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Drugs in France: a repressive policy and high cannabis usage

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Drugs in France: a repressive policy and high cannabis usage


Most used drugs

Cannabis remains the most consumed illegal drug in France . In 2010, 13.4 million French people aged between 11 and 75 had tried cannabis at least once in their lifetime; a third of them used it at least once during the year. Around 1.2 million of those are daily users of cannabis.

For all other drugs, estimations of usage are considerably lower. Cocaine consumption is ten times lower amongst the population than cannabis with 1.5 million French people having taken cocaine at least once in their lifetime. An estimated 1.1 million French people have taken ecstasy at least once, a figure that falls to 500,000 for heroine. Some 400,000 people admitted to having taken a drug other than cannabis in 2010, mostly cocaine and poppers.


In terms of gender, more men take illegal drugs than women. For example, four times as many men than women (aged 18 to 64) consume cannabis regularly (3.4% men compared to 0.9% women).

Another significant variable is age with, perhaps predictably, young people much more likely to experiment with illegal drugs. Statistics show that the rate of experimentation decreases with age and almost disappears after 55. . With the exception of cannabis, young people under 15 rarely try any other narcotic. Among 17-year-olds, cannabis remains the most popular experimental drug (41.5% of people aged 17 have tried it at least once) and regularly consumed drug (6.5% of 17-year-olds admit to frequent cannabis use). The average age at which young people try cannabis is 15.3 years old. .

Laws and policy

France has one of the most stringent anti-drugs policies in Europe. The present law dates back to 1970.

A drug user risks a one-year prison sentence and/or a fine of up to 3,750 euros for consuming drugs and may have to pay to participate in a compulsory awareness course about the dangers of narcotics.

Being caught in possession of drugs, even in small quantities, and manufacturing drugs (for example growing a marijuana plant at home) are considered by the legal system as being akin to drug usage and are therefore punishable offences.

Two laws complement the 1970 legislation and concern dealers (selling-users or trafficking-users). Judicially they risk stricter sentences unless they denounce their accomplice or supplier. They are also excluded from the healthcare alternative.

Prosecutors can also force a drug user, even one who is under-age, to get addiction treatment. This therapeutic injunction brings legal proceedings to a stop.

In reality, these heavy penalties are rarely imposed as judges have several alternatives to prison and fines. Of the 50,092 people convicted of drug offences in France in 2011, 58% were guilty of drug usage and 30% of convictions resulted in a prison sentence (either custodial or suspended). Possessing or acquiring narcotics accounted for 20% of drugs-related convictions. Selling and trafficking represent 21%. Again, one drug was much more familiar to police: around 90% of drug-related arrests concerned cannabis (Also read our article about legalising cannabis in France).

The decriminalisation of some drugs is under discussion but any bill is far from becoming law. The issue divides politicians even within political parties.

In 2012, authorities seized 54.4 tons of cannabis (grass or resin), which in 94% of cases originated from Morocco. Still in 2012, 701 kg of heroin, 5.6 tons of cocaine and 157,000 ectasy pills were seized. For these three products, seizures are down after years of increase.

Prevention and healthcare

Since the 1970 law was introduced, healthcare has been an integrated part of anti-addiction policies.
Drug users can seek help from, or be made to attend one of around 400 addiction care, help and prevention centres (CSAPA), of which about 40 offer week-long cures.
Many drug users also turn to emergency services, GPs, or a variety of non-governmental organisations.
Young users can find information in ‘young users consultation’ (CJC) held by most of the CSAPA centres.

In terms of prevention, the French state has four objectives: “discourage young people from trying, push back the age at which young people first try drugs, avoid harmful usage and lower individual and collective sanitary and social consequences”.

To do so, France uses traditional communication tools such as web sites (Drogues info service & MiDLT), telephone helplines and prevention campaigns in new and traditional media. Various actions are taken in schools, universities, professional circles, and in sports and leisure facilities.
These policies now also take into account the notion of reducing risks. The future opening – it has been delayed for the time being – of a drug consumption room in Paris is an example of this new orientation. Addiction healthcare also follows this trend. About this, read our article about an addiction centre near Lyon.


In French.
The French observatory of drugs and addictions (OFDT) published its latest reports in June and July.


Law and policy

Prevention and healthcare

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