French MPs, including members of Emmanuel Macron’s party, are seeking to introduce a bill to legalise the distribution and use of cannabis, a move government experts say could raise as much as €2.8bn in additional annual tax receipts.
The group, which includes five MPs from the ruling La Republique en Marche party, said on Thursday that “the creation of a monopoly for the production and sale of cannabis through the creation of a national company [ . . .], will regulate production and sales while controlling consumption”.
The legislative initiative comes as the Council of Economic Analysis, which advises the French prime minister on economic policies, published a report recommending the government create a “public monopoly of cannabis production and distribution”.
“The prohibition system promoted by France for 50 years is a failure,” the report said.
France has among the highest rate of cannabis testing in Europe. In 2016, 41.1 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 had already used it at least once in their life, more than double the European average of 18.9 per cent, according to the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction.
According to the Council of Economic Analysis report, a “strictly-supervised” legalisation of cannabis would allow the government to fight against organised crime, while restricting access for minors and developing an economic sector that would create jobs and tax revenues.
Even though the recommendation originates from a government unit led by Philippe Martin, who advised Mr Macron on his economic programme during his presidential campaign, the prospect of a complete legalisation of cannabis in France remains a distant prospect.
France’s transport minister Elisabeth Borne said on Thursday that France would not legalise recreational cannabis, but could consider authorising its medical use.
“The position of the French state is clear,” Ms Borne told LCI television. “We are against legalising cannabis for recreational use. There is an ongoing discussion about medical use.”
In recent years France has softened its stance on cannabis, which has been allowed for medical purposes since 2014. Until recently, offending cannabis users received fines of €3,750 and year-long prison sentences.
However Mr Macron has campaigned for a partial decriminalisation to free police time to focus on more serious crime, and bring France more in line with its neighbours like Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Following new regulations that came into force in France in 2018, people who are found with cannabis for personal use are given fines of €150-€200.
A move by France to legalise cannabis would follow Uruguay and Canada, where a new regulatory regime came into force in October that legalised recreational marijuana use. Under the new law Canadians are able to buy cannabis from regulators or federally licensed producers as well as possess and share with other adults up to 30 grammes in public, in addition to cultivating up to four plants at home for personal use. Some US states have legalised cannabis for medical or recreational use. However there is evidence that cannabis, particularly in high-potency forms such as skunk, can trigger mental illness including schizophrenia.