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France’s Health Minister Promises Continued Access to Medical Cannabis for Patients

France’s Minister for Health, Aurélien Rousseau, has confirmed that the country’s medical cannabis experiment will continue, providing some solace for its 2,540 patients.

Despite pressure from cross-party parliamentarians, elected officials, scientists and doctors, Mr Rousseau refused to commit to rolling medical cannabis out generally across France this year.

The minister suggested that the lack of commitment to a fully fledged medical cannabis programme was due to a lack of ‘European marketing authorisation’, which he suggested could be ready by 2025.

Industry stakeholders and medical cannabis advocates have been quick to point out that 17 members of the EU, alongside Switzerland and the UK, have now legalised medical cannabis.

What happened?

Last week (October 11), during the Social Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, Mr Rousseau was questioned on the topic directly by the assembly secretary.

It came just weeks after the government published its Social Security Financing Bill (PLFSS) for 2024, which determines the state’s budgetary allocations for the coming year.

While the industry had hoped that the PLFSS would allocate a budget for the ongoing medical cannabis experiment and indicate that a generalised roll-out was on the horizon, any reference to medical cannabis was entirely absent from the document.

The PLFSS is now being considered by parliamentarians, who will pick apart its contents and vote on amendments before it is enacted.

Responding to questions from Social Affairs Committee deputies Caroline Janvier (Renaissance) and Karen Erodi (LFI), Mr Rousseau confirmed that the experiment had produced ‘clinical feedback showing a benefit for the patient’.

However, he refused to commit to the full roll-out of a medical cannabis scheme, citing the fact that ‘at this stage, we don’t have a European marketing authorisation’, adding that he expected this to be ready by 2025.

Should European marketing authorisation not be granted by 2025, Mr Rousseau suggested the government planned to ‘switch to so-called compassionate access’, a special scheme used to enable patients to access certain drugs still in development.

Crucially, he confirmed that the government ‘will present an amendment so that obviously all the beneficiaries of this experimentation can continue to benefit from it’, thanks to an ‘adapted status that will then allow us to see over time’.

While it was not yet clear what form this would take, it all but confirmed that the experiment, which was due to end in March 2024, will be able to continue.

‘An ethical and clinical necessity’

On October 10, a day before the hearing, a group of signatories, including the two committee deputies who questioned Mr Rousseau, penned a collective statement in local media publication Liberation. 

The collective also included elected officials from the left, centre and right, alongside addiction pharmacist René Maarek and Dr Nicolas Authier, who is conducting the experiment with the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM).

In the article, the signatories suggest that the experiment finds itself at a ‘decisive turning point’ as the experiment enters its third year.

They have called for the official roll-out of medical cannabis in France from next year, stating that it represents a ‘real ethical and clinical necessity’ for patients.

“Not generalising access to medical cannabis in 2024 would be a betrayal for those who suffer, in particular from cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or other chronic pain,” the group stated.

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