By Roland Sebestyén
He famously held a joint aloft in the French National Assembly to raise awareness – it cost him the “most expensive joint in history” but he said it was worth it. He said France was heading to a deadlock while Europe is welcoming cannabis. Despite all the hurdles along the way, French MP François-Michel Lambert told Canex that hopefully, France could legalise recreational use by 2023.
We spoke with one of Europe’s bravest MPs who won’t give in until the French government listens.
How long have you been campaigning for cannabis policy reform in France? And why?
I have been an environmentalist member of the French National Assembly since 2012 and I have always been aware of the issue of cannabis, in all its forms – therapeutic, well-being, recreational – but my team and I have been seriously considering the issue for the past three years, with substantive work, especially a bill on the controlled legalisation under the public monopoly of the production, sale and consumption of cannabis.
My country truly lags on this issue and cultivates such hypocrisy that I had to do something.
What does it mean to your cause that you can have your voice heard in the French Assembly?
I think that the National Assembly should open this important debate. A parliamentary mission on the regulation and impact of the different uses of cannabis, in which I was secretary, and which has done an exceptional job, issued its conclusions a month ago, at the very time when Gérald Darmanin, our Minister of the Interior, was stepping up his voice against cannabis consumers and strengthening prohibition.
Unanimously and against the current position of the executive, the 28 MPs from all political sides members of the parliamentary mission have all advocated controlled legislation under a public monopoly. The parliament thus has a key role to play.
Some say there are five million active cannabis users in your country. Why do you think the government hasn’t legalised recreational use already?
France beats every other European country in terms of cannabis use, especially among youth, but the government prefers to stick to a 50-year-old prohibitionist position.
They say yes to alcohol but no to cannabis, whereas there are millions of consumers who pose no danger to society and who are rather delivered to the black market. Because of security blindness, maintenance of clichés, taboo, and short-term electoral calculations, the different governments have not broken the deadlock.
Do you think you can represent those five million people wanting to use cannabis freely?
Certainly not, I respect people of all ages and backgrounds, but as I am not a cannabis user myself, I cannot be their representative.
However, as a Member of Parliament, I represent the people, a part of the general will, and the latest IFOP (one of French most important survey company) poll shows that the majority of French people are now in favour of decriminalisation and legalisation.
What is the mood among MPs? Have you had any talks with MPs who were backing you? I mean, can MPs talk about cannabis policy reform openly?
The atmosphere is good, especially among the 28 MPs who were part of the parliamentary mission and with the MPs who signed our bills, from all political parties.
But presidential elections are approaching, and cannabis is likely to become a controversial subject against a backdrop of security outbid. Many MP is convinced that legalisation is unavoidable, they say so in private but remain silent publicly.
What do you think of the French legislation around cannabis use? Where is France heading?
France is going in a deadlock against Europe, which is making its legislation regarding cannabis more flexible everywhere. We are stepping up consumers hunting, police operations against drug dealers, and the call to denunciate.
Our forces of order spend thousands of hours a year, emptying the ocean with a teaspoon, without result. Cannabis consumption continues to increase with uncontrollable products, often cut and heavily loaded with THC, without any appropriate public health policy.
What’s the public thinking? Do you think the cause has enough support from the public?
All French people have cannabis users around them, who escape the usual clichés and are often ordinary people. There also are parents, facing real addiction problems with their children, including risky behaviours and dangerous products.
People are pragmatic, increasingly tolerant, and they also see the ravages of the black market and the delinquency generated by cannabis, but we must not tell them that cannabis is a harmless product, it is still a drug, like tobacco or alcohol, and we must not forget that.
What do you think should happen to have a massive cannabis policy change in France?
The failure of the repressive policy, the example of every country that has crossed this line, the cannabis business and the expected related tax revenues should make this change possible.
What was your goal when you held a cannabis joint in the parliament? It sure did make some headlines around the world, and you got praised for it.
The aim was to get media attention and to get the government to react because I noticed that working on substance was unfortunately not enough.
€1400 were deducted from my parliamentary allowance, [which makes it] the most expensive joint in history but I do not regret it: politics is also about communicating, and my gesture was repeated on all networks, as a symbol of resistance to the current security and paranoid atmosphere of the moment.
Do you think these types of actions could reach more people and eventually could result in a conversation around recreational use in France?
Yes, but I also believe in serious things, in explanations, in debate, in pedagogy. I have a lot of arguments on legalisation, on every aspect: social, health, security, economic, legal. I am only asking for a debate.
Is there anything else you can do to raise awareness?
I could probably make consumers talk more, especially those who had to unjustly suffer from the repressive policy. And perhaps also describe a positive France, calmed down on this issue, which would have evolved by legalising, setting up all the channels from seed to distribution, and which would benefit greatly from it.
Would you use the French Assembly again to talk about cannabis? Would you take a joint in the building again to make a point?
No, [there will be] no more joint in the National Assembly, but for the rest, I forbid myself nothing.
Where do you see France by 2030? Do you think the cannabis boom will reach the country?
Yes, I am even hoping for legalisation very quickly; by 2023.
It is the sense of history in our democracies but it is above all the urgent need to protect our fellow citizens who suffer the insecurity due to trafficking and the danger of consuming adulterated products.
Emmanuel Macron’s instrumentalisation of this subject is equivalent to assuming to let the French die while we do have the solution.
French MP François-Michel Lambert is a French politician who has served as a member of the National Assembly for the 10th constituency of Bouches-du-Rhône since 2012.