April 19. 2024. 8:56

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France to keep a cautious watch on German cannabis bill

As Germany moves towards the legalisation of recreational cannabis in 2024, the French government intends to keep a close eye on developments in its European neighbour’s legislative framework.

Germany is looking into legalising the sale of cannabis for recreational purposes from next year, according to a draft plan Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented to the European Commission on Thursday (16 March).

“France will closely monitor the evolution of the German legislative framework, especially with regard to its potential impact on cross-border regions,” the office of French Health Minister François Braun told EURACTIV France after Braun spoke with his German counterpart at the EPSCO Council in Brussels on Tuesday.

France is currently opposed to the legalisation of cannabis and has one of Europe’s most restrictive legislations. It also has Europe’s second-highest consumption levels with around 900,000 daily cannabis users, according to figures from the Interior Ministry.

If Germany legalises the recreational use of cannabis, this would have “direct influences on France”, according to Bernard Basset, president of the association Addictions France.

“In Europe, borders are very permeable. Moving cannabis from Germany to France is going to be a great sport from the start,” Basset told EURACTIV France. “The temptation will be obvious,” he added.

The association Addictions France is in favour of legalising cannabis, which argues that it will help combat drug trafficking, while French President Emmanuel Macron opposes its legalisation.

On 9 March, the government published its inter-ministerial strategy for the fight against addictive behaviour 2023-2027, which aims to intensify the policy against drug trafficking.

Germany sets out plans for cannabis legalisation amid EU law worries

German health minister Karl Lauterbach presented plans for legalising cannabis for recreational use – a key promise of the country’s “traffic light” government, although the project could still be halted by the EU Commission.

French laws among the most severe

“French politicians have a moral approach that is not effective in terms of public health,” Basset said.

Repression is not the solution, Marie Jauffret Roustide, sociologist and researcher at The National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), told EURACTIV France in January.

“Repression makes traffic more dynamic, it’s the balloon effect, studies show it,” she said.

Several member states including Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands have decriminalised cannabis use, where users are not subject to fines or prison sentences.

But decriminalisation does not mean the sale and consumption of cannabis are completely legal. Currently, full legalisation of recreational cannabis use is only the case in Malta where a law was passed in December 2021 allowing consumption and cultivation – though Germany could join Malta’s ranks if it adopts the bill.

However, cannabis legalisation in Europe is far from being a “success story”, Valérie Saintoyant, delegate of the inter-ministerial mission for the fight against drugs and addictive behaviours (Mildeca), said at a hearing before the Senate’s Social Affairs Committee on 18 January.

According to Ms. Saintoyant, the decriminalisation of cannabis has led to a “trivialisation of the product” without “reducing drug trafficking” and without preventing dealers from continuing to sell other illicit products.

In France, 44.8% of people aged 15-64 have consumed cannabis at least once in their lives, according to a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT) published in September 2021.

By comparison, the figure for Spain is 37.5% and for Denmark 38.4%. In the Netherlands, the figure is 27.7%.

Positive ‘welcome’ from the Commission

The German bill has already been given a “very warm welcome” by the Commission, Lauterbach told several German media last week.

Lauterbach stressed that the future bill to legalise cannabis for recreational purposes would be “in line with EU law” – which includes the international agreements the European Union has signed up to, including on the prevention of commercial activities related to drugs, including cannabis, outside of medical or scientific use.

“If Germany legalises the use of cannabis, the debate should be reactivated in France,” Basset also said.