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Is France Going to Legalize Le Cannabis in 2021?

France is known for its liberal views, but that has not extended to cannabis, where the restrictions are among the strictest in Europe. But that may soon change.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Is it possible France could beat the United States to legalizing cannabis at the national level? Much of it depends on how the French people respond to a public government's current public consultation on cannabis legalization.

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The public consultation refers to a method used by the French government to ask questions directly to citizens through questionnaires posted on a website. Most public consultations get about 30,000 responses. Within the first week that the government posted the cannabis consultation on the internet, 175,000 people had responded. The comment period lasts until Feb. 28.

"We're using this questionnaire so that we have access to more data on what people think than we usually get from opinion polls," Caroline Janvier, an MP in French President Emmanuel Macron's La République En Marche party (LREM), told France24. "Perhaps it will confirm our belief that France's political class is less sympathetic to the use of recreational cannabis than the public."

That's certainly been the case in the United States, where it took public referendums, not leadership by politicians, to spark the wave of legalization efforts in states across the country.

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Legalization would reverse long-standing opposition from French leaders

The consultation is part of a fact-finding mission launched by Macron to explore the various uses and potential markets for cannabis. The group overseeing the mission comes from both Macron's party and opposition parties.

Should they decide to make recommendations on changing marijuana law after getting input from the public, they would break with long-held opposition to cannabis legalization.

In 2019, when an economic advisory committee published a report on the failure of marijuana prohibition, government leaders reacted strongly, according to France24. Those in opposition included then health minister Agnès Buzyn, who compared smoking cannabis to smoking cigarettes.

Elected officials at the local level have been willing to address potential changes in French law, but it has not gained traction at the national level. Analysts see the public consultation as the first step toward possibly changing that narrative.

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The consultation seeks the public views on cannabis use and cannabis laws

The consultation, posted on the Assemblée nationale website, asks a series of questions that aim to ascertain the French people's views on cannabis and what cannabis policies they want the government to put into place.

Questions include "Do you think current policies on cannabis are effective in fighting against drug trafficking?" and "Do you think the risks associated with cannabis are the same as, more serious than or less serious than those associated with alcohol consumption?"

France also splits cannabis into four main categories.

Hemp. The government notes that France remains the European leader in hemp production, even though they are currently losing market share to other countries that have stepped up production.

Therapeutic cannabis is commonly referred to in the U.S. as medical marijuana.

Well-being cannabis covers products such as oils, tinctures, lotions, and edibles that include non-psychoactive cannabinoids, commonly referred to as CBD.

Recreational cannabis. The consultation notes that according to data from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the French are the primary consumers of recreational cannabis in Europe.

The French government expects to publish the results of the public consultation in April.

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