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French flags blowing in the wind in Le Havre

France Considers Fining Cannabis Possession

By Marguerite Arnold, Marguerite Arnold
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French flags blowing in the wind in Le Havre

The French have always been known for possessing a certain national savoire faire. In English, that translates to a phrase meaning innate understanding of how to do things with a certain amount of panache, if not bonhomie. International diplomacy was long conducted in French as a result.

However, when it comes to the famed French silver tongue or sophistication on the cannabis issue, and well, not so much. As is widely acknowledged, even by the French, the country is stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to cannabis. Almost literally. Including having the strictest and harshest penalties for possession anywhere in Europe. Such penalties do not include a stint in the Bastille. But they can involve prison time, and they are ridiculously harsh. Quelle Horreure! Not mention, Vive la Revolution!

Nobody has said (yet) “Let them eat spice cake.” But France is now clearly an outlier in a continent moving towards cannabis reform of (at least) the medical and decriminalized kind.The most recent statistics suggest that 17 million French people have tried cannabis.

And herein lies the French paradox. Despite the highest per capita usage of any European country, French cannabis consumers have not turned into effective advocates on the political front.

Why not?

How High Are The French?

The most recent statistics suggest that 17 million French people have tried cannabis. 1.4 million use it regularly, about half of those on a daily basis. And here is the exciting (read: terrifying part). Users (not dealers) face up to a year in prison on the first offense, plus a fine of 3,750 euros (about $4,000).

Mon Dieu! Who on earth do the French think they are? A southern American state? One that probably actually banned “French” fries during a dull day at the state ‘lege when politically inspired to do so a few years back?

But even that epithet doesn’t cut it anymore in an environment where Florida is getting in on the action, and the first medical dispensary just opened in Texas.

French flags blowing in the wind in Le Havre
Image: Richard Akerman, Flickr

It is also not like the French big wigs also do not know they are out of step. France’s boyish president, now in office for about a year, Emmanuel Macron, promised decriminalization by the end of 2017 (it didn’t happen). Now a new parliamentary report, released, fittingly on Valentine’s Day, recommends swapping out the current draconian punishments for a fixed fine of between 150-200 euros ($250) per offense. The report also specifically concludes that current legislation is not working.

In 2015, there were 64,000 drug related convictions in France. 40,000 were for use, not dealing. While just over 3,000 of those convicted actually served a prison sentence, even the more conservative aspects of French society have had enough.

Like Germany recently, where the head of the country’s largest police union came out last week for decriminalization, the French police do not want to continue a charade that results in more paperwork for them, rather than a real shift in policy with concrete results. And now, neither do its politicians.

don’t expect this current diplomatic impass to hold for long, even if it gains enough traction to get passed into federal law.In an environment where political gridlock is the name of the game, however, it is very clear that cannabis is just one more issue dropped into a toxic mix that also includes topics like “what’s up in the EU.” Not to mention the nascent separatist and populist sentiments of neighbours like Spain and Germany. Countries, ironically, also far ahead of France on the cannabis front.

The hope of French activists on the ground is that cannabis is actually caught on the right side of history now. Even if, finally, it is changing the law to decriminalize the drug and only penalize patients (and others) with a ticket.

That too, is unlikely to succeed, as many such experiments elsewhere have failed before. That said, it is clearly a step in the right direction and an inevitable one at that.

Caught in the Middle

The great irony of this of course, is what is happening as France becomes an unwilling partner in the cross-border cannabis ménage-a-trois now afoot thanks to changing medical cannabis laws elsewhere in the EU. Namely, cannabis may remain off the reform agenda to parliamentarians and out of reach to the average French patient. That said, cross-continental transport of the drug will inevitably create a situation where a significant amount of cannabis products consumed by medical users elsewhere in the EU is trucked and or trained across France while out of reach to the locals.

Portugal and Spain are shaping up to be low-cost producers to the West. On the East, Germany, Switzerland and increasing numbers of Eastern European countries are looking for cheap product. That means there is going to be a great deal of medical grade cannabis crossing the continent by way of French territory. There is already a trickle. It is about to become a flood. What happens to reform in a country clearly caught in the middle?

As a result, don’t expect this current diplomatic impass to hold for long, even if it gains enough traction to get passed into federal law.

French cannabis policy is far from a la mode. Even to its own citizens. And on this issue, for sure, absolutely old fashioned in the most un-French way possible.

german flag

Head of German Police Union Calls for Official Decriminalization of Cannabis

By Marguerite Arnold, Marguerite Arnold
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german flag

Facing the same conundrum as police everywhere after the start of a medical market only this time with federal authorization, the head of the German police union has called for recreational use of cannabis to also be decriminalized.

