France introduces fixed fine for drug use

The French Assemblée Nationale has voted to introduce a fixed €200 fine for the use of narcotics - and cannabis in particular - in an effort to step up the fight against illegal drugs.

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The bill was adopted on Friday November 23, by 28 votes in favour, and 14 against. It will introduce a €200 fixed punishment fine for the illicit use of drugs, with cannabis especially targeted.

Since 1970 in France, illegal drug use - of any kind - has been associated with up to a year in prison and a fine of up to €3,750; but this was rarely enforced for the use of drugs such as cannabis.

The vote comes against a backdrop of widespread cannabis use in France: “official figures” published by Le Monde newspaper estimated that in 2017 there around 5 million users nationally, of which 700,000 were said to use it daily.

Justice minister Nicole Belloubet said the new measure was the “result of important work” undertaken by parliamentarians, especially Eric Pouillat of the ruling La République en Marche (LREM) party.

She said that fixed fines “work well for other types of contraventions”, and said that the introduction of the fine would not remove other “possible responses” to drug use - such as the accused being asked to appear in court.

Response to the vote has been mixed.

Some left-wing ministers have condemned the lack of involvement from health authorities on the issue, saying that a fine for cannabis use “will not lead to a change in the public health response” to drug use.

MP David Habib (Parti Socialiste), condemned the measure as “unequal”, and said: “These types of arrangements will not lead to an improvement in the health [of the country]”. MP Pierre Dharréville (Parti Communiste Français) said that the fine could disproportionately affect disadvantaged young people.

Ministers had initially planned for the fine amount to be €300, but this was dropped to €200 out of concern that the measure could provoke severe financial problems for users.

But far-right politician Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement National) said that the vote was “hypocritical” as the “low [fine] amount” effectively “authorised the consumption” of drugs.

And MP Ugo Barnalicis (La France Insoumise) asked: “Are we going to solve the problem this way? If we want to fight against drug trafficking and traffickers, let’s legalise [drugs instead].”

Yet, some organisations and police groups have called the vote “a failure”, and condemned it as just another repressive measure.

As well as focusing on the use of narcotics, the vote also applied the fixed fine to other similar offences, including the sale and offer of alcohol to a minor.

MPs also discussed the possibility of extending the use of fixed fines to problems such as unlicensed street tobacco vendors - addressing concerns from LREM MPs - and also to crimes such as mistreatment of animals.

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