In France, the question of racism has never been a central tenet in the discourse of cannabis law reform advocates. The lack of connection and engagement between these two fields is increasingly at odds with the wider racial tensions within French society, but it may explain why there has been such a delay in the democratisation of drug policies.
That is why the proposal of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (CESE) to establish a temporary commission on cannabis must target and address the underlying chronic racism in the policing of cannabis in France.
Today, the issue of race features prominently and obsessively across debates in French society, whether it is about religion, security, education, colonial memory and of course immigration. The 2022 presidential campaign saw all the right-wing parties unite with the National Rally (RN) and Reconquête, political projects which incessantly stoking debates against the immigration of African and North African people into France. Marine Le Pen, the RN candidate, won 42% of the vote in the second round against incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, simultaneously gaining 89 parliamentary seats.
Drug trafficking has been a core message for RN, alongside a concern for growing political Islam. This discourse, deemed radical just a decade ago, is now part of the mainstream public debate, continuously disseminated on news channels despite several complaints for incitement of racial hatred.
Parallel to this political current, we can see that the winds of cannabis reform, felt across the world, have not blown past France. The United States, Latin America, Canada are increasingly experimenting with models of cannabis regulation. In Western Europe, there is progress within decriminalisation, a progressive step away from the prohibitionist drug war model. Yet in France, the 1970 law which punishes simple possession with incarceration remains in place, a seemingly insurmountable roadblock for reform. And while the incarceration of cannabis consumers remains thankfully rare, police powers have seen an exponential growth, with escalating violence to fight the drug war, which particularly manifests itself as a targeting of minorities.
It is therefore tempting to examine both phenomena together and draw the conclusion that the lack of human rights and racial discrimination discourse by French drug policy advocates reformists is weakening the scope of possible drug policy reform.