Considering the Newly Legal CBD Market in France
By Eric Singular, Director, Hemp Business Journal
After France saw its ban on the sale of CBD-based products invalidated by the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) in late 2020, the French Health Ministry published a new regulatory framework for the sale of hemp extracts. The guidelines came six months after a Cour de Cassation ruling last June confirmed that CBD could indeed be sold in France if legally produced in another EU member state. In the months following, 400 new CBD stores have opened their doors. The Dec. 31, 2021, ruling shed light after months of legal uncertainty for stores selling any CBD products (or food items) including candies, oils, cosmetics, e-cigarettes, infusions, or smokable hemp flowers.
While the June ruling signaled the opening of France’s CBD market, a provision in the decree banned “the sale to consumers of raw flowers or leaves in all their forms, alone or mixed with other ingredients, in particular as smoking products, herbal teas or potpourris,” i.e., smokable hemp flower. The provision was harshly criticized by trade groups like the Union des Professionels du CBD, deeming it as “suffocating” the growth of the new market. This month, a French judge temporarily lifted the ban on smokable hemp flowers, citing expert testimony which asserted that hemp flowers and leaves under the threshold of 0.3% THC have no narcotic properties. That mirrors the broader policy of the European Parliament per hemp-derived cannabinoids. In October 2021, the lawmakers passed increasing the authorized THC level for industrial hemp from 0.2% to 0.3%, to go into effect by 2023.
France is the world’s third-largest industrial hemp producer, cultivating the most hectarage in Europe while accounting for half of the continent’s dedicated hemp production. As the country’s hemp industry is experiencing significant growth driven by the excitement for legal CBD, the historical focus has been primarily on fiber. In 2020, about 1,300 French producers cultivated 17,900 hectares (44,232 acres). On average, 89% of the annual production is for straw, and the remaining 11% is hempseed. That production feeds six hemp cooperatives that process both an average of 100,000 tons of defibered straw and 17,000 tons of seeds per year.
The country has built a robust, hyper-localized supply chain for hemp fiber, with about 45% of processing done in the region in which it was produced. One of France’s largest growth sectors for hemp fiber is in construction and building materials, such as hemp insulation and hemp concrete. The French government has announced plans for sustainability legislation to ensure that all new public buildings are built from at least 50% timber or other natural materials. It has also been confirmed that hemp will be used in the construction of the Olympic village for the Paris 2024 games. Last month, the Pierre Chevet sports hall in Croissy-Beaubourg earned the designation as the first public building in France to incorporate hempcrete blocks made from a crop grown and processed within 300 miles of the construction site. It is estimated that the market for hemp fiber in France currently accounts for more than 40 million euros ($47.5 million USD) annually, with about 55% of production being exported.
France is also specializing in hemp genetics. The country has become a leading global supplier of certified hemp seed, with some 40% of its seed production being exported. France’s multiplication and the marketing of certified seed is managed by the Coopérative Centrale Des Producteurs De Semences De Chanvre. The French catalog has 9 varieties of industrial hemp that are managed by the National Federation of Hemp Producers (FNPC). These varieties have become widely used by hemp growers in the United States.
Now that French officials have clarified their positioning and published a regulatory framework that outlines the legal sale of CBD products, stakeholders are eager to build a domestic supply chain for hemp-derived cannabinoids. Given the firm regulations and centralized nature of hemp production in France, there is little doubt that rigorous testing will be required for CBD-rich hemp varieties. Hemp grown for CBD extraction is generally a single-use crop, and contains higher amounts of THC — or at the very least must be managed to avoid going above the 0.3% THC threshold. New varieties will likely need to be vetted by regulators prior to the allowance of large-scale production, raising the risk of introducing an onerous process like the variety testing shouldered by various states’ departments of agriculture since the passage of the federal 2014 Farm Bill.
Nevertheless, the future for the French CBD market looks bright. In an August 2021 report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, it is projected that CBD retail sales in France will increase 244% between 2020-2030. In 2020, the market for CBD in France was estimated at 131 million euros ($156 million USD). At present, tinctures command the market at 74 million euros ($88 million USD), followed by capsules at 41 million euros ($49 million USD), and vapes at 21 million euros ($25 million USD). An analysis of France’s high-THC cannabis market is available in New Frontier Data’s Global Cannabis Report. Still more in-depth analysis of the French hemp and CBD markets is forthcoming in New Frontier Data’s Global Hemp Report to be published later this year.