van Solinge, Tim (1995), Cannabis in France. Presentation held at the
conference 'Cannabis Policy, Criminal Law and Human Rights', Bremen
University, Germany, October 6, 1995. In: Böllinger, Lorenz (Ed.)
(1997), Cannabis Science. From Prohibition to Human Right. Frankfurt
am Main: Peter Lang GmbH.
© Copyright 1995, 1997 Tim Boekhout van Solinge. All rights reserved.
existait un gouvernement qui eût intérêt à
corrompre ses gouvernés, il n'aurait qu'à encourager l'usage
du cannabis (If there were a government had interest in corrupting
its citizens, it only had to encourage the use of cannabis). This saying
of the French poet Baudelaire (1821-1867) is sometimes cited in France
as an answer to the question why cannabis use is punishable.
It is characteristic
of the French drug policy to use this kind of frightening arguments
to prevent cannabis use, as the French policy regarding drug use is
first of all prohibitive. Both the official policy, the drug law of
1970, and its application -although not following strictly the law-
are quite severe.
For a number of
years there has been a discussion in France on the cannabis policy.
This debate was initiated by the Minister of the Interior Charles Pasqua,
known to be partisan of a repressive zero tolerance attitude towards
cannabis use. The reason Pasqua lanced this debate was that in his eyes
law was not applied everywhere as it should. In other words, law enforcement
was not strict enough. The debate that followed soon focused on what
is called the depenalization of cannabis use, which means that cannabis
use should no longer be regarded as a criminal offense. This is different
from legalisation of (the product) cannabis.
Since the debate
on French drug policy started in 1994, three prestigious committees
or organizations have, within a period of one year, declared themselves
in favour of depenalizing cannabis use. The Government however, seems
not to be willing tot follow these recommendations.
The current debate
on French cannabis policy is still going on. Although it is unclear
what the outcome of the drug debate will be, one can say there is a
growing body of opinion that cannabis use should no longer be punishable.
This article gives
an overview of the situation regarding cannabis in France. First, the
subject, cannabis in France, will be clarified with facts and figures.
Is it hash or marihuana, where does it come from and which countries
does it transit to reach France? Furthermore, information will be given
on the price and quality of cannabis in France.
Secondly, a few
data on the prevalence of cannabis use will be presented. Although few
sound figures on the prevalence of drug use exist in France, the figures
presented here will give an impression. Thirdly, the French drug law
and law enforcement will be considered. As we will see, there is not
one French drug policy. It is probably more correct to speak
of several drug policies, depending on how the policy in a jurisdiction
is defined by the head prosecutor. Finally, the opinions and debates
on the drug policy will be examined, both in the general public, public
opinion, as in the professional circuit.
This article is
a short version of an earlier, extended
report on this subject. This article is based on the results of
three months of research in France, during which information was gathered
from literature, governments reports and press articles. In addiction
several television recordings on the subject of drugs or cannabis were
viewed. Furthermore interviews were held with people from the judicial
world (public prosecutors, lawyers, examining judges), people from the
police force, people from the medical world and social service sector,
streetworkers, scholars and, of course, cannabis users.
2. The Origin of
Cannabis in France
Cannabis in France
means in most cases Moroccan hash. Approximately 80% of the cannabis
available on the French market is hash from Morocco. One can also finds
hash from other countries as Afghanistan and Pakistan and until a few
years ago, Lebanon, but this is quite rare. Marihuana is even more rare.
The marihuana one sometimes finds is from the Caribbean, Africa or the
Netherlands. In the South of France there is some local marihuana production.
This is generally small scale production destined for small networks
According to figures
of the OCRTIS, which collects
data from the national police and customs, 58,014 kilos of cannabis
were intercepted in 1994. 55,890 kilos (96%) of this amount was hash.
In 1993 the total amount of intercepted cannabis was 45,883 kilos, of
which 44,840 kilos (98%) was hash.
of the French police, gendarmerie and customs have increased remarkably
the last years. In five years, from 1990 to 1994, they increased from
21,289 kilo's to 55,890 kilos. As said earlier, most of the hash in
France, approximately 80%, is from Morocco. Unlike what many people
think in France, and even sometimes in the Netherlands, this hash does
not transit the Netherlands but comes directly, in most cases through
Spain, into France. Although the French customs stop more people for
possession of cannabis on the northern border (people coming from the
Netherlands), the big cannabis seizures take place on the southern,
Spanish border. Cars are here the most important way of transport.
During the last
five years only between 1% and 2% of the intercepted hash in France
had its origin in the Netherlands (see Table 1).
Table 1. Provenance of Hash Seized in France (in
Source: Statistical Report OCRTIS 1994,
Ministry of the Interior
The fact that most
of the hash in France does not transit the Netherlands, but comes directly
from Morocco, in most times through Spain, is in contrast with what
is generally thought. How then, does the moroccan hash come into France?
in France is generally on a small scale and consist of small networks.
