France’s newly-appointed interior minister has said that personal cannabis possession may no longer be prosecuted from as soon as September, although this change may be accompanied by unprecedented strict rules on people with convictions for selling drugs.
Gérard Collomb, the Minister of the Interior, said that new rules are set to be implemented under which someone found in possession of marijuana will be given a ticket and required to pay a fine, instead of being prosecuted or imprisoned. The plans, which he revealed during an interview with French news channel BFMTV on 24 May, could be in place “within three to four months”, he said.
Under French law, there are three classifications of offences: serious crimes referred to as “crimes”, less serious crimes called “délits”, and non-criminal offences referred to as a “contraventions”. Collomb says pot possession will be downgraded in classification to a contravention, which cannot be punished with criminalisation or incarceration.
Emmanuel Macron, who was inaugurated as president on 14 May, has previously indicated that a fine for cannabis possession would be up to €100 (£86/$111). Prior to his successful election, Macron said that the “regime of contraventions would be sufficient to sanction [marijuana use]”, described pot prohibition as “[posing] a security problem”, and described the legal regulation of the drug as potentially “efficient”.
France has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the EU, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). The possession of weed for personal use can currently be punished by up to 10 years in prison or with a fine of up to €7.5 million (£6.5m/$8.4m), although both such punishments are rare; convictions usually result in far smaller fines.
Despite this hard-line approach, weed use continues to be prevalent in France. Around 550,000 people – or 1.5 per cent of the population aged 15-64 – use cannabis every day, left-wing French think tank Terra Nova claims.
While Collomb’s plans appear to mark a significant progressive change in French drug policy, one advocate for drug policy reform in the country has expressed concern.
Benjamin Jeanroy – co-founder and head of drug policy at French “action tank” reform organisation ECHO – said that the change would “alleviate the work of the state, but keep the social injustice” that drug prohibition produces; regardless of an end to criminalisation, he suggested, discrimination and marginalisation would likely continue unabated.
“The current laws primarily target people from poor areas and immigrant communities, and this would likely continue despite the change. These are also the people who may have [financial] issues in paying the fine,” Jeanroy told TalkingDrugs. “This [change] is not enough; we were hoping for more efficient, economically-sound, and science-based responses under the new government”.