Is a Cannabis Referendum on the Cards in France?

3rd March 2021

Calls for cannabis reforms in France have received some renewed energy as one MP suggests the country should hold a referendum on the subject. In recent months, the government has agreed to kick off a pilot programme to supply patients with free medical cannabis and have launched an online survey to gauge the public’s opinion on the drug.

Jean-Baptiste Moreau, MP for Creuse and the head of a parliamentary commission on the use of recreational cannabis, said he thought legalising adult use of the drug could be a possibility in France.

On Sunday (January 28), Moreau said on franceinfo: “We really must have a debate to enlighten citizens on this issue. Today we have a ban, but we have record levels of consumption. So, the situation is untenable.

“Prohibition is not working. It just creates a parallel market. We have a significant parallel economy, which finances other networks, such as arms trafficking and others.”

According to Mr Moreau, decriminalisation wouldn’t be effective enough in solving the problem. The MP suggests that the government should establish a system to regulate the legal cannabis market to ensure customers receive safe and high-quality products at a reasonable cost.

Recent data reveals that France has the joint highest cannabis usage rate in Europe – tying with Spain – with 11% of the population believed to use cannabis. The figures put the country ahead of Italy (10.2%), the Netherlands (9.6%), and Finland (8.2%). The UK is also in the top 1- with a usage rate of 7.1%.

Despite a historically hard stance on cannabis, a series of recent moves have indicated that the French government may be willing to take a more progressive attitude towards the drug in the future.

Last October, Olivier Véran, the Minister of Solidarity and Health, signed a decree to begin a pilot programme, which could eventually supply patients with free medicinal cannabis.

According to the proposal, 3,000 people with a number of conditions and diseases – such as refractory neuropathic pain, certain forms of drug-resistant epilepsy, certain intractable symptoms in oncology linked to cancer or anticancer treatment, palliative situations, painful spasticity from multiple sclerosis or other pathologies of the central nervous system – will be able to apply for the prescription from March.

In January, Robin Reda MP announced the launch of an online survey designed to “better understand the public opinion” on recreational cannabis use. The questionnaire was available between January 13 and February 28 with results expected to be published in the coming weeks.

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