Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jan 2018
Source: Daily Tribune, The (Philippines)
Copyright: 2018 The Tribune Publishing Co., Inc.
Written: by AFP and Tribune Wires


Paris, France -- France's fight against cannabis, through tough laws
to punish users, has long been a failure -- the French remain among
Europe's biggest dope smokers. So will a change of strategy under
President Emmanuel Macron have more success?

The new centrist government is preparing to soften legislation, making
users caught with cannabis liable for an instant fine of 150-200 euros
($180-250) instead of prosecution and the threat of a one-year jail

The change was an election campaign pledge from Macron last year,
justified on the grounds that it would reduce the time spent by the
police and judiciary on criminal cases involving recreational smokers.

The plan has been backed by a cross-party report for parliament, set
to be unveiled on Wednesday, which rejects the idea of legalising the
drug despite gains worldwide for a radical change in policy.

"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),
said Monday.

He said there were 1.2 million regular users in France -- higher than
other estimates of around 700,000 which makes France one of the
biggest consumers of the drug on the continent.

The smell of the pungent herb wafts through streets around the
country, while Macron found himself in a cloud of ganja in the
overseas French territory of Cayenne in October.

Posing for selfies with young people on a Friday night, the
40-year-old joked that "I've still got a nose for it... that will not
help with your school work."

Clarity and deterrence

A 2014 study by the French Observatory for Drug Use and Addiction
(OFDT) found that 48 percent of 17-year-olds had tried the drug and
nine percent were regular users.

Given its widespread consumption, French police have long given up
bothering to arrest most people caught in possession of small
quantities of the drug despite the mental health risks associated with
heavy use, particularly in young people.

"A young person who gets caught smoking a joint knows that he or she
risks nothing," Castaner added in his interview on Monday with France
Bleu radio.

Even when criminal procedures are launched -- there are around 140,000
annually for drug possession -- only 1,283 of them led to prison time
for culprits in 2015, according to figures contained in the
parliamentary report.

And the law is applied inconsistently, with prosecutors in
northeastern Lille pressing charges against anyone caught in
possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis, while the threshold is
generally 50 grams in Paris, the report adds.

The on-the-spot fine scheme is intended to bring clarity and serve as
a deterrent, with ministers and Macron all against following the
worldwide trend toward decriminalizing cannabis out of fear of
normalizing drug use.

"I'll give you my personal conviction: we shouldn't decriminalize
cannabis, but on the other hand we need to face up to our failure,"
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said at the weekend.

'Not normalizing cannabis'

In the United States, six states have begun producing and selling pot
for recreational use, including California, while Canada is set to
legalize hash in July this year.

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to completely
legalize the production and sale of the drug, while in Europe, the
Netherlands, Spain and the Czech Republic have laws tolerating
personal use by adults.

One of the lawmakers who prepared the French parliamentary report,
Eric Poulliat from Macron's LREM, stressed to AFP that the fine "is
not normalizing cannabis or a step towards decriminalization."

Pro-legalization lobby group Echo believes the French leader, elected
last May, is missing an opportunity for more radical reform that would
hurt dealers where it hurts -- in their pockets.

"The regular cashflow for a dealer who sells several products comes
from cannabis," Benjamin Jeanroy from Echo told AFP. "If you take that
away from them, then you're hitting them financially."

In a December 2014 study, the left-leaning think-tank Terra Nova
calculated the possible tax gains from legalizing and regulating
cannabis at 2.0 billion euros a year for the state.
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MAP posted-by: Matt