The eyes of the world will be on France In May, when elections take place to choose the next President. For many political commentators, this is the frontline for the battle between liberal and conservative ideals and the result could have a profound effect for Europe.
Away from the intensity of the obvious headlines – the rise of popular dissatisfaction with established political systems and the increasing popularity of right wing sentiment – amongst France’s estimated 1.4 million regular tokers (from a population of 66 million), there is also the burning issue of cannabis reform.
The Cannabis Scene in France
The country’s national motto “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity) has long sounded a little hollow for cannabis users in France who have had to conduct their passion in the shadows. At present, if you use cannabis in France, you can be fined 3,750 Euros and potentially go to prison for one year, although this is rare. According to a survey by the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 84% of French people consider that the current legislation is ineffective and would like the policy to be reviewed.
Recent reports indicate that cannabis consumption amongst young people in France is one of the highest in Europe. Hashish continues to remain a popular choice because of its easier concealment and the quality of weed bought on the street is often of a poor quality. However, there is a whole generation of cannabis growers – indoor and outdoor – who have good knowledge and sophisticated growing skills.
“Ignorant politics, a muzzled media, some urban legends, and you get a perfect cocktail that you could refer to as Reefer Madness in France,” said one French grower at the Spannabis expo in Barcelona. “The media produces documentaries that present theories of another age as truth, Government officials have publicly stated that cannabis is injected with ecstasy to make it even stronger and official health education about safe cannabis use is non-existent.”
Against such a background however, grassroots activism is alive and thriving in France. Organisations such as UFCM (French Union for Cannabinoids in Medicine) and Cannabis Sans Frontières are amongst those organisations that have been working hard to educate, inform and push for reform. Last year we also covered the work of ASUD (self-support of drugs users) which is doing what the Government should be and promoting safer ways to consume cannabis.
Will a Change of President Bring Change to Cannabis Policy in France?
Is there any hope of weed decriminalisation in France, or even legalization? It depends on who you are talking to! Key figures in this month’s election, for voters who would like a little marijuana with their democracy are:
- Benoît Hamon (Left wing, Socialist)
He is not a great advocate of cannabis but is happy to criticize the failure of prohibition and is a proponent of controlled decriminalization with a state monopoly and regulated distribution within a therapeutic framework. It is a policy very much inspired by the Uruguayan model.
-Emmanuel Macron (Centrist, En Marche!)
Although initially recognizing the benefits that could come with legalization/decriminalization, in the past month Macron has backtracked to adopt a more anti-legalization stand.
- François Fillon (Centre Right, Republicans Party)
He's against decriminalization, considers cannabis as a scourge, takes as an example the "failure" of the Netherlands. He wants increased legal powers to tackle drugs.
-Marine Le Pen (Right wing, Front National)
In 2012, Le Pen said that France was losing the war on drugs, because it was not actually fighting it. She is opposed to any relaxation of policy and has argued that law enforcement should be strengthened with more police resources and increased judicial repression.
Who will triumph in this month’s election? In the era of Brexit and Trump, predicting the outcome of political contests like this is almost impossible, but many hoping that there will be a tiny shade of green on the famous red white and blue tricolore flag when it rises for the first time on the new President!