In many cases cars are used for crossing the border. Many of these networks
are centred in the "banlieues", the working/lower class suburbs
characterized by cheap high rise apartments, unemployment and a high
proportion of immigrants, especially people from North Africa (Algeria,
Morocco and Tunisia). Drug trafficking is sometimes seen in these areas
as a alternative or a way out of the miserable living conditions without
prospect and is sometimes even stimulated by parents. This makes some
people speak of the existence of an underground drug economy in the
3. The Prevalence
of Cannabis Use in France
few sound epidemiologic studies have been done in France on the prevalence
of cannabis use. Most information one finds on this subject is based
on surveys. The limitation of most of these surveys is that samples
are too small to draw any sound conclusions. The disparities one sees
between the findings of different surveys demonstrates this. The problem
with other, sound surveys is that they don't take into account the frequency
of use. Furthermore, some surveys do not make the distinction between
different kinds of drugs, which makes the results not very useful. A
few data that provide us some information will be presented here.
According to a survey
done in 1992 by the market research organisation SOFRES, 4,7 million
French people from the age group 12-44 have at one time smoked cannabis.
This represents a life time prevalence of 19%.
According to a number of studies that have been done in 1990, 1991 and
1992 by the French Committee of Health Education, 30% to 40% of the
people in the age groups 18-24 and 25-34 have at one time used cannabis.
Another study, a
survey carried by the French National Institute of Health and Medical
Research, studied the prevalence of cannabis at secondary schools. The
representative sample of this survey consisted of 12.466 high school
students, making these data much more sound than the previous ones.
If you look at the age group 11-19, 12% has at one time used cannabis.
The oldest of this age group, those who are 18 or 19, 29% has at one
time smoked cannabis.
Of those who have ever used cannabis, 40% belongs to the regular users,
which is defined by the researchers as at least ten times.
The figures presented
here are to give an idea about the prevalence of cannabis use in France.
If you compare these and other French data of cannabis prevalence to
European data, then cannabis prevalence in France does not seem to be
exceptionally high or low, but again, most figures are not very sound.
There also exist
some sociological, qualitative studies that have been carried out in
disadvantaged areas of the banlieues, the suburbs. According
to the estimations of some reports, in some neighbourhoods 50% to 80%
of the young people has smoked cannabis.
Looking at the big
disparities that exist between different studies concerning cannabis
use, one cannot make any sound estimation. Therefore, one can only cautiously
conclude that cannabis use is certainly not a rare phenomenon in France.
Especially among young people use seems to be quite widespread. My personal
impression, from what I have seen over the years in the Netherlands
and France, is that more people use in France than in the Netherlands.
More striking is the extend of cannabis use in France, which sometimes
reminds Dutch people of Scandinavians drinking alcohol.
4. French Law on
Cannabis Use and Its Application
The French drug
law is called the law of 31 December 1970. This law forbids all drug
use, no matter the circumstances and no distinction is being made between
different kinds of drugs. Before 1970 drug use in private was not liable
to penalty. The reason law become more severe should be regarded in
view of the protest movements of 1968.
On March 1st 1994
a new law came into force, the new penal code (Nouveau Code Pénal).
Since this date all statutory provisions concerning drugs, with the
exception of drug use, have been transferred to this code.
This means law makes
a difference between drug possession and drug use. Possession of cannabis
falls under the new penal code, whilst use still falls under the law
The penalties for
cannabis use are a sentence from two months up to a year and/or a fine
from 500 Francs to 25,000 Francs. The more serious criminal offences
like possession, cultivation or trafficking of drug (cannabis) can be
punished much more severely, up to ten years sentence (and from 500.000
to 50 million French Francs).
During the seventies
and eighties the Ministry of Justice has issued several directives concerning
prosecution of drug users. Some of these directives called for not prosecuting
cannabis users. However, directives are in France always subordinate
to law, therefore it is the head prosecutor who in practice defines
the actual law enforcement policy in a district. Given the fact there
are 180 (district) courts in France, one could say there are 180 different
drug policies. Therefore, the real drug policy can change from one place
to the other, of which are many examples. Where cannabis use or the
possession of small amounts of cannabis (for personal use) is not prosecuted
in some places, one is prosecuted in other places. In big cities one
sees a growing tolerance from the side of the police, especially in
the lower class areas like the banlieues. In the rural areas cannabis
use is in many cases prosecuted.
As said before,
buying selling and drug possession fall under another code and are being
considered more serious criminal offences that are in most cases prosecuted.
One final remark
should be made here. Cannabis use may not always be prosecuted, this
does mean use is tolerated. Someone using cannabis or found to be carrying
a small quantity of cannabis, for example during a police identity control,
is still taking to the police station. While he may not be prosecuted,
there is a large chance he will be taken into custody and will have
to spend the night in prison, consequently most likely making him late
for school or work the next day.
