Will France Ever Be Better Known For High-End Cannabis Than Wine?
France has a reputation for its love of wine and cheese. It’s common to sip a favorite vin rouge with some Brie, Camembert or any other wonderful cheese through lunch and dinner. The French tradition of shutting everything down in the middle of the day to unwind for a bit has always been an important part of French dining and culture. Although the traditional two-hour lunch breaks are much shorter these days, French wines are sought all over the world, and the country’s vineyards remain some of the most sought-after places to visit in the world—so why the disconnect between the wine sommelier and cannabis connoisseur?
Artisan cannabis farmers carefully nurture their plants to curate a product to the full extent of its flavor, potency and favorable qualities, much like a renowned vineyard. The two are worlds apart, however, according to the French government. France is wedged between Germany, where police openly suggest decriminalizing all cannabis use; Spain, where you can consume, possess and cultivate legally; and the Netherlands, with its highly ambiguous cannabis policies. Although not technically legal, the Dutch are famous for their cannabis ‘coffeeshops.’ Residents can even grow up to five of their own plants—creating the perfect opportunity for outside growers to profit from France’s heavy demand for cannabis. More people consume cannabis in France than almost any other European country, according to the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction, even though they have the harshest laws against it.
In 2015, according to France 24, “there were around 64,000 drug-related convictions—40,000 of which were for illegal drug use. Out of those, only 3,098 resulted in a prison sentence.” Because of strain on police and the justice system, as well as the gun violence surrounding the illegal trans-Mediterranean cannabis trade, legalizing adult-use cannabis has been proposed but met with the same arguments heard here in America. Police unions and the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction have made it clear they believe legalization could lead to increased use.
French President Emmanuel Macron
France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron, pledged to decriminalize cannabis by the end of 2017. This, of course, did not happen; the government is now opting for on-the-spot fines instead, calling it more of a de-escalation rather than decriminalization in a move that both honors Macron’s election campaign pledge and appeases the opposition. French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb delivered a strong message regarding the upcoming fines, stating bluntly: “There will be no decriminalization of cannabis use.” Collumb made it clear there was no intention of allowing cannabis use or future legalization.
There has been no definitive answer as to how large or small these fines will be, but a parliamentary report suggested a fixed fine of €150-200 ($186-248), which will arguably affect the financially indigent and impoverished on a larger scale, as most cannabis laws and prohibition tend to do. Their intention to eliminate prison time for cannabis consumers is a step in the right direction, and in theory this process could create some extensive tax gains. In the end, however, the policy will only create larger socioeconomic disparities without solving the problems the country faces.
A study by Terra Nova, a French political think tank, showed a possible €2.0 billion ($2.5 billion) yearly tax return if France decided to legalize and regulate cannabis. The gun violence linked to the trans-Mediterranean cannabis trade could all but be eradicated by legalization and regulation, as we’ve seen in America’s experience with Mexico. In fact, America has actually created a reverse cannabis pipeline, with Americans selling marijuana to their neighbors south of the border. Finally, concerns of increased drug use after legalization have been proven false, time and time again—what is France waiting for?
Although the country may not be there yet, we can see things heading in the right direction. We can only hope France will learn from the mistakes of other countries’ struggles on the path to legalization. A France known for its breathtaking wine country—as well as its magnificent outdoor grows—is a future DOPE aspires to see.