France is known for being liberal-minded when it comes to a lot of things. In matters of sexuality, philosophy, and democracy, this holds as true as ever. But when it comes to its drug laws, this progressive epiphany, common across nearby countries like The Netherlands, has yet to materialize — even as the French are Europe’s most prominent consumers of drugs like marijuana.
Last summer, the opening of two legal weed shops selling marijuana with less than 0.2 percent THC had some thinking that Europe’s third-biggest economy was on the verge of legalizing recreational bud. Unfortunately for marijuana supporters, this turned out to be a pipe dream. Within one week, the two Parisian stores selling the low-THC product, colloquially called “le weed light,” were raided by police and shut down indefinitely. Nine months later, the shops remain closed.
So, will weed ever be legal in Paris?
The answer to this question may depend on the policies of President Emmanuel Macron, who has tiptoed around the issue of marijuana legalization.
In September 2016, before announcing his candidacy, he told France Inter that the legalization of marijuana can have a “form of effectiveness,” but didn’t go as far as saying it should be decriminalized.
Less than a year later, in February 2017, however, he changed tack. Speaking to the right-leaning Le Figaro, he said that the depenalization of small amounts of weed “doesn’t fix anything.”
Indeed, during his time as president, the act of smoking weed for personal reasons has not been fully decriminalized, although the penalty is significantly less than it once was. In 2018, a new law was passed to reduce the €3,750 fine (and up to a one year prison sentence) for possession of small amounts of marijuana to €200. Despite the lower fine, people caught with small amounts of marijuana can still be subject to legal proceedings.
A Medicinal Option?
Although a small number of political leaders have called for legal recreational marijuana, including Ludovic Mendes, a deputy in Macron’s party, the legalization of medicinal marijuana appears more likely.
Various members of Macron’s affiliated political party La Republique en Marche (LREM) party have spoken out in favor of medical marijuana legalization. In July 2018, a number of LREM deputies, as well as other political leaders and medical professionals, published an open letter in Le Parisien calling for the legalization of weed for “therapeutic purposes.”
Legal weed supporters may also have an ally in Macron’s wife Brigitte. According to an interview given by Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a member of Macron’s party who attended the Cannabis Europa conference in Paris, Brigitte Macron is “all in” for legalizing medicinal marijuana.
Indeed, medicinal marijuana legalization is popular amongst a majority of voting-age French people, as well. An overwhelming proportion of the adult population (82 percent) is in favor of legalization of the drug for medical purposes, according to a June 2018 survey of just over 2,000 respondents.
The path for legal weed in France, and in Paris more specifically, remains uncertain.
At the end of last year, a government committee called the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) recommended that the country legalize marijuana use for a number of ailments, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Even so, as France 24 reports, it could take until 2020 for such a regulation to go into effect.
This February, the European parliament passed a resolution in favor of legalizing marijuana for therapeutic purposes. So far, 21 other European countries have passed similar laws. In France, things may be starting to change as well.
In Marseille, medicinal marijuana is being tested on patients with Parkinson’s — a world first. Breakthroughs in scientific research could toward for a greater relaxation of France’s strict marijuana laws.
Another argument that might make the finance-forward Macron turn his head? An economic one.
As his fellow LREM deputy Jean-Baptiste Moreau has mentioned, legalizing CBD and medicinal marijuana could be good news for French farmers — to the degree of bringing in “as much as 1.5 billion euros in business in France in the next few years.”
Even if certain measures like this are taken, for most people living in and visiting the country nothing much will change. In the near future, at least, smoking a joint on the champs de mars will continue to be against the law.