Cannabis in France: An Unprecedented Campaign Debate

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Four of the top five candidates at the Elysée want an evolution of the law. Until now, only the "small parties" proposed the contravention or the legalization. The actors on the ground are divided.

This is the end of a French taboo. For the first time in a presidential campaign, four of the five main candidates at the Elysée propose to change the law of December 31, 1970, theoretically punishing one year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros the consumption of narcotics, they are: Emmanuel Macron (Power Up!) And François Fillon (Republicans) want to punish with fines for mere use of cannabis, when Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France rebellious) and Benoît Hamon (Socialist Party) go much further and advocate its legalization.

Until now, only "small parties", such as the Left Radical Party or environmentalists, had ventured into this field. The candidates from the so-called "government" parties felt that there were only beatings - and accusations of laxity - to be taken . But in five years, the spirits seem to have matured. Many countries, including the United States - at state level, since prohibition remains the rule at the federal level - and soon Canada , have embarked on major reforms on the subject. Today, in France, with the exception of Marine Le Pen (National Front), the status quo no longer seems tenable.

It must be said that the law of 1970 shows a poor record. Whole neighborhoods are ravaged by cannabis trafficking. Despite the extreme severity of the text, in just over forty years, the product became commonplace. Its availability on the market has increased, and its consumption has become massive. Nearly 700,000 French people smoke every day. In 2014, 11% of those aged 18-64 reported using cannabis at least once in the past year, according to a French public health study published in April 2015.

A level of consumption among the highest in Europe, which sounds like a failure for police, gendarmes and customs officials to fight against trafficking . "It's a losing battle," considers, resigned, an officer of Police judiciary. While 77.6 tons of resin and grass were intercepted in 2015, according to the Central Office for the Suppression of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs, a customs officer believes "only intercepts a small part of what passes . We run after something that we will never catch up . "

Some courts are close to embolism because of "shit" cases. According to the latest figures of the Ministry of Justice published in March, 227,300 people were brought to justice in 2015 for breaches of the legislation on narcotics. That is 10% of all cases handled by the court in the year, a record level. Just under half of these cases (100,900 people) relate only to the illicit use of narcotic drugs, mostly cannabis.

How can the law be changed to reduce the use of a product whose early consumption is dangerous? Two scenarios are now in balance. There is no consensus on the ground.

Contraventions: in the air of time

This is probably the most consensual scenario in the eyes of the general public, even though it was categorically rejected throughout the five-year term Holland in the name of the "necessity of forbidding" . A partisan of "proportionate, immediate and effective deterrence" , Emmanuel Macron proposes to sanction the use and possession of cannabis by a fine "of at least 100 euros". This in effect means decriminalization (or decriminalization) of consumption. "The individual arrested may pay immediately or will be taken to the police station to establish a contravention," details his team.

François Fillon further restricts the measure. In his program, he said he wanted to "systematically punish by penal order (fine) the use of narcotics" for a first arrest on this ground. "When there is a recidivism, it is a crime, and I am for the criminalization of trafficking," he argued during the primary of the right.

"Contraventionalization" is the scenario that most attracts police officers. "There is no point in cluttering services with mass litigation and time-consuming procedures," says Patrice Ribeiro, of the Synergie Officers union. These offenses also end in the garbage cans of magistrates. So, nine times out of ten, when a policeman crosses a consumer, he causes him to throw his joint and instructs him to leave the premises . "

The ticket for simple use is seen as an effective tool because it is both immediate and dissuasive. "It is necessary to evolve , to gain time and operational readiness, while at the same time developing more preventive actions," says Philippe Capon, of the union of peacekeepers UNSA-Police, for whom "the all-repressive showed its limits And its relative inefficiency " .

"By restoring power to the police, contraventionalization would be paradoxically more repressive than the law of 1970," said Ivana Obradovic, a researcher at the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction. "It will not be a new policy on drugs, because it always spend the bulk of the action by the police procedure, adds Jean-Pierre Couteron, President of the Federation Addiction, a structure that includes prevention professionals and Reduction of risk. This is a half-measure that will not stop the hyper-use of cannabis in France. "

The magistrates are also reserved, even reluctant. "If the use is liable to a simple contravention, it would deprive the judicial authority of a tool in the fight against the traffics", affirms Jacky Coulon, the national secretary of the Union of the magistrates (USM majority). According to him, once the police can no longer put consumers in custody - an act reserved for an offense punishable by imprisonment - he fears "a loss of useful information to trace the channels".

Legalization: a bold option

The other, more radical scenario is the controlled and framed legalization of cannabis, which would become a commercial good such as tobacco. That is what Uruguay has done. To reduce drug consumption, Benoît Hamon proposes to legalize the use of cannabis for adults, to regulate its distribution, via state outlets to "dry up the traffic at the source", and to Reallocate the €568 million saved on repression to prevention. This is, more or less, what Jean-Luc Mélenchon also proposes. A scenario that would yield more than 2 billion euros to the state, had estimated the think tank Terra Nova in 2014, but in which, at unchanged prices,

The magistrates are very divided. If the USM is firmly opposed to legalization, the Union of the Judiciary (listed on the left) is in favor. For Katia Dubreuil, her national secretary, it is "the only way to hold an effective public policy of prevention". As for the police, they are reluctant, fearing that some or all of the networks will refer to other traffic or develop an offer of contraband. "The financial stakes are such that they will maintain the trafficking by offering, for example, higher levels of THC [the active ingredient ] " , fears Céline Berthon, of the Union of Commissioners of the national police.

"Legalization will reduce the risk of harmful cannabis," said Amine Benyamina, head of the department of psychiatry-addictology of the Paul-Brousse Hospital in Villejuif (Val-de-Marne). If the Academy of Medicine remains opposed to anything that would "incite to the trivialization of the use of this drug", many doctors, such as the pulmonologist Bertrand Dautzenberg, assure today that in all Sanitary terms, framed legalization has more virtues than an ineffective prohibition.

This article is translated from French. View the orginal article here.

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