As the 2022 French presidential elections get closer, Emmanuel Macron is trying to take centre stage to dictate the themes he hopes will be the focus of the next election campaign. It is no secret that he wants to face Marine Le Pen in the second round. It is therefore not surprising that he is pushing issues such as security, a theme particularly likely to attract the votes of the elderly, the part of the population most likely to go to the polling stations. Predictably, the French President’s security rhetoric includes an anti-drug argument overwhelmingly focused on cannabis.
The French government and the fight against cannabis
A few months ago, the parliament launched a public consultation to find out the opinion of the French on recreational cannabis. More than 80% of respondents were in favour of legalising the plant. However, Emmanuel Macron decided to ignore these opinions and launch an offensive against cannabis. In a recent interview, he put forward a series of guidelines for security-related action, with threats to security being closely linked to drug trafficking.
For his part, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, has already spoken out against cannabis on numerous occasions. On 25 April, he went so far as to state that ‘cannabis has become a hard drug’ and announced the launch of an awareness campaign for the summer.
Macron at war with cannabis traffickers
In his interview, Emmanuel Macron called for ‘no respite for drug traffickers’ in order to ‘reduce delinquency’. These diatribes come in a particularly tense context, since on April 17th, the appeal judgement in the case of the police officers burnt in Viry-Châtillon in 2016 was handed down. As a reminder, two police cars in charge of monitoring a “deal point” were attacked with molotov cocktails, seriously injuring two police officers. Relying in part on the trauma caused by these events, Emmanuel Macron announced that ‘eradicating [trafficking] by all means has become the mother of all battles, since drugs are the lifeblood of certain separatist networks but also of everyday crime, including in small towns that have been spared until now. Not giving drug traffickers any respite means reducing delinquency everywhere.’
But Macron did not confine himself to declarations of intent and proposed concrete measures, stating that the government was moving into ‘higher gear’ to ‘harass traffickers and dealers’. ‘Of the 4,000 drug dealing points recently identified, more than 1,000 raids have been carried out in recent weeks. And every day we close down a drug dealing point. Go and see in the neighbourhoods how this changes life!’ he added enthusiastically.
Eager to give maximum visibility to this anti-drug offensive that the government has been conducting for months now, the Twitter accounts of the various French police prefectures are full of images showing their seizures, on the model of those often shown by the Central American police. But France is not Colombia, and the seizures, which are rarely impressive, often provoke mockery on social networks. This is the case of the tweet below in which the Loire-Atlantique police boast of ‘maintaining pressure against trafficking’ when they have only seized plastic bags and lighters.
Macron also attacks cannabis consumers
Macron has not restricted his attack to the traffickers but also heavily criticised the consumers. He declared that ‘France has become a country of drug use and therefore we must break this taboo, launch a major national debate on drug use and its deleterious effects’, and that ‘those who take drugs – and this concerns all social categories – must understand that not only do they put their health at risk, but that they also feed the greatest source of trafficking. You roll a joint in your living room and in the end you feed the most important source of insecurity.’ In concrete terms, this action has resulted in ‘70,000 fines […] since September’. According to him, ‘this means something clear: if you are caught as a consumer, you know that you will have to pay and that you will not escape. It changes the balance of power.’
Emmanuel Macron justifies this offensive against consumers: ‘to say that hashish is innocent is more than a lie […] On the cognitive level, the effects are disastrous. How many young people, because they start smoking at secondary school, leave the school system completely and ruin their chances? And I am not even talking about the effects of slipping into harder drugs.’ This old argument about cannabis being a gateway to harder drugs has been criticised for years, even by the mainstream media, and everyone knows it is wrong. Hence the question: is the French president motivated by health or electoral concerns?
On the ground, this fight against cannabis users is not always as impressive as the government would like. For example, this tweet from the Deux-Sèvres police prefecture which announced the mobilisation of 20 soldiers and a dog team to control 130 people. In the end, only one was in possession of cannabis.