For Americans, European—especially French—politics are generally a bit strange. Of course, the same could be said in reverse.
Regardless, France, one of the largest and most influential countries in Europe, is headed back to the polls on April 24 to elect a new president. Whomever wins will certainly have an impact on cannabis reform in both France, and beyond that, the EU. However, given the candidates’ track record on the issue so far, whoever wins will not take bold steps forward on the issue.
At best, it will be more of the status quo. At worst, it could herald a new Drug War.
The rivals for the top spot are the sitting president, Emmanuel Macron, a former banker and political centrist who has played it safe on this issue since he was first elected in 2017 and Marine Le Pen, a female version of Donald Trump if there ever was one, starting with being the national president of the far-right National Front (which changed its name to the National Rally) from 2011-2021.
The two went head-to-head in the first round of the French election for president and emerged as the two politicians with the highest votes in April.
How will the situation change after the second runoff, in a country with some of the harshest laws against cannabis in Europe still on the books, but now in its second year of a national medical trial?
Macron and Cannabis
Rather ironically, if not tragically, as the child of both a physician and a professor of neurology, Macron has largely been absent on the discussion of cannabis reform in France. However, more telling is his distinguished career at the nosebleed level of French politics ever since he entered as Deputy Secretary-General of the Elysée, a senior role on then-President Francois Hollande’s staff.
He generally sits on the cutting edge of “done and dusted” when it comes to cannabis reform—and that has shown up in the slow pace of change he has advocated so far, starting with the implementation of the national medical trial which kicked off in 2021 (delayed for a full year, in part thanks to political intransigence as much as COVID).
He has, however, specifically ruled out legalizing the recreational use of cannabis while he is in office.
Marine Le Pen and Cannabis
As most right-wingers are, Le Pen is vehemently opposed to the legalization of cannabis. According to her, this route is “obviously not the solution.” She has also said things like “those who believe that by legalizing cannabis, dealers will become melon producers… are at best naive, at worst worrying.” She obviously does not understand the business, nor has she made any attempt to. To her, legalization, like immigration, is dangerous to the identity and soul of the French people.
If she is elected, expect another Drug War. She has already called for the same.
Why is France So Important in European Cannabis Reform?
France sits in an interesting place when it comes to the legalization discussion. The country may be the largest hemp producer in Europe, but it has been decidedly late to the party when it comes to even accepting the medical efficacy of cannabis. This is despite the fact that cannabis is one of the most popular “illegal drugs” in the country—and has been for a long time. Indeed, during Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, French troops resorted to the use of hash because alcohol was not widely available, and ignored the national ban implemented in October 1800.
During the mid-1800s, hash became a popular drug for the cafe and intellectual set and has never really gone out of style, despite its modern criminalization in 1970. The country also banned the use of cannabis for medical purposes specifically in 1953.
As of late 2018, a national poll found that nine out of 10 French people were in favor of legalizing medical use, and 51% of the population supported recreational reform.
What is Likely to Happen with French Cannabis
While it is impossible to accurately predict the outcome of the election, according to the most recent data, Macron looks likely to win a second term and by a fairly comfortable margin. Le Pen’s strident background, anti-EU record, as well as the revelation that she is being accused of embezzlement of about $700,000 by the EU anti-fraud office, is not helping matters.
If Macron, as expected, does win a second term, however, do not expect him (or France) to play a leading role in the legalization debate in Europe at least by positive steps taken by national leaders. This is a shame. However, given the movement on reform in Europe, not to mention the regional impact of the KanaVape case which ended up establishing the legality of cross border trade of CBD, this does not mean France will end up sitting this one out entirely.
Macron usually is a political animal in all that he does. And the rising tide of voices pushing for cannabis reform, both in France and beyond that, the EU, will not be something he will actively fight. He may not lead the calls for either greater medical reform, much less recreational cannabis legalization, but he will certainly follow the herd.