Cannabis, the most widely used drug in France, as well as in the world, seems to have held its ground in the press for a remarkably long time. Its presence still dominates society and provokes a controversial political debate, with many countries having already softened the laws regarding its use.
France’s cannabis is supplied mainly by Morocco and has played a fundamental role in instigating political discussion regarding the country’s strict drug policy. The cannabis polemic has succeeded in dividing not only the political parties but also even the nation, leaving many unresolved issues and the critical dispute over whether cannabis should be decriminalized.
Although it may be considered a ‘light drug’, cannabis has caused many public health-related issues and great financial damage. France wastes approximately €300 million per year on arrests, court cases and fatalities that have had no significant influence in preventing cannabis consumption.
The uncontrolled distribution of the drug compromises its purity and very frequently the consumer is unaware of the drug’s origin or its constitution even though it may be bought from a trusted dealer or even a friend. The popularity of cannabis amongst adolescents is also perturbing and shines light on the fact that a lack in public education about drugs and their effects pervades
The drug is steadily demanded by the adult population. However demand decreases with age and there is a notable disparity between the sexes, where men consume more than women.
The pervasiveness of cannabis is directly related to inefficient repression methods and the drug’s price, which seems to be low enough to permit regular consumption but not quite high enough to enable major drug trafficking.
Views on the cannabis debate differ between political parties. Nicolas Sarkozy has been opposed to decriminalizing cannabis since the day he presented himself as candidate for the presidency in 2007. Opinions have changed over the past 5 years as time and interests have evolved and as France faces the forthcoming presidential elections, cannabis issues are reawakened.
The right-wing parties have responded with a unanimous rejection to decriminalization of cannabis. Whereas the left-wing parties are divided, with the centre left party ‘Les Verts’ (the Green Party) in favour of legalizing cannabis and controlling its production and distribution with the aim to decrease risk and “finish with the dealers” – as expressed by Stéphane Gatignon, the Mayor of Sevran. He believes in legalizing cannabis and the institution of a system that will yield financial profit.
François Bayrou, presidential candidate from the ‘Mouvement Democrate’ (Democratic Movement), commented: “the truth is that our way of fighting against the drug has failed”. His statement attests to the existence of hitches in the French drug policy and he adds, “I am not closed to discussion but I believe that decriminalization will increase consumption.”
The candidate from the Socialist Party, François Hollande, says “if we look at the world it’s even worse: look at what’s happening in Mexico!” He argues that “the forbidden exists” and that the French shouldn’t “let the idea that everything will be permitted prevail.”
As in any discussion, the pros and cons must be weighed out. Legalising cannabis can have medical benefits and its use for medicinal purposes has already been approved in other European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Italy as well as in some States in the U.S.
Cannabis sales furnish a significant financial profit, that if managed by the government could be of high value and would aid in overcoming difficult economic times. This is exemplified by the Spanish town of Rasquera in Catalonia, where land is being leased for cannabis plantations in an attempt to create new jobs, dodge the economic crisis and pay off debts.
Nevertheless there are health implications including the noxious effects of smoking cannabis and the crimes and accidents that happen while under the influence. Cannabis is also referred to as a “pathway drug” that is believed to induce users to try other drugs such as cocaine and heroin, increasing risks further and raising questions over addiction.
Despite the fact that France seems to have a stringent drug régime in place, it is an ineffective one. The main concerns appear to be ones of money and many matters are left unsettled as it is uncertain whether decriminalization will lead to an increase or decrease in consumption and drug-related crime.
In a country so strict on drug laws, it is hard to believe that decriminalization will come hand-in-hand with political remodelling.