Europe is fast-changing on the issue of medical cannabis, with 21 countries in the European Union now allowing cannabis products to be used therapeutically in some form.
Each country is going about the change in different ways however, creating a messy map of complicated policy on medical cannabis. The UK and France have been, perhaps, the most conservative in this regard, but the UK took a huge step last year in rescheduling cannabis. Now, eyes turn to France to see whether they will follow. The French Medicines Agency (ANSM) recently recommended that medical cannabis be authorised, sparking a nationwide discussion.
Eric Correia, a representative for the southwestern region of Nouvelle Aquitaine and for the hemp association InterChanvre said that France has a lot to learn from the rest of Europe:
“To date, there are already 21 countries in the EU that allow or have legalised cannabis for therapeutic use. France is late. Today, there are many countries that think and act much faster than we do for the wellbeing of their populations. We are a conservative country and must learn from others about the management of patients’ pain in the context of chronic diseases.”
Mr Correia dismissed the idea that France legalising medical cannabis would turn a tide in Europe in terms of policy, explaining, “No, because the trend is already reversed, and without France, since we have not officially decided to legalise cannabis for therapeutic use.”
If France were to legalise medical cannabis they would lack the infrastructure for a domestic cannabis supply and would likely need to import cannabis-based medicines to meet patient demand in the short-term. That said, France could become a key economic player in the medical cannabis business. France has an estimated 300,000 to 1 million patients that could benefit from medical cannabis, a huge potential market for global medical cannabis companies.
Mr Correia said: “I think that the impact on other countries will only be from an economic point of view. As our country is currently unable to support the establishment and development of a French sector, it is likely that we import cannabis products from other countries. These 21 countries precede us, and so are ready to sell us products that could be used by patients, in addition to their home market.”
However, France does have a formidable pharmaceutical industry, exporting a massive €27.4 billion (£24 billion) worth of drugs and medicine in 2017, around 6% of the world’s total pharmaceutical exports, according to the International Trade Centre. It is highly likely that if medical cannabis were to be legalised, France would quickly jump to take a slice of that market.
Mr Correia said: “This is the reason why I am working hard on the establishment of a complete sector – production, processing, extraction, purification and packing – in Creuse, my department in the centre of France.”
France’s largest export market for pharmaceuticals is the US, with 10.5% of its exports heading across the Atlantic. Medical cannabis is legal in 33 US states and is already a multi-billion dollar business, expected to increase 8-fold by 2024. This is a huge potential market for France, ready to be tapped into if businesses in France decide to invest in cannabis production.
The next largest export markets for pharmaceutical goods are all in the EU: 9.2% going to Belgium, 8.9% to Germany, 7.2% to Italy and 5.2% to the UK. Whilst Italy, Germany and the UK have recently moved towards a broader market for medical cannabis, Belgium currently only allows the use of Sativex for multiple sclerosis. Considering these close trade links, as well as cultural and language ties between Belgium and France, it will be interesting to see whether a change in French policy might lead them to reconsider their position.
“There is still a long way to go, hurdles to jump, obstacles to overcome, but I think we are on the right track. I will continue to fight, with all people of good will to work in this direction, because we cannot do without these cannabis derivatives. We need them to support a growing number of patients in need. The fight continues and I will not give up.”
Eric Correia, Representative for Nouvelle Aquitaine and Cannabis Europa Speaker
Despite the incredible potential for a French medical cannabis industry, there is still a political and legislative roadmap which must be completed. Whilst local actors like Mr Correia are working towards getting a pilot study authorised, France’s national policy remains one of the strictest in Europe.
We look forward to continuing this discussion this Friday at Cannabis Europa Paris. If you’re not able to join us in Paris, you can register here to be notified when Cannabis Europa London tickets are available.