Just like in the United States and in the rest of Europe, cannabis or marijuana is an intensely controversial subject in France. Many are calling for the legalization or the decriminalization of cannabis, describing it as an “unavoidable course,” or something inevitable. However, this is still a subject of intense political debate.
When it comes to the debate on legislation and reform, it is important to know the difference between legalization and decriminalization. How does one differ from the other where cannabis is concerned?
Decriminalization of cannabis means that the use or possession of the substance is no longer considered a criminal offense, although its cultivation and trade still remain prohibited.
Legalization, on the other hand, means lifting the ban on the production, distribution, and use of cannabis. This would put cannabis at a level similar to that of tobacco. Legalization, however, would still require the state to replace the clandestine market, regulate demand, and control commercialization.
It should be noted that none of the other members of the European Union has completely legalized cannabis. Countries like the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany have merely twisted their policies in order to tolerate the use and sale of small amounts of marijuana, employing the concept of special dispensaries, cannabis clubs, and recreational stores or coffee shops. Meanwhile, there are also countries like Italy, Belgium, and the Czech Republic that have semi-legalized or partly decriminalized cannabis. These countries either impose lighter fines against offenders caught with small amounts of marijuana for personal use or allow possession of small quantities altogether.
In France, cannabis is a prohibited substance and possession, cultivation or production, sale, and consumption are still considered a criminal offense. Ironically, though, France is one of the top marijuana-smoking countries in Europe. In fact, in the 2016 European Drug Report from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, France took the number one spot. This meant that, compared to other countries in the continent, France had the most number of people who admitted to using marijuana at least once in their life. According to the report, 40.9% of France’s adult population have used or are using cannabis.
Additionally, France’s public health agency reported that around 700,000 French use cannabis on a daily basis while 1.4 million smoke at least 10 joints a month.
What do the French have to say about this?
According to a 2016 Ipsos poll, more than 80% of the people in France believe that the country’s current cannabis-related policies are not effective. In fact, 52% support some degree of legalization and have even expressed their wish to see the issue of cannabis discussed and debated in the presidential campaign (before the elections).
As the French presidential elections got closer, it was clear that four out of five main candidates support the relaxation of cannabis legislation. This was a good sign for all cannabis users in the country, for those who need cannabis for medical treatment, and even those who think that the present law is very repressive.
It was Emmanual Macron who won the elections. He had proposed that police should issue warnings to offenders and on-the-spot fine for cannabis users – instead of the prison sentence they have to face under current law. While Macron clarified that he does not support legalization, he indicated that he favors the relaxation of France’s current policy. Many certainly see this as a step in the right direction.
Macron’s victory sees yet another world leader who supports marijuana reform. Many are even hoping that if and when France finally decriminalizes cannabis, it will be a success and will ultimately encourage the country’s lawmakers to move for complete legalization.