On the first Monday of February, the head of the BDK – the Association of German Criminal Officers told The Bild (sort of like the New York Post but a national “tabloid” here) that his group, the largest organized union of German police officers, favoured a change in German cannabis laws. Andre Schulz argued that the current laws stigmatized those charged with minor amounts and created opportunities for “criminal careers to start.”

“The prohibition of cannabis has historically been seen as arbitrary and has not yet been implemented in an intelligent and effective manner,” says Schulz. “My prediction is that cannabis will not be banned for long in Germany.”

Why this sudden pronouncement? It is actually not all that sudden and has been long in the offing. One of the largest contingents at both the ICBC and the IACM last year (the biggest cannabis-focussed business and medical conferences in Germany) were police officers from California and Deutschland. And all were singing the same tune.

André Schulz
André Schulz, chairman of the BDK

However beyond a realistic assessment of changing political reality, there are actually several other concrete reasons for not only the statement but the timing of it. In a country where patients can now pick up bud cannabis from the local apotheke (which is that easy for some, although it is still hard for most), the police have the unappetizing prospect of potentially arresting patients. On top of that, the idea of someone being arrested for CBD flower (rather than THC) gives the German polizei plenty of pause. Not to mention that they face this possibility at a time when many of them potentially could be patients themselves (or their families). The idea of arresting an activist in this situation is also one the police do not relish. Legalization rallies here get formal police protection when they march. Ask the average beat cop what they think about cannabis legalization and they tend to roll their eyes.

Then there is this: In stark contrast to the wars over prescribing medical cannabis at a state level in California in the late 90’s, here in Germany, there is a cultural commitment to the concept of sick people having a moral and civil right to obtain the medication they require. The idea of the police arresting them in the process of obtaining the same or because they might be recreational users, is as antithetic to core German sensibilities as the concept of Donald Trump as U.S. President. So is the idea of branding someone a “criminal” if not “drug user” for possession of a drug that is now used as medicine in Germany.

As has been rumoured for some time now, one of the few things that all political parties in Berlin can agree on is a change on the current cannabis laws.As a result, the very idea of both arresting the sick or labelling someone for the rest of their life with a police record for a drug “crime” that nobody considers as such anymore, causes a shock to the system. In many ways, German culture is far more conservative than the U.S. On another, there is a deeply humanistic, liberal strain to German life that also allows nudity, alternative healthcare and lifestyles to flourish (and not just all in Berlin). The current situation over cannabis, in other words, is becoming a political and legal embarrassment even to the beat officers who have to implement such laws.

And then of course there is this: One of the country’s top judges, Andreas Müller, a man well-known to the senior level of BDK, has recently written a book about the horrible situation that faces his own brother because of drug laws in Germany called “Kiffen und Kriminalität.”

Cannabis also falls into this crevice of cultural questioning if not the national zeitgeist of the moment, in multiple ways. It is, beyond the stigma, a natural medicine that is now federally recognized as such and one that the statutory health insurers (public healthcare) is required to cover. No matter that only 64% of submitted rezepts have been formally approved 11 months into Germany’s foray into this world. There are doctors writing them. And there are insurers picking up the tab.

It also means that there are at least 10,000 legal medical cannabis patients that der polizei have no wish to bother. And 10,000 German patients, who look the same as anyone else, are already too many legal users for current laws to stay in place.

Decriminalization, Cultivation & Changing Culture

There are some who say that Europe is “backwards” if not slower than the United States. Certainly those who experience German culture as Auslanders are struck by the procedural requirements of everyday life. Things do move slower here.

However when things do move, they are determinative shifts. Right now, it is impossible to live in the country and not be aware that Kiffen – a slang term for pot auf Deutsch – is legalizing in the U.S., Canada, the rest of Europe and of course other places. Further, Germans with their distrust of bureaucracy and authority and certainly currently rebellious mood, are looking to a way forward for the country in a sea of uncertainty both locally and regionally not to mention globally on any issue, no matter how “symbolic.”

As has been rumoured for some time now, one of the few things that all political parties in Berlin can agree on is a change on the current cannabis laws. The idea of decriminalization, now suggested by one of the country’s top cops, is a natural solution to political deadlock, if not a changing society.

The idea that other countries are also moving on this topic, from the now Brexiting UK to France next door, not to mention all the cultivation focused reform in many European countries, seems to indicate that decriminalization and even recreational reform are coming and now officially on the schedule, and not just to Germany but the entire continent.