France Could Decriminalise All Drug Use

Featured image credit: Jeso Carneiro/Flickr

A new parliamentary report has recommended several options for modernising France’s penal process, including the decriminalisation of all drug use, but the government has yet to decide on the matter, as talkingdrugs reports.

Two assembly members (AM) – Eric Poulliat AM from the governing centrist party En Marche, and Robin Reda AM from the centre-right Republicans party – were commissioned by the government through the National Assembly Laws Commission to study France’s drug policies, and recommend changes that could alleviate strain on the country’s criminal justice system.

While many news outlets are describing the report as focusing solely on cannabis decriminalisation, the legislative changes proposed would in fact affect all currently illegal drugs. Benjamin Jeanroy – co-founder and head of drug policy at French “action tank” reform organisation ECHO – told TalkingDrugs that “Drugs laws in France do not differentiate between illicit substances. There is no legislative distinction between cannabis and any other drug, so the report cannot create a specific way to deal only with cannabis. The fact that the recommendations would affect the law around all illegal drugs is probably the most crucial part of this report.”

French law says that drug possession for personal use can be punished by up to 10 years in prison, or with a fine of up to €7.5 million (£6.6m). However, such extreme punishments are rare, and possession convictions often result in far smaller fines or warnings. Nonetheless, individual officers have a broad discretion in how to handle drug offences – and French police have been accused of discriminatory tactics, particularly towards people of colour, in this regard. If either of the new recommendations were followed, there is little to suggest that the alleged police discrimination for drug offences would be reduced.

Jeanroy told TalkingDrugs that Poulliat’s recommendation in particular, rather than reducing the harms of drug policy, risks a continuation of “the discrimination in the criminal justice system, because the same people will continue to be arrested and harassed because of drug consumption and possession – particularly youth from impoverished neighbourhoods. [Poulliat’s proposal] will initiate a renewal of tensions between these populations and the police forces”.

The goal of both proposed reform recommendations is to decongest the criminal justice system – not to alleviate the harms of criminalisation upon people who use drugs. Robin Reda claimed that reducing the number of people being prosecuted for drug use would allow police and courts could focus on the “fight against trafficking”.

Read the full story here.