In America, we call it a conundrum or a head-scratcher or a brain-twister. In France, they just call it an énigme or a mystère. The French government has the most draconian cannabis laws in Europe and yet the French people consume more marijuana than any other nation on the continent. Clearly, the law is failing.
More than 17 million French citizens have tried cannabis and nearly 1.5 million are regular consumers. The latest data shows that nearly a quarter-million people in France use it daily. These consumers simply disobey the law despite risking up to a year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros (nearly $5,000 in US dollars).
A new report released earlier this week recommends introducing a fine of 150 to 200 euros ($186 to $248) instead. The report reveals the obvious to anybody with a brain: The current legislation is not working. France’s new centrist government is moving toward softening the cannabis laws.
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President Emmanuel Macron made cannabis law reform a campaign promise last year, saying easing the punishment would reduce the time spent by the law enforcement and the courts on criminal cases involving cannabis enthusiasts.
“At the moment we have procedures that complicate the lives of our police and court officials for not much in terms of results,” Christophe Castaner, the head of Macron’s Republic On The Move (LREM), told The Local, a French news site.
Enforcement of the current stringent policy has been ignored and scoffed at by the French for years. Police have stopped arresting most cannabis users and have focused on more dangerous crimes. “A young person who gets caught smoking a joint knows that he or she risks nothing,” Castaner said this week in a radio interview on France Bleu.
One lawmaker who helped prepare the parliamentary report, Eric Poulliat from Macron’s LREM, said the fine “is not normalizing cannabis or a step towards decriminalization.” But pro-legalization organization Echo believes Macron is missing a golden opportunity for major change.
“The regular cash flow for a dealer who sells several products comes from cannabis,” Benjamin Jeanroy from Echo said. “If you take that away from them, then you’re hitting them financially.”
A 2014 study estimated that France could reap 2 billion euros (nearly $2.5 billion) a year in tax revenue from legalization.