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France starts trials of on the spot fixed fines for drug use

On-the-spot, fixed fines for consumers of cannabis and cocaine are to come into force in some parts of France from today (June 16), ranging from €150 to €450, as an experimental method to curb drug use.

The new law was first voted through in November 2018. Under the new rules, anyone aged 18 or over found to be using cannabis or cocaine (on the first offence) will no longer risk time in police custody. Instead, they will face a fixed penalty of €200.

This will be reduced to €150 for fast payment, but can rise to as much as €400 for late payment.

The rules have been modelled on driving fines, which are fixed per infraction.

The new law will be trialled from today, in Reims (Marne, Grand Est), Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany), Créteil and Boissy-Saint-Léger (Val-de-Marne, Ile-de-France), Lille (Nord, Hauts-de-France) and Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur).

Should they be successful, the rules will then be rolled out across the entire country from September 4, except in the overseas territories of French Polynesia, Mayotte, and New Caledonia.

Read more: Drug users in French city of Rennes face €450 fine

The new fines are intended to make it easier for police to enforce anti-drug laws in France.

Currently, consumption of illegal drugs is technically punishable by a fine of up to €3,750 and up to a year in prison - but this is rarely enforced.

Philippe Astruc, Rennes prosecutor, said: “[Current anti-drug laws] which basically attack the supply, are now going to attack the demand. Let us make users face their responsibilities.”

Yet, the new law has been criticised by some associations, who say that it will unfairly penalise less-well-off people and could technically enable richer people to simply continue their habit and pay the fines.

The move also divided MPs.

During the parliamentary debate on the issue in late 2018, some left-wing MPs criticised the move for its “lack of a healthcare response” to drug use, and said that instead of fines, drug users should be offered medical help.

Yet, some right-wing MPs said that the new system will lead to tacit “authorisation of drug use” given what they saw as relatively low fine amounts.

According to drug use association l’Observatoire Français des Drogues et des Toxicomanies (OFDT), five million people in France said that they had smoked cannabis in the past year (2017), of which 1.5 million people said they did so regularly.

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