It is not exactly the storming of the Bastille, but cannabis reform appears to finally be not just in the offing, but crystallizing in the land of the Marseillaise. Why? Apart from the inevitable, particularly now that the European Parliament has put medical reform on a continental agenda?
The first reason is that this is an easy way for the increasingly politically beleaguered French Prime Minister Emmanual Macron to show he is a “man of the people.” In the age of the gilets jaunes or “yellow vests” – protesters on the streets pushing for economic and political justice – a reform of the green kind is just the ticket.
Secondly, French drug laws are still ridiculously harsh. Use or possession of “narcotics” that are not specifically prescribed by a doctor carries up to a $4,000 fine and a year in prison.
The third reason is that politicians and policy reformers are finally getting the message because of another reason also familiar to American reformers. Locking people up for even minor drug offenses (and French law makes no distinction between cannabis and harder drugs) is a societal menace. It costs the government a lot of money to put people in prison. And the police, just as they are in other places, notably Germany, are tired of engaging in this kind of activity. Particularly when a large number of those they end up arresting are actually patients.
Here is the next issue: The drug laws on the books in France date from December 31, 1970. Similar to the U.S., cannabis of course was treated just like heroin and cocaine. Since that period, French drug arrests have steadily increased (making 67.5% of all arrests as of 2016). Convictions for drug offenses have also increased over ten-fold in the last generation (since the turn of the century).Last year, the CBD market was allowed a little room to flourish in the new grey laws around reform
In a country where approximately 700,000 people use cannabis daily, and 1.4 million use it regularly, this is clearly not sustainable on any front. Particularly where cannabis reform is such a potent weapon in a country where the “yellow vests” have made such a global impression. Cannabis reform, in other words, is an easy fix for a country now thinking about the impact of popular revolutions of other kinds. Not to mention with a history of them. And even more particularly where reform last year allowed “le weed light” (low THC, high CBD strains) to go on sale (with a popular response).
How fast reform will move here is still obviously uncertain. The current government has been making noise about it for the last two years. Last year, the CBD market was allowed a little room to flourish in the new grey laws around reform (although even here, the first CBD “coffee shops” were shut down last summer almost as soon as they opened).
Given the conservative pace so far, look for France to follow rather than lead. From a CBD perspective, if not a THC one, the country looks very much more like Italy and Germany than Spain or Holland from the cannabis perspective – at least at present.
For such reasons, expect France to follow toute le monde, rather than lead the pack. Decriminalization plus some kind of insurance coverage (similar to Germany) is much more likely to be on the short-term agenda than say a massive rush to embrace the industry (as in Greece). The green revolution may now be in the wings here, but pushed by other unavoidable forces in Europe if not domestically.
That said, to paraphrase the words of the country’s last King, Louis VIX, when France does move on something resembling real reform, it will mean that after that, the “green deluge” will most certainly be on the hoof across the rest of the continent.