France gingerly moves towards legalization: Looking at cannabis after the French election

With an overwhelming victory in the second round, French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron overcame an insurgent Marine Le Pen. The victory came after a controversial first round in mid-April, with both the Far-right French candidate Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron unpopular with a clear majority of voters.

And while the dominant narrative of the election was whether the populist groundswells of Brexit and Donald Trump would continue in France, the presidential election could also bring important changes to marijuana legalization and regulation.

Cannabis Laws in E.U. states

Currently, none of the current E.U. member states, including France, have completely legalized the commercial production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis. With the growing tide of public support towards legalization, many countries have softened enforcement and criminalization of marijuana use. Countries such as Spain, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands have legislated exemptions for personal use and allow the sale of small amounts through special dispensaries, recreational stores and clubs.

However, French authorities have been less embracing of marijuana. As Le Point, a French weekly political and news magazine explains, “In Europe, 12 of our neighbours have taken the side of decriminalization, or even recreational in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain or Portugal. But France maintains a very repressive law that seems ineffective.”

Looking at the Recent Election

Of the prominent candidates who ran for office, Benoît Hamon from the Socialist Party had expressed the most reformist stance. Alongside other progressive polices such as a Universal Basic Income and reducing the 35- hour workweek, Hamon had supported legalizing marijuana and taxing its sale.

However, while recent polling suggests close to 80% of the French public disagree with the current punitive policies, after the first-round voting on April 23rd, Hamon finished a distant fifth, with 6.4 % of the vote.

Even though the May election pitted two political outsiders, their positions on marijuana reform remains largely conservative. Unsurprisingly, Le Pen, who campaigned on an anti-immigration and anti-EU platform, offers no promise towards lessening France’s drug policy. A public statement by David Rachline, the candidate’s campaign director, reaffirmed the National Front’s long-standing opposition to narcotics. “It's completely delirious. On the contrary, we must fight with all our forces against traffickers and drugs.”

Le Pen’s opponent, Macron, offers a more progressive attitude. As he expressed during an interview, “I am arguing for a decriminalization of the possession of small quantities of cannabis in order to relieve congestion in the courts.” For many, Macron’s position on decriminalization is a step in the right direction but remains conservative when compared to other leftist candidates.

The French Public

This hesitation for reforming prohibitionist drug policy goes against the overwhelming public support and acceptance of cannabis use. In 2010, EuroNews released a report that found cannabis to be the most consumed illegal drug in France, “with 13.4 million French people aged between 11 and 75 having had tried cannabis at least once in their lifetime.” This statistic is considerably higher than all other narcotic use, including cocaine, and ecstasy.

In spite of overwhelming support in France, as well neighbouring countries on the continent moving away from criminalization, France remains behind. “Despite the apparent acceptance on the part of much of the French public, the issue of cannabis has nonetheless been a contentious issue in the country’s political system.”

And while the election results come as a great relief to many, its promise for more sensible drug policy is still unclear. During the coming years, it will be interesting to see how drug policy fits in with the other important issues facing France as Macron looks to lead a country under a state of emergency, still facing major terrorism threats and struggling economically.

Author: Carlos Danger