5. The Debate on
the Cannabis Policy
For a number of
years, there has been a discussion in France on cannabis policy. This
debate is centred on the question of depenalization, which denotes that
use should no longer being considered a criminal offence.
Since this debate
started in 1994, three prestigious committees or organizations have,
within a period of one year, declared themselves in favour of depenalizing
cannabis use: the association of psychiatrists engaged in addiction
(Association des Intervenants en Toxicomanie), the National Consultative
Ethical Committee (Comité Consultatif National d'Ethique)
and the Commission Henrion. The latter being the official State
Commission charged with reconsidering the French drug policy. After
having worked on the subject for almost a year, the commission Henrion
published its report in the spring of 1995. The commission not only
declared itself being in favour of the depenalization of cannabis use,
but after a trial period of two years, the commission calls for the
regulation of the retail of cannabis, which implies in fact legalization.
The Government however,
seems not to be willing tot follow these recommendations. The day the
Henrion Commission published its report, the then prime minister Edouard
Balladur declared on national television French drug policy would not
be changed. Since Jacques Chirac has been elected as president of France
in the summer of 1995, the possibility of a change in French drug law
is even more unlikely.
One of the possible
reasons of the tough stance of French politicians regarding cannabis,
is that Gabriel Nahas has been very influential in this field. If there
is one country were cannabis policy has been under the influence of
Nahas, it is probably France. In fact, Nahas has been the (unofficial)
consultant of Jacques Chirac during Chirac's years as mayor of Paris
and during his two-years period as prime minister from 1986-1988.
In April 1992 the
city of Paris and the National Academy of Medicine organized a congress
on illegal drugs. Gabriel Nahas was member of the scientific committee
of this congress. Jacques Chirac, at the time mayor of Paris, spoke
the opening words of the congress, which one can read in the congress
proceedings. Among other things Chirac stated:
of this prestigious meeting are clear. The toxicity of cannabis has now
been well established, especially for the central nervous system. Consumption
leads inevitably a large number of users to heroine or cocaine. Consequently
the distinction between the so-called soft and hard drugs and any idea
of liberalizing of this substance should therefore be rejected.'
This article gives
on overview of the situation regarding cannabis in France. The following
subjects have successively been discussed: the origin of cannabis that
is intercepted in France, the prevalence of use, French drug law and
its application, and the current debate on the cannabis policy.
For a Dutch person
familiar with a liberal drug policy it is sometimes a bit amazing to
see a prohibitive drug policy like in France, which although its repressive
nature, does not seem to be able to limit use. The considerable difference
that exists between Dutch and French drug policy is causing problems
between the two countries. The French are criticizing the Dutch liberal
drug policy and are blaming the Dutch for the negative spill-over effects
of their policy. One of the arguments one hears often is that big quantities
of cannabis in France find their origin in the Netherlands. However,
even according to the official data of police and customs, there a no
evidence that suggests this. As shown, during the last five years it
was between 1% and 2% of the intercepted hash in France had its origin
in the Netherlands.
The French law on
drug use is severe: every use, no matter the circumstances, is liable
to penalty. The maximum penalties for cannabis use are a sentence from
two months up to a year and/or a fine from 500 Francs to 25,000 Francs.
However, law is rarely applied in this way. In practice the application
of the law for a large degree depends on how the head prosecutor has
defined the policy in his district. In some urban areas there is growing
tolerance concerning cannabis use, whilst in the rural areas use is
sometimes still prosecuted.
For a number of
years, there has be a debate on cannabis policy. Several committees
and organizations have declared themselves being in favour of depenalizing
cannabis use, the most important one being the Henrion Commission, the
official state commission charged with reconsidering French drug policy.
The government however, does not seem to be willing to take a more liberal
stance towards cannabis use. Instead, the government has proposed increased
penalties for drug law violations.
Centrale pour la Répression du Trafic Illicite des Stupéfiants
(OCRTIS), part of the Ministry of the Interior.
`La douane et la lutte contre la drogue et la toxicomanie',Les
notes bleues de Bercy, June 1-15, 1995, pp. 64-65 (Ministry
Conseil National des Villes & Maison des Sciences de l'Homme
(1994), L'économie souterraine de la drogue, La Plaine-Saint-Denis:
Conseil National des Villes. This study was carried out under responsability
of Michel Schiray of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences
(1992), La consommation de haschich parmi les 12-44 ans.
Français d'Education pour la Santé (1992), Une
note de synthèse. This article gives an overview of prevalence
data of surveys that have been carried out in 1990, 1991 and 1992.
Choquet & Sylvie Ledoux (1994), Adolescents. Enquête
nationale, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche
Conseil National des Villes & Maison des Sciences de l'Homme
the congress proceedings: Mairie de Paris & Académie
Nationale de Médecine, Textes et documents. Colloque scientifique
international: les drogues illicites. Paris le 8 & 9 avril 1992.