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France to Drop Prison Terms for Pot Use

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France will introduce a law by year’s end to end prison terms for cannabis use, a spokesman for the new President Emmanuel Macron said last Friday.

Macron made his pledge to reform laws on cannabis use a key campaign plank during the hard-fought race. Under current law, offenders can face a year in prison plus a fine of up to 3,750 euros ($4,200).

“Last year, 180,000 people were found to be in violation of drug laws,” said Macron spokesman Christophe Castaner, according to the French national news agency AFP. “On average these cases take up six hours of police time and the same amount for the presiding magistrate. Is the system effective? No. What is important today is to be effective, and above all to free up time for our police so they can focus more on essential matters.”

However, in what seems a strange compromise, cannabis consumption will technically remain a criminal offense. Castaner stressed that “consuming drugs remains serious and is dangerous to health.” 

Police unions at least tentatively welcomed the move. 

Patrice Ribeiro of the national officers’ union stated that it was “a good idea that takes reality into account.”

The judiciary was less welcoming. 

Virginie Duval of the magistrates’ union said the new law “won’t change much and it’s not going to unclog the courts.”

Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande had refused to consider cannabis decriminalization, despite a growing mandate for change.

Four out of the five main candidates in the presidential race supported a relaxation of the country’s cannabis laws. Only Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National was against any change to the law.

“It’s a completely crazy idea. Instead we must use every force available to us to fight against drugs and drug dealers,” Le Pen’s campaign director David Rachline said in October.

The April 23 vote narrowed the field to Macron and Le Pen. Macron, of a new centrist formation called En Marche!, emerged victorious in a May 7 run-off.

According to a 2014 survey by the French Observatory for Drug Use and Addiction, 17 million French citizens admitted to using cannabis at some point in their lives, with 700,000 using it daily.

As EuroNews notes, most European Union member states have, at this point, decriminalized.

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