Today’s Outcome of French Election Has Far-Reaching Impacts on Cannabis, Too
By J.J. McCoy, Senior Managing Editor for New Frontier Data
While “Frexit” and France’s relationship with the European Union are the primary political issues to be decided today in France’s runoff election between independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, cannabis also represents a difference in policy between the two.
As reported in New Frontier Data’s newly released “Cannabis Industry Annual Report 2017 Legal Marijuana Outlook,” Macron stands for decriminalization, while still opposing legalization. Le Pen has come out against legalization across the board.
Among the electorate, according to a 2016 Ipsos poll, 52% of French respondents supported some type of cannabis legalization, with 80% deeming the current laws too strict. A majority wanted to see the issue debated during the 2017 presidential election, and certainly the establishment of an adult use market will depend on the outcomes of the presidential election.
In a radio interview with France 2 last fall, Le Pen’s campaign director David Rachline called decriminalization “a completely crazy idea. Instead we must use every force available to us to fight against drugs and drug dealers.”
If Macron is not entirely progressive on the issue, he certainly is more so than Le Pen. A former investment banker who also served as Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs in the Second Valls Government from 2014 to 2016, he is considered economically liberal and pro-business, while firmly on the left on social issues.
Law enforcement officials say Macron's proposals to give warnings and fines to cannabis users will save time and resources. If the measures appear strict, they in fact represent a relaxation of what is on the books: Current French law dates to 1970, with use of any illegal drug drawing penalties of up to year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros ($4,071 U.S.). By Macron’s reform proposal, police could hand out warnings and fines of 100 euros ($109 U.S.) to those caught smoking on the street. Officers have welcomed the proposals for cutting down court time and paperwork for an offense that in many cases police ignore.
Macron, a former banker who served as economy minister, is socially liberal. He has argued that France's economy can become more competitive if it embraces globalization and doubles down on free trade. Macron is a keen supporter of the euro and the EU. He is a free trade supporter and he campaigned in favor of CETA, the EU's new free trade agreement with Canada. He wants to spend €50 billion ($54.3 billion U.S.) over five years on training, energy and the environment, transportation, health and agriculture.
Previous attempts at reform through France’s legislative body have failed. In June 2013, an amendment to the public health code legalized some cannabis-based medicines. As in other European countries, the medical law is very limited and most patients still acquire cannabis illicitly. Bureaucratic and political roadblocks have prevented cannabis-based pharmaceuticals from being available through French pharmacies, forcing patients to travel abroad to access cannabis-based medicine.
Cannabis is one of the most popular illegal drugs in France. The French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction reports that 17 million French (26% of the total population) have tried cannabis in their lifetime, with that number increasing to 47% among 17-year-olds reporting to have tried it. The French Public Health Agency estimates that 700,000 French use cannabis daily. Approximately 17.5% of French aged 15 to 34, and 8.4% of French aged 15-64, have reported using cannabis in the past year.
With approximately 64.4 million people and 19.4 million young people ages 10 to 34, France will represent a large potential market should adult use be legalized. The medical market is still undeveloped and restrictive. If the expected implementation of a more formalized medical market in neighboring Germany is successful, it would likely spur progress in the expansion of the medical market in France as well.
In that regard, much depends on today’s vote for the future of cannabis reform in France. Election of a pro-cannabis president could energize the French reform movement overnight.
J.J. McCoy is Senior Managing Editor for New Frontier Data. A former staff writer for The Washington Post, he is a career journalist having covered emerging technologies among industries including aviation, satellites, transportation, law enforcement, the Smart Grid and professional sports. He has reported from the White House, the U.S. Senate, three continents and counting.