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Cannabis: Germany legalises, France punishes

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While Germany recently passed a bill to legalise cannabis, France continues to pursue a highly restrictive policy despite having one of the highest rates of cannabis use in Europe.

Read the original French story here.

Last week, French Interior Minister G?rald Darmanin decided to send police reinforcements to N?mes after cannabis trafficking and gang violence claimed the lives of a 10 and 18-year-old.

However, with Marseille, one of France’s main drug trafficking hubs, having recorded around 32 deaths since the start of the year related mainly to cannabis trafficking, calls for decriminalising or even legalising cannabis are now multiplying.

One such call comes from the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council (EESC), which, in an opinion published on Monday (28 August), once again called for the controlled legalisation of cannabis in France.

“Drug trafficking kills. How many more victims must there be before the country thinks about eradicating it? To achieve this, the EESC recommends the regulated legalisation of cannabis, which has been tried and tested elsewhere and is about to be implemented by our German neighbours. What are we waiting for?” commented EESC President Thierry Beaudet on X (formerly Twitter).

This is not the first time that the EESC has taken up the issue. Earlier this year, it recommended moving towards legalising cannabis as a means of putting in place an effective prevention policy and combating trafficking and violence.

For radical left MP and chairman of the National Assembly’s study group on cannabis, Christophe Bex (LFI), decriminalising cannabis is a matter of “common sense”.

In 2021, 10.6% of adults aged 18 to 64 used cannabis, according to a report published by the French Observatory of Drugs and Addictive Tendencies (OFDT), in partnership with Sant? publique France, in December 2022.

“Decriminalisation would make it possible to combat trafficking, do prevention, and reduce consumption”, the LFI MP told EURACTIV France.

France has one of the most repressive laws in Europe: cannabis use can be punishable by up to a year in prison and a EUR3,750 fine – something Catherine Delorme, vice-president of F?d?ration Addiction, says stigmatises users and distances them from appropriate treatment.

“The law has a repulsive effect and distances those who need care the most,” she told EURACTIV.

The situation is even more critical in France, as it has not only one of the most restrictive laws but is also the European country with the highest number of cannabis users: In France, 45 % of people aged between 15 and 64 have used cannabis at least once in their lives, according to an OFDT report published in September 2021.

In comparison, the figure for Spain or Denmark is around 38%. In the Netherlands, where cannabis is freely available, the figure is 28%.

“Legalisation also makes it possible to reduce the risks,” stresses Delorme, pointing out that most consumers do not know what they are smoking and that controlled sales of cannabis would make it possible to control the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Across the Rhine, the approach is quite different.

On 16 August, the German government passed a bill to legalise cannabis. By the end of the year, it will be possible to buy and possess up to 25 grams of cannabis from the age of 18.

“This is a turning point in drug policy,” German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (Social Democratic Party, SPD) told journalists.

Now, it is up to the German parliament to vote on the bill.

“It is a progressive and well-supported law”, said Bex, adding that “France should follow the example of its main partner in Europe”.

While the office of former Health Minister Fran?ois Braun said it was following the situation in Germany “closely” while Braun was in office, nothing seems to have changed since then.

At EU level, there are no common rules, and each country is free to pursue its own policy. And there are big differences.

Portugal, the Netherlands and Austria have decriminalised possession of small amounts of the drug, while Spain does not ban cannabis use in private settings.

“We have to recognise that the French model has failed for 50 years. Our European neighbours have found more effective solutions,” insists Caroline Janvier, a member of the French parliament and vice-chair of the National Assembly’s study group on cannabis.

According to her, “we now need a political window of opportunity to make progress on this issue. This could take the form of a citizens’ convention or a referendum,” she said.

The French Ministry of Health did not respond to EURACTIV’s request for comment at the time of publication.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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