French Cannabis Users Are Victims of Insecurity

Stephen Andrews
06 Apr 2022

Unlike the majority of French citizens, cannabis users are not afraid of being attacked by criminals but by the police. Cannabis users, whatever their means of transport, risk being stopped at every street corner, which creates a real climate of insecurity.

When leaving their homes, cannabis users are more likely to be attacked by men in uniform than by members of street gangs. For those who like to toke this is a source of constant stress. In the last two years, the crackdown on users has been taken to a new level. The anti-cannabis president Emmanuel Macron and his interior minister Gérald Darmanin have developed specific techniques that allow them to track down and punish cannabis users throughout the country.

Very liberticidal measures

Does Emmanuel Macron still need scapegoats to govern France? After the non-vaccinated, the president has decided to attack the 6 million French people who happen to use cannabis. Viewed as accomplices of traffickers, cannabis users are regularly blamed by Emmanuel Macron in various of his speeches.

The government has developed a combination of very intrusive and effective measures, including saliva test, olfactory surveillance, search and fixed fine. Numerous articles in the French press and testimonies on social networks shed light on these controls and arrests that leave no chance to the consumer, even if they have no weed on them and have consumed it several days ago. Not to mention that the accuracy of tests is dubious. When they were initially introduced, saliva tests were supposed to detect drivers under the influence of cannabis during roadside checks or following a serious accident. The Macron government has hijacked the use of these tests, turning them into a very intrusive tool of repression that aims to seize even the smallest amounts of weed and punish users even if they have not operated a vehicle under the influence.

Enforcement operations ordered by prosecutors are increasingly growing in number throughout France, including in the most remote countryside. In the most recent enforcement operations, all drivers who tested positive for drugs were searched at home even if they were not carrying any drugs on their person or in the vehicle. Searches have resulted in the seizure of cannabis plants for personal consumption. These people, often medical users, will therefore be forced to look for cannabis on the black market.

During controls, vehicle passengers are systematically searched, sometimes tested, and even their homes are searched. The first controls came in 2020 with the introduction of the "amende forfaitaire délictuelle" (AFD). Not even cyclists and pedestrians were spared undergoing saliva tests, as media reports suggest. Are these controls really legal or are they an overzealous attitude on the part of the police and prosecutors?

If you travel by public transport, you can also be checked. Checks on trains and buses, both urban and interurban, with sniffer dogs have increased.

Serious consequences for those stopped

Most of those stopped will not be sentenced to prison but will face serious consequences. Drivers who test positive for cannabis will lose their license and sometimes their job, even though in most cases they did not consume cannabis before driving. In the event of a repeat offense, the consequences for the driver can get even more serious and dramatic. The dangerousness of driving under the influence of THC has been questioned by some studies. For its part, the French government has recently led an anti-cannabis campaign with inaccurate statistics on driving under the influence of cannabis.

People caught with cannabis on their person or in their home will have to pay a fine of EUR 200  (150 if paid within 2 weeks) and if the seized quantity of plant material or other derivative is more significant, they will be summoned to appear before the criminal court. Fines and court costs are expensive and can put some people in financial difficulty. Practically, a simple roadside check can destabilize a family or lead a couple to divorce.

Cannabis users despised by politicians

Cannabis consumers have always been despised and manipulated by politicians left, right and center. Emmanuel Macron in particular “betrayed” consumers in 2017. Many people voted for him thinking that he would actually decriminalize cannabis and that he had a better chance of winning than the pro-legalization candidates on the left.

More recently, far-right candidate Eric Zemmour, one of whose sons is reportedly a user himself, suggested  that he would legalize cannabis. He held such a stance for several months. However, he eventually changed his mind and instead decided to intensify repression.  

The millions of regular cannabis users in France are not seriously considered even among left-wing candidates who are in favor of legalization. Not a single candidate for the 2022 presidential election came forward with a specific programme on legalization. No candidate ever has planned to decriminalize cannabis on the day of their arrival in Elysée.

The anti-cannabis candidate

Back in 2016 and 2017, Emmanuel Macron declared himself in favor of decriminalization and even expressed interest in legalization. A few years later, he actually became the country’s first anti-cannabis president. Macron’s anti-cannabis policy resembles those of China or Russia more so than those of Germany or the U.S. A candidate who presents himself as progressive is instead modelling himself on totalitarian countries to effectively fight against pot consumption.

Macronist MPs in favor of legalization, such as Jean-Baptise Moreau and Caroline Janvier, hoped until the last moment that Macron would change his mind and follow Germany's example by choosing the path of legalization. On the contrary, candidate Macron decided to intensify the fight and to increase the amount of the fixed fine for cannabis use that he himself introduced.

Emmanuel Macron is the only candidate to directly attack cannabis users. The other prohibitionist candidates simply talk about "drug trafficking" without giving any further details.

Organizing the defence

Customs, gendarmerie, national police, municipal police, drug squad, dog squad, OFAST, GIR, GEAD, MILDECA: there are many organizations in France responsible for the fight against drugs and cannabis in particular.

But on the other hand, cannabis users have never managed to organize themselves, as if they are content with how things are. Anti-prohibitionist associations such as NORML France are doing an excellent job, but users themselves are not sufficiently mobilized. When will a real French cannabis union be created to effectively defend consumers and organize the media response?

To conclude, here are a few proposals that can be implemented immediately:

  • De facto decriminalization today by means of a circular sent to all police forces.
  • Immediate decriminalization of the consumption, possession and cultivation of small quantities of cannabis without THC limit, with an emergency vote in the assemblies before organizing the legalization without favoring the multinationals.
  • Moratorium on saliva testing until behavioral testing is in place.
Stephen Andrews