By Vanessa Walsh
Every year, we see more and more states in the U.S. legalize cannabis to varying degrees, so it’s sometimes easy to forget the state of drug policy in Europe. Everyone knows the association of cannabis with the Netherlands, and Portugal’s famous decriminalization experiment, but what about larger countries such as France?
A few years ago, I witnessed a protest in one of the main streets of the French city of Lyon. “Légalisez la Consommation de Cannabis en France!” was one of the most noticeable signs that stuck out for me, written in big block letters as they marched down the road.
Seeing these protestors made me question whether weed was as illegal as it was in Canada at the time. Was it one of those aforementioned European countries, or were its rules concerning cannabis consumption just as painfully strict as my home country?
France has some of the strictest cannabis laws in the world
As it turns out, despite France being Europe’s biggest cannabis consumer, hefty fines and needless imprisonment are only a couple of the consequences associated with producing, possessing, selling, and of course, consuming marijuana. Let’s take a closer look.
While cannabis remains illegal in France, recreational consumption has been broadly legal in Canada since 2018. Prior to that, medical marijuana was fully legal in Canada for many years, albeit with many wonderful government regulations. However, the use of medical marijuana in France is still not permitted, although progress is underway.
This is a terrible shame considering the ongoing struggle to legalize cannabis in France and fight the restrictions related to obtaining possible alternative medical treatments, such as cannabis oil or the dried herb.
Knowing that French citizens didn’t have access to the same treatments Canadians do made me really appreciate that my home country had at least this much available to its citizens.
France does not have a large professional legalization lobby
Secondly, there was a difference in the number of “voices” Canada and France had in support of the decriminalization and/or legalization of marijuana. In the former, there were several major political parties that advocated for the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, including the liberals, the libertarians, and the New Democratic Party, among others.
Of course, this was under the Harper administration, before the Liberal party under Trudeau passed the full legalization of marijuana. In France, by contrast, there really aren’t too many organizations that advocate for the decriminalization or the legalization of cannabis use, while the political class is very resistant to change. One of the only noticeable organized pro-marijuana groups within France is “Cannabis Sans Frontières,” or “Cannabis Without Borders.”
It lists “public health,” “jobs,” “risk prevention,” and “justice” as its raison d’être, so to speak. But without a noticeable presence, a controversial idea such as cannabis consumption hasn’t really garnered much notice.
French legalization activism is seen as counter-cultural
Furthermore, the audience associated with the legalization of marijuana in Canada and France is very different. When I witnessed the pro-marijuana gathering, I took a picture which made its way to Facebook. Considering I am so used to the North American legalization crowd being concerned with individual rights, black markets, and police brutality, I included a little caption stating my surprise at finally seeing more French libertarians.
One of my French friends pointed out, however, that these particular people (and, in his opinion, the majority of those who would advocate for the legalization of marijuana) were what he called “libertaires” not “libértariens.” He described them as ideologically left-wing communists and/or anarchists with a general disdain towards capitalism.
I’m sure there are similar pro-marijuana activists in North America too, but it’s interesting, if disadvantageous from a PR perspective, that there exist these two distinctions despite the word “libertaire” translating broadly as libertarian.
Canada first criminalized marijuana all the way back in 1923, ironically under William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberal government, one of the first countries to do so. Many European countries followed suit after 1925, with the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act in the United Kingdom.
Under Harper in Canada and Hollande in France, marijuana was viewed with disdain, despite the two leaders being ideologically opposed. After almost 100 years of cannabis bans and restrictions all over the world, and a war on drugs as present as ever, perhaps it is finally time that France followed suit with Canadian progress.
To read more about the Drug War, be sure to check out our cluster page by clicking on the button below.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.