Proposed ban on smokable hemp products under fire in France

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Draft regulations for CBD in France would ban the sale of smokable hemp products and loose hemp leaves and flowers, cutting the market and the country’s producers off from one of the fastest growing hemp sub-sectors.

“The marketing of raw buds or leaves for smoking or herbal tea is prohibited, as are products that incorporate raw hemp,” the Prime Minister’s office said as the new regulations were released. The government justified the ban based on “public order,” and “public health,” according to French media outlets.

Developed over the last six months, the new regulations authorize the cultivation, import, export and industrial and commercial use of all parts of the hemp plant with less than 0.2% THC, the current EU limit. France, by far Europe’s biggest hemp grower, previously had only allowed seeds and hemp stalks to be processed.

Food, cosmetics OK

The rules would open the market for French producers of CBD food, oils, health & beauty and vape products. But raw hemp inflorescences in pre-rolled “cannabis light” hemp cigarettes, and loose leaf smokable hemp would be prohibited.

It was not immediately clear if French producers could make smokable hemp products for the export market, but that’s missing the point, according to Haïle Selassé Tefari of Le Canebier, a vertically integrated consortium in the south of France focused on organic hemp essential oils.

“The main question here is how can French farmers be enticed to grow CBD hemp for refined products when the one most accessible, scalable and profitable of all the hemp applications by far is allegedly in the process of being barred from them?” said Tefari.

Health concerns

Sources said the government warned that hemp flowers are mixed with tobacco, which is harmful to health. Potential problems for police in distinguishing illegal cannabis from dried hemp leaves and flowers was also cited as a concern.

“In the end, if a hemp flower risks being harmful when mixed with tobacco, then why not just prohibit tobacco?” Tefari suggested.

He called the proposed rules the result of “a growing dichotomy between the non-consensual technocratic rules domestic officials believe they can arbitrarily impose on the population, and the self-imposing cultural reality of France being one of the countries with the largest proportion of consumers of hemp flowers.”

Italy-based American hemp veteran and consultant Richard Rose concurred. “People have been smoking hemp in France long before tobacco, and drinking hemp tea for decades,” said Rose, an early proponent of smokable hemp. “This is why complying with every illegal whim of every unelected bureaucrat is a bad idea, instead of building political power and momentum by pushing back.”

‘Major mistake’

“It’s a major mistake,” said an executive at one French hemp company who declined to be identified, but said his company had plans to move into smokable hemp products. “Our industry should not be satisfied with this highly restrictive regulation. It hurts everyone in the value chain including the government, which could collect taxes on smokable hemp. But most importantly, it limits choices of the consumer.”

The rules being developed in France come after a local case eventually taken up by the European Court of Justice led to long-awaited clarification on CBD products across the European Union.

The court ruled in the case that hemp-derived CBD should not be considered a narcotic, and that the compound should be free for trade among EU members states. That ruling also led the European Commission to reverse its previous position that hemp should be considered a narcotic. So France and other EU member states are now in the process of adjusting their laws and regulations according to those developments.

Shopkeepers can relax

Aside from the potential boon to producers across several hemp and CBD sub-sectors, the decision to allow French farmers to grow hemp for CBD widens the road for specialty hemp retail shops that have so far sold CBD on the gray market, often suffering police crackdowns and court charges.

Smokable hemp is one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative segments in the hemp and CBD industry, according to producers. Some forecasts have estimated the market for such products will experience five-fold growth in the next five years, although no reliable data exists on the current market.

France had hemp fields totaling about 18,000 hectares in 2018; Europe overall recorded 50,000 hectares in 2018 — the most recent recorded figures since the European Industrial Hemp Association stopped making field reports. The country’s hemp economy is based on the production of certified planting seeds, seed production for food, and fiber used in paper and the building industry.

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