The French government has approved an official study into the benefits of medicinal cannabis and it will be completed before the end of 2019.

It follows a study published earlier this month by a government-appointed committee of scientific experts, which recommended the government legalize medicinal marijuana. The committee concluded that it is “relevant to authorize the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes for patients in certain clinical situations”.

Now the National Agency for Medicines has given the green light for an experiment into the therapeutic properties of cannabis, seen as another step towards it eventually being legalized.

The Temporary Specialized Scientific Committee was set up in October, comprising 13 independent healthcare experts, and the purpose of the experiment is to test its proposals “in concrete terms”.

First, it needs to work out where the cannabis for French patients will be produced and decide whether to rely on imports or to roll out a domestic cultivation industry. Then the group will assess distribution channels and delivery modes.

Next up, the committee, backed by the National Agency for Medicines, will conduct a “life-sized test”. That will involve looking at sprays, inhalation, capsules, drops, suppositories, oils, sublingual route, and patches to determine which method of ingestion is the healthiest. The Temporary Specialized Scientific Committee has already said that smoking cannabis is harmful and alternative methods would be preferable.

France has the world’s sixth largest economy, behind only the U.S., China, Japan, Germany, and the UK, so it represents a significant potential market for the global cannabis industry. Its neighbours have all totally relaxed their laws around cannabis consumption in recent years:

  • Luxembourg has now permitted marijuana for recreational use
  • Spain has cannabis clubs where people can smoke without fear of prosecution
  • Germany is rolling out a medicinal cannabis industry and so are Switzerland and Italy
  • Belgium has decriminalized cannabis for personal use

France remains the most conservative country in western Europe when it comes to cannabis, but that could all change in 2019 if the government is satisfied by the results of this official study. If it does not act, it risks seeing its citizens crossing the border into neighbouring countries to source cannabis or relying on the black market.