Paris’s first two ‘coffee shops’ selling legal cannabis have attracted long queues of customers eager to try a low-strength version of the drug now permitted under French law.
The shops opened last week following a softening of restrictions to allow the sale of cannabis containing less than 0.2 per cent of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive ingredient.
The shops’ owners insist that their hemp products will not induce the ‘high’ craved by drug users and are purely for those who like the taste and aroma. Although the cannabis has very little THC, it does contain a relaxant.
Joaquim Lousquy, 29, the owner of ‘Cofyshop’ in the hip 11th arrondissement, said: “There’s no psychotropic effect. It isn’t a medicine or a relaxant. I wouldn’t advise anyone to smoke cannabis. We sell it like any other item, just like a furniture shop sells tables or chairs.”
The product, imported from Switzerland, is labeled ‘Do not smoke’ but the message had clearly failed to get through to some customers.
Marc, 21, queuing outside the shop, said: “I want to find out if the stuff they’re selling gets you stoned. In theory, it has less than 0.2 per cent THC, but I’ve heard it contains more CBD [cannabidiol, a legal cannabinoid] and that should have an effect, at least to make you feel relaxed.”
Stéphane Bélaiche, owner of E-Klop, a similar shop in Puteaux, a west Paris suburb, said: “I don’t sell CBD products so they can be smoked in a joint, but so that people can find another flavor to enjoy.”
Advocates of CBD products say they alleviate anxiety and pain, but the issue is controversial.
The French Health Authority has ruled that “no therapeutic benefit may be claimed by the makers or vendors or any product containing CBD.”
Dan Véléa, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction, told the news website 20 Minutes that there was a risk that “CBD will act as a ‘gateway’ product for new users” who may progress to illegal, high-strength cannabis.
Cécile, an assistant stage director in her 50s, said: “I’m here because this is the first coffee-shop where I can buy cannabis legally. I think legalizing it should mean good quality.”
Maxine, 35, an advertising copywriter, said she was buying cannabis for her aunt. “She has arthritis and this a natural therapy that she can try to alleviate the pain, but yes, I’ll try it myself too, of course, more out of curiosity than anything else.”
Mr Lousquy said that when he heard that restrictions on cannabis were being eased, “I recognized a good deal, so I started thinking about opening a shop.”
It is not his first recreational venture. The young entrepreneur also owns a controversial enterprise called Xdolls, where male patrons can rent life-size silicone sex dolls for nearly £80 per hour.
‘Cofyshop’ sells its low-strength ‘CBD’ version of cannabis for £10 to £12 per gram, as well as syrup, massage oil and a preparation to make tea.
Pacôme Rupin, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party, visited the shop last week and told reporters the authorities were “closely watching” its activities.
Some local residents object to the shop’s presence. Marlène, 72, told Le Parisien: “It smells of hashish in the street and it wafts up into our flat.”