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‘First ever’ bill proposes legal cannabis in France

France is no Amsterdam when it comes to marijuana laws, in fact it has some of the toughest possession statutes in Europe, but a first of its kind bill proposed this week could change that. The lawmaker behind the legislation tells The Local why marijuana should be legalized in France.

'First ever' bill proposes legal cannabis in France
French lawmakers propose 'first ever' marijuana legalization bill. Photo: Jacques Demarthon.

People smoking a joint in France face a maximum penalty of a year behind bars and a €3,750 fine for the first offence, yet 13.4 million French people admit to sparking up at least once in their life. Even France’s top cop, Interior Minister Manuel Vallls, said in a recent interview, he’d tried it “maybe once.”

The numbers go up as you look at the younger portion of the population. France had the unhappy distinction of being the European “champion” of teen pot smokers in 2011 when 24 percent of its 16-year-old kids admitted to smoking at least once a month, daily Le Monde reported.

Not surprisingly legalizing cannabis has come up regularly in France, but the discussion never has never gotten far. In fact, it was only this month that authorities announced medical cannabis spray Sativex had been authorized for sale in France, though only by prescription and solely to multiple sclerosis patients.

It stands in marked contrast to France's more liberal neighbour to the north, the Netherlands, which decriminalized personal use of pot nearly 40 years ago. American states Colorado and Washington went a step further when their voters fully legalized personal possession and use of marijuana in 2013.

Is it France’s turn next? French Senator Esther Benbassa, a green party member who represents an area on the south east border of Paris, believes it’s time to change. She also claims the legalization law she proposed on Tuesday is the first of its kind in France.

Her law would allow government-run retail stores to sell marijuana to adults for recreational use, though the full details won’t be available until the law is unveiled to the press on February 6th. Benbassa told The Local why she is pushing for legalization.

“It’s a subject that remains taboo in France. We have the impression that if we legalize cannabis, all the children, everyone, is going to start taking it. We are among the countries with the most restrictive laws in Europe, but at the same time the number of cannabis smokers continues to increase. There is really a paradox.

“The fact that we proposed the law now is related to what’s happening in the United States, but we were working on it before. If the law has changed in Washington and Colorado,  we felt we had to open the debate now. Prohibition is useless.

“And American President Barack Obama’s statement that marijuana is not any more dangerous than alcohol, that also made us realize it’s time.

“It makes more sense to legalize cannabis in order to better control it. For example, the growing and distribution of cannabis, but why not also check the quality? Why not do more drug abuse prevention? Why not shelter children from drug dealers that sell in front of schools?

“It would help in the fight against the mafia and drug dealers. Why not invest the money that the government would make from legalizing and taxing cannabis into drug abuse prevention?

“We believe that today it is an established fact that people smoke cannabis. So let’s be responsible.

“Compared to the Netherlands, we very far behind. In France we are very repressive when it comes to drugs, but with other things as well. Our politicians make rules based on the question of security.

“I was on a radio show and was asked by professor of medicine if I was going to distribute hash in schools. There are people out there who will try to misguide people and say 'these leftists are trying to destroy France.' They say we want all the kids to smoke cannabis and make society more indulgent. It's not true.

"The United States is conservative as well, but it’s pragmatic. But in France we are conservative without willing to be practical."

As for whether she has ever smoked marijauana, Benbassa asserted the eroding French tradition of keeping quiet about the private lives of public figures.

"That's a private matter and I'm not going to talk about it." 

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UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 

READ ALSO:

The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?

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