The lottery of France's laws on smoking cannabis


For many years successive French governments have opposed the decriminalisation of cannabis, unlike many other countries. However, France did recently bring in on-the-spot police fines in a bid to simplify procedures and avoid lengthy and costly court cases for cannabis users. However, this new approach will not end the disparities and lack of coherence in the existing repressive policy, under which prosecution for using cannabis depends as much on who you are and where you live as on what you smoke. Michaël Hajdenberg reports.

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Emmanuel is a 20-year-old student. One evening some police officers see him rolling a joint in public and intervene. It is the first time this has happened to him, and he has 10 grammes of cannabis in his pockets which, he explains, is for personal use. What penalty might he face? Under French law and practice there are many different outcomes. And since October 16th an extra possibility has been added to the arsenal already available under the law: the 'transaction pénale', a fixed penalty under which the offender pays an on-the-spot fine.