Protests in Covid-hit Marseille over order to close bars and restaurants

Hundreds of restaurant and bar owners protested in the southern French city of Marseille on Friday against new shutdown orders to curb a surge in Covid-19 cases, warning the move could force them to close permanently.

Protests in Covid-hit Marseille over order to close bars and restaurants
All photos: AFP

Health Minister Olivier Véran announced the closures for Aix-Marseille – the city of Marseille and the surrounding metropole – this week after contagion rates jumped, while bars in Paris and 10 other cities will have to shut by 10pm starting Monday.

Officials are hoping to get ahead of the flare-up before hospitals are overwhelmed, but critics accuse the government of taking arbitrary measures that will take a huge economic toll.

EXPLAINED This is how France's new Covid alert system works


“This is the last straw – we were starting to get back on our feet,” said Patrick Labourrasse, a restaurant owner in nearby Aix-en-Provence which is also affected by the order.

The demonstration took place outside the commercial courthouse, “because this is where we'll probably come to declare bankruptcy,” said Bernard Marty, president of the regional hospitality association.

“Stay open – don't close!” several supporters yelled, while booing the name of Véran.

The regional UPE 13 employers' federation denounced a “new economic lockdown” and called for a 10-day moratorium on the Marseille closures, to give social distancing and other measures a chance to work.

Otherwise, the shutdowns “will seriously endanger the economy and jobs across the territory,” it said in a statement on Friday.

Some 50 local lawmakers signed an open letter on Thursday accusing the central government of a “fundamental strategic mistake – you are worsening the economic crisis and creating a social crisis, without doing anything to halt the health crisis.”

But Prime Minister Jean Castex defended the new restrictions, promising financial aid for affected businesses while warning that “it's a race against the clock” in Marseille.

“What I don't want is that we go back to March,” when a two-month nationwide lockdown sent the economy into a tailspin as Covid-19 deaths soared, Castex said in a prime-time interview on Thursday.

The national health agency reported on Thursday a record of nearly 16,100 new cases in the past 24 hours, with 52 coronavirus deaths in hospital.

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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.