prosecuted. Penalties may include a one-year prison sentence and a €3750 fine.
Attitudes are changing around the world. Many European countries are both legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing cannabis altogether, and we’re hoping France isn’t far behind. You’ll find the latest developments here at MarijuanaDoctors.com. We’ll keep you informed about any new medical marijuana legislation in France.
For more medicinal cannabis news and information from around the world, check out our helpful resources page. We also discuss many interesting topics on our blog. At MarijuanaDoctors.com, our goal is to be the go-to site for patients and doctors to learn more about the incredible medicinal powers of the cannabis plant.