Is France moving towards legalizing cannabis?

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Protesters march for the legalization of cannabis and medical marijuana that was illegal in the country … [+] France since 1970.

Corbis via Getty Images

France has some of the strictest cannabis laws in Europe – it’s been illegal in the country since 1970, the state doesn’t allow medicinal use, and there is no legal distinction between personal use and human trafficking as is the case in some countries.

However, France has the highest reported cannabis use in Europe. According to Statista, between 2015 and 2017, just over 11% of the French population said they had used cannabis in the past year, the highest of any European country. Cannabis use in France dates back to Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign of 1798 when his troops turned to cannabis instead because of a lack of alcohol. Although Napoleon banned the drug, cannabis grew in popularity.

The problem of legalizing cannabis is coming back to the fore in France when a new survey by Le Parisien polled French mayors across Paris and found that, even in Republican neighborhoods, 50% of Paris leaders are in favor of decriminalizing cannabis Drugs (only 22% opposed it, while 28% said they needed more information). Research experts told the newspaper that this was also in line with public opinion, according to recent polls.

Attitudes towards cannabis in France have waned in recent years. President Emmanuel Macron imposed on-site fines in 2018 where the police can fine users up to 200 euros, although this is still not considered decriminalized and judges can impose harsh penalties if they see fit.

It brought France more in line with other countries, especially its neighbors like Germany and Italy, and reduced the need for the French to drive across a border to collect drugs. In Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, people are allowed to use cannabis in their leisure time without fear of reprisals.

A shop specializing in cannabis based products in Lille, France

A shop specializing in cannabis based products in Lille, France

AFP via Getty Images

While political attitudes seem to have waned, so too are cultural and economic ones. Many shops selling a certain type of legal cannabis have opened in the main cities of France over the past year.

Typically cannabis contains over 113 different types of drugs, but it is the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that causes the psychoactive or mind-altering effects. Many retailers sell cannabis with a THC content of 10-15%.

Retailers recently started exploiting a loophole in French law to sell cannabis with THC levels below the legal limit of 0.2%. To stay on the right side of the law, retailers are not advocating smoking it, but rather making tea out of it. The French can now buy drugs at a cash register and receive a receipt.

Crucially, the government kicked off a medical cannabis testing program in October 2020 – proponents hope that France could become the 23rd European country to allow the medicinal use of cannabis. The research will follow 3,000 patients over a two-year period.

The mayors chosen to ask about Le Parisien’s decriminalization came from nine departments around Paris and Oise, “which were identified as particularly vulnerable to drug trafficking”. France has 3,952 identified drug trafficking sites – and 1,029 or more than a quarter – are located in these suburbs, according to The Local. Mayors, who advocated cannabis legalization, thought the end result would be a decrease in the power of the drug lords and more power in the hands of the state.