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France Council Proposes Cannabis Legalization To Boost Public Health

By Johnny Green

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France is one of the most popular places for cannabis consumption on the entire planet, which may shock some people given the fact that France’s public cannabis policies are not as favorable as policies in many other countries, including countries in Europe. However, France has one of the highest cannabis consumption rates on earth. Per data from 2020, 46% of adults in France have tried cannabis at least once, with 11% consuming cannabis annually. Cannabis remains illegal in France with very few exceptions, and the consumption of unregulated cannabis products is a public health concern according to the nation’s Economic, Social and Environmental Council. That public health concern is why they are now recommending that France legalize cannabis for adult use.

The Economic, Social and Environmental Council is chaired by Jean-François Naton, CGT confederal adviser, and its recommendation to pass an adult-use legalization measure comes after a year of the entity conducting research. The research reportedly involved extensive interviews, including in the southern region of France where unregulated cannabis activity seems to be particularly popular. The Council’s recommendation is not legally binding, however, it does make a very compelling argument for legalization, and the theme of the argument seems to be part of a growing trend on the continent.

Ending Prohibition For Public Health Reasons

A very interesting public policy evolution is underway on the European continent, whether many people realize it or not. For several decades prohibition was ‘justified’ by its supporters via arguments that ‘cannabis use was bad for public health.’ The whole reefer madness movement that yielded cannabis prohibition was largely predicated on claims that ‘cannabis use harmed mental health, made people lazy, and caused people to exhibit extreme behavior and poor decision-making.’

Of course, all of those reefer madness talking points have since proven to be false and/or overblown, and according to the arguments currently being made by a growing number of public health leaders in Europe, it’s cannabis prohibition that is the true danger to public health for various reasons. For example, one of the main arguments being made by the Council in France is that a regulated industry would help prevent sales to minors since part of the Council’s proposal is to prohibit such sales, in addition to banning cannabis advertising.

Some cannabis opponents have scoffed at the claim that a regulated industry would reduce youth consumption rates, with those same opponents often trying to simultaneously make the claim that legalization would create a doomsday scenario for youth consumption. Unfortunately for those opponents, there is now data from legal jurisdictions that demonstrates what actually happens to youth consumption in a regulated system.

Per government data from the Oregon Health Authority (USA), not only was there no spike in youth consumption following the launch of legal adult-use sales and outright possession legalization in 2015; youth consumption rates actually went down from 2012 to 2018 in Oregon. A broader study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, which involved consumption survey data from over 800,000 respondents in U.S. states where cannabis sales were permitted, also found no spike in youth cannabis usage rates. A study in 2021 conducted by researchers in Canada found ‘no significant differences’ in cannabis consumption rates before and after cannabis legalization in Canada. As of May 2022, data out of Uruguay also demonstrated no sustained changes in youth consumption rates post-legalization.

‘The German Model’

Days ago a report surfaced regarding the ongoing legalization effort in Germany, with possible movement occurring in the next two months. According to the report, Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach believes that a formal introduction of an adult-use legalization measure will happen ‘in the first quarter of 2023’ and that he ‘has no reason to doubt this schedule.’ If that timeline proves to be accurate, 2023 could be a very big year for cannabis reform in Europe.

At the heart of the Health Minister’s plan for legalization in Germany is a ‘legalization to improve public health’ strategy. Much like what is being recommended in France, the Minister is making the case that a regulated cannabis industry is better for overall public health compared to cannabis prohibition. That argument could prove to be effective at both winning the approval of the public as well as the approval of the European Union. It’s worth noting that if the European Union gives its approval to Germany, that is not to say that the European Union is pro-legalization per se, but rather, that the European Union is not going to stand in the way of legalization proceeding in Germany.

The reasoning behind the EU refraining from stepping in would be that while treaty provisions limit adult-use cannabis commerce, other provisions also permit individual nations to pursue public health strategies that make sense for the particular nation. By framing legalization as a public health matter versus an economic one, as Germany is currently doing, it could put countries on a stronger legal foundation if/when they pursue legalization. Germany could quite possibly be building the blueprint for modern national adult-use legalization in Europe, and France is one of the many countries that could benefit from copying such a model.

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