Court reverses French ban on sale of cannabis-derived CBD flowers and leaves

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France’s highest administrative court has suspended a government ban on the sale and consumption of raw CBD flowers and leaves, which come from marijuana plants but do not contain psychoactive compounds.

Handing down its decision Monday, the Council of State said the banned products – meant for smoking or drinking as tea – were "devoid of narcotic properties" and could therefore be marketed in France.

The legal development, which does not apply to all cannabis plants, further blurs the rules concerning the sale of products containing marijuana and its derivatives – a booming market that has taken off since 2020.

When the government brought in the ban by decree on 30 December, 2021, it argued that it was almost impossible for police to visually tell the difference between CBD and real cannabis when carrying out checks.

However the Council of State said “serious doubt” had been cast on the legality of the ban given the amount of THC – the active psychotropic molecule – contained in the CBD was less than 0.3 percent.

The judge said this threshold meant the flowers and leaves in question could legally be sold.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told France Inter radio that he "regretted" the court's decision.

"All substances that are related to cannabis, drugs, are very bad for your health," he said. "We have not increased the price of tobacco to 10 euros to accept the legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis."

Strict rules remain

Despite the suspended ban, French rules surrounding the cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis remain unchanged. Only hemp growers may cultivate a variety of strictly controlled plants that are listed in an official catalogue.

The sale of hemp flowers and leaves is forbidden to people under 18 years old as a precaution because health authorities say they still know little about CBD, or cannabidiol.

Meanwhile CBD-based products such as resins, creams, oils, candies and cereal bars remains authorised for sale in France, but under certain conditions.

Producers and sellers are forbidden from claiming any therapeutic virtues given the medical use of cannabis is still being examined by the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines.

Cannabis sold on the black market has an average THC content of 11 percent for grass, and 26.5 percent for hashish, according to the latest statements of the French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Trends.

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