Official report favours legalisation, but France is unlikely to budge on cannabis

Members of the French National Assembly appear unlikely to follow the recommendations made in a recent report on recreational cannabis, despite its scathing criticism of the current harsh regime.

The chances of an immediate change in regulation were always slim.

Assembly member Eric Coquerel of the left-wing populist party La France Insoumise, introduced a bill last month aiming to legalise cannabis under a state-controlled framework to fight trafficking. But Coquerel himself admitted the proposal had no chance of succeeding after president Emmanuel Macron and interior minister Gérald Darmanin both expressed their opposition.

But there were hopes that the French legislature would pay more attention to the recommendations made by the report – particularly given the way that public opinion appears to be shifting.

France has one of the toughest regimes on cannabis in Europe. But public opinion is more and more in favour of softening the law.

The report quotes a 2016 paper by addiction specialists Alain Rigaud, Bernard Basset and Franck Lecas, who wrote: “French politicians are out of step, maybe even late in their awareness of society [attitudes].”

 

Presidential opposition to change

 

President Macron announced in March an upcoming “national debate about drug consumption and its perverse effects”Yet in the same interview, he reiterated his opposition to softening the law: “Narcotics need to be stopped, not promoted.”

A senior official told CBD-Intel: “While the National Assembly has created a committee to study cannabis – to help inform and fuel the public debate – the government chose not to follow the positions put forward in the commissioned report. This does not mean that the report was useless. But the government is firm: ‘We’re not favourable to cannabis legalisation’.”

The 281-page report, published last month, urges the creation of a regulated legal model for recreational cannabis to replace the current repressive and expensive measures that overly involve the police without even slightly lowering cannabis use and traffic, said Assembly member Caroline Janvier of Macron’s own party, La République En Marche.

The report, which has no mandatory effect but is rather a list of recommendations, is harsh in its criticism of the current regulatory regime.

“Whilst political talk is focused on preventing the ‘trafficking’ of cannabis, the reality of police work is that it really ends up being about cannabis use,” it says. The vast majority of drug arrests in France concern cannabis in 2009, the figure was 91%.

 

Harsh, expensive and ineffective

 

This focus also tends to be expensive, costing €1.08bn in 2018. But despite the cost, the current anti-drug policy as it stands appears to be ineffective.

“According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, since the early 2000s, France has been the country with the highest cannabis consumption in the European Union,” the report says. It claims 11% of French adults smoked cannabis at some point in 2019, against 7% of Europeans overall.

For all these reasons Janvier, one of the report’s authors, wants to legalise cannabis. She remains agnostic about whether a state-controlled or a liberalised private market is the best model for production and retail. However, some comments suggest a liberalised private market would be favoured.

The report points out that in California the excessive cost of conforming to the myriad regulations, coupled with the numerous taxes levied on recreational cannabis, has led to producers remaining outside the law. Similarly, in cannabis-conservative French-Canadian Quebec the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) has a monopoly over distribution.

The French report states: “This model has several flaws: supply distribution, lack of diversity in the shops. This has led numerous consumers to continue to buy cannabis in the black market.”

 

What This Means: The commissioned report was never going to lead to a sea change in French regulation of cannabis. But it does put forward some useful starting points and, as intended, helps inform debate over the current regulatory regime.

Where the politicians go from here remains to be seen. But with proposed changes to CBD regulation and a trial on medical cannabis under way – both of which were also subject to recent government reports – it could be that some form of decriminalisation at least is not far off.

Benjamin Boukriche CBD-Intel contributing writer

Photo: Addiction France

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