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HEALTH

France ‘still far’ from ending partial virus lockdown

French authorities are unlikely to lift a partial coronavirus lockdown any time soon, a government spokesman said Wednesday, even if some restrictions may be relaxed before Christmas.

France 'still far' from ending partial virus lockdown
A pedestrian walks past the closed terrace of Les Deux Magots cafe on boulevard Saint-Germain, on the fourth day of a lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in Par

President Emmanuel Macron and top ministers discussed the crisis, including whether to ease some restrictions from December 1st “if conditions allow it,” spokesman Gabriel Attal said.

But Attal insisted: “We're not at all near ending the lockdown, we're still far from it even.”

Declines in daily new Covid-19 cases since a second nationwide lockdown began on October 30th have sparked a chorus of calls from business associations to let stores open as soon as November 27th for the “Black Friday” sales that kick off the holiday shopping season.

If not, they fear losing out to internet giants such as Amazon, expected to target stuck-at-home shoppers.

“Our fear is simple: The loss of many of our businesses, both small and large, and with them hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country,” dozens of business leaders wrote to Prime Minister Jean Castex this week.

The French mayors' association AMF also called Wednesday for a gradual reopening of stores soon, “to avoid a rush of clients ahead of Christmas, when allowing them to resume operations will be inevitable.”

READ ALSO The next key dates in France's lockdown to look out for

But Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Wednesday called on retailers – including e-commerce firms – to postpone the Black Friday bargain extravaganza.

Macron himself is again expected to address the nation on the virus crisis next week, in particular on prospects for travel and family gatherings for the fast-approaching holiday break.

But officials are wary of taking a “stop and go” approach to fighting the outbreak even if the pandemic slows, since hospitals remain packed with Covid-19 patients.

Health authorities on Tuesday reported 437 coronavirus deaths in the preceding 24 hours, and a total of 4,854 patients in intensive care.

This meant nearly 96 percent of intensive care beds available before the crisis erupted are now full – though the government has scrambled to make new ones available.

The number of daily new infections on Tuesday stood at 12,587, far below the 50,000 to 60,000 when Macron announced the new partial lockdown last month.

But Macron said the number of daily cases must fall below 5,000 before the government could start significantly easing the latest restrictions.

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POLITICS

‘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. 

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