Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

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Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?
A man smokes a joint in Paris. Photo: AFP

As the French people are being asked whether they favour legalising cannabis for recreational purposes, half of the mayors in Paris region are in favour, a new survey shows.


When French newspaper Le Parisien rang up 36 elected officials across the greater Paris Île-de-France region to ask their opinion on whether or not cannabis should be legalised for recreational purposes, only 22 percent said no. 
Twenty-eight percent did not want to give their opinion, sometimes expressing concern they lacked information about the topic.
But the by far biggest group - 50 percent in total - said yes.
"This is in line with opinion surveys," Alessandro Stella, director of research at the CNRS research centre, told Le Parisien
The informal survey comes as an online questionnaire aims to ask the wider French public for their views on the topic.
Cannabis is illegal in France. Until recently, the drug - which is widely consumed in France - 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.
Last year the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.


The government also gave the final green light for a programme of medical cannabis trials to go ahead, which advocates hope will pave the way for a legalisation.
France has long struggled to crack down on illegal drug trade, a problem that poses daunting difficulties to elected officials.
"The repression is counterproductive, as with the prohibition of alcohol in the United States of the 1920s," said Ali Rabeh, the leftwing mayor of Trappes, a city southwest of Paris, who expressed his support for legalisation.
Of France’s total 3,952 identified drug dealing spots, 1,029 - more than a quarter - are found in Ile-de-France and Oise, according to the French interior ministry.
The problem is especially visible in Paris' poorer, northern neighbourhoods - one of which is so infested with drug dealers and users that its areas are nicknamed 'Stalincrack' (instead of Stalingrad) and 'Crack hill'.

Trafic de #drogue : la France compte 3 952 points de deal >>

— Le Parisien Infog (@LeParisienInfog) December 20, 2020


The mayors chosen by Le Parisien were of nine départements around Paris and Oise that have been identified as particularly vulnerable to drug trafficking. Some of those in favour expressed hope that legalising cannabis would remove the economy away from the hands of drug lords and over to the state.
"Twenty million French people say they have already experimented with cannabis, 200,000 people make a living from the underground economy of cannabis,” said Robin Reda, an MP for Essonne, one of Ile-de-France’s southern départements.
Reda leads a parliamentary group of 33 MPs that is currently is examining the potential of legalising the drug for recreational purposes.
On January 13th they put the question to the public through an online questionnaire (available HERE), which will be available until January 28th.


Legalising cannabis has long been a cause of the political left in France, but Reda - who belongs to the conservative rightwing Les Républicains (LR) - told Le Parisien that he refused to cede the debate over to his opponents.
However Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who belonged to the same party as Reda before joining Emmanuel Macron’s  La République en marche (LREM) in 2017, has remained staunchly opposed to the idea.

"As interior minister and politician I cannot tell parents who are fighting for their children to give up their drug addiction that we are going to legalise this shit," he said back in September, adding: "And yes, I am saying shit."

Other mayors expressed the same opinion.

"Decriminalising means abdicating," said Manuel Aeschlimann, a councillor in Asnières.

Other expressed concerns regarding whether it would be possible to do prevention work if cannabis were to be legalised.

But Reda said the tides were turning and other countries were taking steps to change their laws.

“There will inevitably be an evolution in France, we cannot remain isolated in Europe,” he said.
Portugal, which decriminalised the use of all illicit drugs in small amounts in 2001 (not just cannabis) has seen its law change yield positive results.
Several of those in favour said they had changed their minds  during their time in office.
"My three years of experience as mayor have evolved my opinions on the issue," said Raphaël Cognet, from Les Républicains.
"I don't see how, through policing and laws, we can stop trafficking. It's like emptying the sea with a teaspoon."



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