Parents have been offered free cannabis test kits to check if their children are using drugs.
The move, by the mairie in Béziers, Hérault, was launched by mayor Robert Ménard, who is a strong supporter of penalising drug use.
He told The Connexion: “This is a subject that worries 54% of the French population. We have the highest amount of 17 year old drug users in the world!”
The mairie has spent €5,000 on 400 saliva tests and offers them free to parents who can also get them anonymously, if wished.
Mr Ménard said he was working with Serge Lebigot, president of association Parents Contre la Drogue, and the move was aimed to help the local population.
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Such drug testing was already being done in 17 other European countries and he added: “If drug prevention was taken more seriously in France, the numbers wouldn’t be as high as they are today.
“We are aware that this is not the ultimate solution, it is only an additional tool.”
Once parents have used the kit, the mairie will offer help to find an association to help in the case of a positive test.
The town sees the move as a great way to encourage better communication between families, and to help have a better health.
Some parents have argued against the move, saying it was a very personal and sensitive subject, and it was up to the family to manage its own problems.
Mr Ménard said that young people were against the move. Some were said to feel exposed or ‘attacked’ and felt this was not an issue where the town hall should be involved.
Dr Alain Rigaud, president of the national association for alcoholism and drug addiction prevention ANPAA, said: “This is not the right way to do this. There is a vast youth population in Beziers but they are only offering 400 tests.”
He said this meant it was only a “partial look” at the subject and very limited in the information it gave. If positive, it only means the person had used cannabis within the last 10 hours, but did not tell parents if he/she was an occasional or a regular user.
“And if the test is negative, parents may be relieved but it only means that their son or daughter has not smoked cannabis in the previous 10 hours.”
However, Dr Rigaud stressed that cannabis was not the most dangerous drug: “It is an illegal drug but it is not the drug that is the most consumed within our young population. Binge drinking and tobacco are.”
French Socialist presidential election candidate Benoït Hamon has put legalising cannabis on his electoral programme, saying that legalising the drug is a more practical way to prevent use than banning it.
Béziers has only been distributing the tests for a few days and does not yet have a clear image on how the move is working.