The French Dispatch: A European Perspective on Hemp Regulation
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A European pioneer in cannabis cultivation, France alone grows around 40 percent of the continent’s hemp. Yet the country’s strict regulations prohibit many of its products.
To delve deeper into the growing topic of hemp in France, we’ve summarized a talk delivered by Dr Alexandre Maciuk, an associate professor of pharmacy at Paris-Sud University, at the recent Analytical Cannabis Expo Europe 2019.
Hemp – a heavily regulated manufacturing marvel
Paper, insulation, animal bedding, and construction. These just touch upon the many diverse uses of hemp, and it makes us wonder, what can’t that plant do? Well, perhaps be classified as a medicine. Although extracts containing CBD can be taken from low-THC hemp varieties, sanctions are still introduced. Consequently, hemp is highly restricted in Europe.
Interestingly, it’s the French food market that has substantially increased its hemp usage in recent years, largely due to the plant’s nutritional potential; hemp seeds contain high amounts of omega three fatty acids and essential proteins. This protein value helps booster hemp’s candidacy as an alternative to soy for Europe’s livestock. High protein varieties could even help feed humans. As Dr Maciuk quipped, “If I have to choose in the next 20 years between insect protein and hemp protein, I will choose hemp protein.”
So, why, if all these good products can come from hemp, is it so heavily regulated and restricted?
Novel foods – a bite more than you can chew
A burning question within the industry is whether hemp can be used as a food within the European Union (EU). A good indicator of how baffling this particular area is can be seen through the sheer number of changes to the CBD section within the novel foods legislation over the last two-to-three years. Hemp seeds, seed oil, and flour all have a history of consumption in the EU, and are therefore not classified as novel, whereas leaves, leaf extracts, and CBD are.
But what about the THC that isn’t classified as novel?
In theory, hemp seeds don’t contain cannabinoids. However, when the hemp plant is threshed, these seeds can touch the flowers and transfer cannabinoids to the husk. This can present an issue if the seeds aren’t washed before processing, as the oil will contain traces of cannabinoids, such as THC.
Currently, the guidance values for THC in foods are quite low and differ for each country, which can be confusing for manufacturers and problematic for exportation. The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) has proposed harmonized guidelines to the European Commission, which have a higher THC limit in food ingredients. EIHA viewed these as acceptable guidelines because cannabinoid-containing foods are supposed to contain the THCA form, which isn’t transformed into THC in the body.
As the cannabis industry grows there are many opportunities for established French cultivators to branch out from hemp to cannabis. Yet there are pros and cons when making this transition.
Hemp to medical cannabis – a simple evolution?
French cultivators aren’t just experienced in hemp, but in the more difficult cultivation areas such as opium poppy, too. However, outdoor cultivation is an entirely different game when compared to stringently controlled indoor cultivation. Likewise, as the French hemp community has focused exclusively on varieties with very low cannabinoid content, there is a long journey ahead to switch to high cannabinoid strains.
At present, cannabis law in France is very clear: everything is forbidden apart from seeds and fibers from authorized strains. What’s less clear is the enforcement for cannabis possession, which can differ for each province.
Even the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes remains restricted, and only available once every other treatment option has failed. In October, 2019 the French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety was granted a two-year trial to evaluate the effectiveness of cannabis medicines for a select number of conditions. This research will be used to identify side effects, risks, and assess the danger of addition.
Even so, more changes to the regulatory framework will be needed to allow hemp cultivators to switch over to medical cannabis.