In the early 1960s, France joined most of its NATO sister-states in officially legislating its U.S.-approved opinion that cannabis was a dangerous drug and should be treated as such. As though in reactionary foresight of the countercultural typhoon that would sweep over France as the decade continued, producing one of the most revolutionary societies on Earth, the French adopted the U.N.’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. For nearly 55 years, the sale, possession and transport of cannabis has been illegal in France, but by 2007, there were as many as 4 million cannabis smokers in the country. This year, cannabis use in France had become so prevalent that a massive pro-cannabis rally was held in the streets of Paris in May.
Much like the United States, France has had a thriving, if underground cannabis culture for half a century, and that culture is finally starting to bubble up to the surface. In 2013, cannabis-based medicines were approved by the French government with Decree n° 2013-473, an order which opened the door for non-industrial use of cannabis after decades of outlaw status. While the decree itself merely allows for medical cannabis under very narrow parameters, it also opens the door for the kind of research that would allow for more liberal cannabis laws like those in the Netherlands or some of the United States. But in the meantime, France, like much of the “first world” in 2015, has to contend with diametrically opposed positions to cannabis within its own borders in order to capitalize on the kinds of benefits countries like Uruguay and states like Colorado have seen.
In 2012, authorities seized 54.4 tons of cannabis in France, of which nearly 95% came from Morocco, which points out one of France’s fundamental speedbumps on the road to legalization. Cannabis is seen by many in France as bringing money into the hands of gangsters and immigrants, especially those from North Africa who have had a traditionally tough time gaining respect in French society. “Racism, anti-semitism, hatred of Muslims, hatred of foreigners and homophobia are all rising in an unbearable way in our country,” France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls said in April, but association of drugs and crime with “otherness” is no newer a phenomenon to France than it is in the U.S. And just as in the U.S., that association is often both misinformed and misplaced. According to a 2014 Le Monde article entitled “L'émergence d'un cannabis made in France,” French smokers actually prefer their homegrown product to the traditionally available Moroccan hash.
In 2015, Le Monde’s weekly magazine followed up on the trend, claiming that between 80,000 and 250,000 French citizens were cultivating cannabis for their own personal use in the longform article “Les Jardins Secret du Cannabis.” The article also claims that Europe, not North Africa, the Middle East or Vietnam—the traditionally reliable sources for cannabis in France—will be a major producer in the future, with France’s quarter-million potential growers leading the way and the traditionally rebellious Languedoc region—where heresy of all kinds has been commonplace since the middle ages and 12% of residents are smokers—providing one of France’s most enthusiastic adepts to cannabis culture.
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Though cannabis use among young French people has generally been tacitly accepted by the authorities, a truly open cannabis culture may be on the verge of exploding into French society, and a 2007 Time magazine profile proves that this change has been bubbling near the surface for some time. "This," a young Frenchman told Time, referring to his lit joint, "is becoming almost as common as this," raising a glass of red wine. If the crowds who marched through Paris this May have anything to say about it, this de forma acceptance will become ironclad very soon.