France has a history with marijuana that dates back to the 16th century, when Jean Talon, the first Intendant of New France, forced French colonists to grow hemp under the rule of King Louis XIV. The farmers were hesitant at first because they wanted to plant food crops, but their masters from home demanded they grow hemp for its strong fibers. Talon eventually encouraged the farmers to grow hemp by taking their thread, “I have found that to encourage the inhabitants to grow a great deal of hemp it was necessary to induce in them a want of thread. To this end I seized all [the thread] I could find here and I will only distribute it to those who agree to return a stated quantity of hemp.” The psychoactive properties of the drug weren’t introduced to France until the 18th century when Napoléon Bonaparte began his rise to power.
As Napoléon was taking control, some believed that cannabis was causing serious concerns among his troops in Egypt, who were smoking hashish in lieu of alcohol, which led to many reports of bad behavior. Jacques-François “Abdallah” Menou responded by issuing a order banning marijuana, but Napoleon’s army sent hashish samples back to colleagues to analyze and experiment. Dr. Jacques-Joseph Moreau was also experimenting with cannabis, becoming the first physician to do systematic work on the effects of drugs on the central nervous system by administering marijuana to mental patients to study their reactions. Moreau believed cannabis was the key to understanding mental illness, so by 1803, substances were being extracted from cannabis. Now, only limited types of cannabis-derived products are legal in France, though President Emmanuel Macron promises to implement reform.