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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 3 - Public Policy Options

Chapter 20 - Public Policy In Other Countries - France

Key reports


The Pelletier Report

The first assessment of the Law of 1970 and of the French policies with respect to drugs and drug addiction was completed in 1978 by a commission presided by Monique Pelletier, who studied the issue at the request of French President Giscard d’Estaing.[1][26]

The Pelletier report stated that the difficulties encountered in the implementation of the Law of 1970 were the result of inequalities in handling drug users due in part to the fact that the law did not include an intermediate category between a drug user and a trafficker. The report also attributed the implementation problems to the difficulties encountered in getting legal and health authorities to work together.[2][27] Doctors were particularly sceptical about the principle of court-ordered treatment and of forcing an individual into treatment. The Pelletier Commission noted as well that legal sanctions were used more often than treatment alternatives. Members of the Pelletier Commission believed that the Law of 1970 deserved a second chance. They suggested that it could benefit from the institution of clear implementation guidelines (circular letters) and the establishment of structural and financial resources to ensure the successful implementation of therapeutic alternatives, both at the judicial and medical level. The report proposed, among other suggestions, that drug users should be differentiated according to the type of illicit substance they use.[3][28]

Officially today, the law still does not distinguish between illicit substances but in practice many circular letters over the past 20 years have invited prosecutors and judges to differentiate between cannabis use and use of other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. For example, a circular letter (7 May 1978) suggested that cannabis users should not be considered "true" drug addicts, that detoxification treatment may not be the appropriate measure for this type of user, and that they should receive a simple warning. It also invited judges to encourage drug users to contact a drug addiction centre and to only use court-ordered treatment for repeat offenders. This circular letter has been perceived by many as a decriminalization of cannabis use. However, it must be noted that circular letters express the intentions of the Ministry of Justice but can be enforced diversely by prosecutors.[4][29]

The 1978 circular letter was a point of reference until 12 May 1987 at which time a Justice-Health circular repealed preceding letters and introduced a new distinction for drug use based on the frequency of use.


[Translation] For all cases involving drug use, a report had to be sent to the prosecution and dealt with by a specialized judge. "Occasional" users, who were well integrated into society were to be given a simple warning. The letter recommended court-ordered treatment or prosecution for "habitual" users. Illegal foreign users were to be immediately tried and banned from the French territory. Lastly, user-dealers or delinquent users were to be prosecuted as a head dealer or for harming others or goods. This letter also marked a will to revive court-ordered treatment and clarified how it should be enforced.  [5][30]


This circular letter was a turning point towards more repressive measures for habitual users and user-dealers[6][31] and the basis of the orientation of legal policy between 1990 and 1995, which focused on reviving court-ordered treatment and distinguishing between occasional users, habitual users, and user-dealers.[7][32]


The Trautmann Report

The second report was commissioned in 1989 from Catherine Trautmann who, at the time, was the president of the Interministerial Mission for the Fight against Drugs and Drug Addiction. The Trautmann report, submitted in 1990, included a review of available data on drug use and drug addiction, the main difficulties in the fight against drugs, and the drug policy in France from 1978 to 1988.[8][33]

The report did not recommend any changes to the Law of 1970. Rather, it highlighted the need for more effective actions against drug trafficking, with a particular focus on developing better cooperation between the three main national services involved in the fight against drug trafficking: the police, the gendarmerie, and customs – each of which have a different jurisdiction (urban areas for the police, rural areas for the gendarmerie, borders for customs). It suggested that the policing of French outer borders should be reinforced. The report further proposed that more should be done to deal with the demand side of the drug issue by developing strategies aimed at preventing drug use and drug addiction, particularly among young people. Suggestions related to the care of drug addicts and their integration and reintegration into the community revolved around three main axes: improving health and social services; taking into consideration problems associated with AIDS; and establishing a solid financial management system to support specialized units providing services to drug addicts.

Finally, with respect to the issue of decriminalization or legalization of drugs, in particular cannabis, the Trautmann report was clearly against such propositions. The report stated that the issue is one of preventing drug use and caring for drug addicts, and that decriminalization of cannabis would trivialize drug use and promote earlier and more frequent use of hard drugs.[9][34]


The Henrion Report

The Henrion Commission produced in 1995 a third report on the drug situation in France.[10][35] It is interesting to note that the Commission comes to similar conclusions as the two previous reports with respect to the lack of coordination and cooperation between judicial and health authorities and the difficulties in implementing a policy based on both repressive and public health measures. The Commission made note of the limited use of court-ordered treatment and the increasing number of arrests for simple drug use. It recommended first and foremost the development of an evaluation policy to assess the drug situation in France and suggested that French drug policy should give priority to preventing drug use. As well, the report criticized the lack of consistency in law enforcement and inequalities in handling drug users throughout France and recommended that the existing agencies and structures involved in the repression of drug trafficking be given the necessary financial and human resources to successfully achieve their mandate.

However, the Henrion Commission distinguished itself in proposing a reform of the Law of 1970. Members of the Commission debated the issue of decriminalizing cannabis, expressing diverging opinions on the issue. A minority of members (8 out of 17) opposed the idea of decriminalizing the use of cannabis mainly because they thought it would be difficult to maintain a moral interdiction without a legal prohibition. However, a small majority of members (9 out of 17) were in favour of decriminalizing the use of cannabis and possession of small quantities of such substance. They suggested proceeding gradually without effecting any changes to the existing measures sanctioning the supply of cannabis in the hope of better controlling and assessing the consequences of decriminalizing drug use. They also recommended that decriminalization should be accompanied by the enactment of regulations limiting use of cannabis to certain locations and forbidding its use by young people under the age of 16. Regulations would also repress being intoxicated in public places, create an offence of driving under the influence of cannabis, and would prohibit the use of cannabis by certain professionals for safety reasons (i.e., air traffic controllers; pilots, drivers of public transit, etc.). All these measures had to be accompanied by a prevention campaign focusing on the potential negative consequences of using cannabis, an ongoing evaluation not only of cannabis use but of opiates, cocaine and crack as well, and ongoing neurobiological research on the effects of cannabis use. Finally, the offence of incitement to drug use was to be maintained and applied.[11][36]

The Commission suggested that, if such a reform was applied and there was no deterioration of the situation within two years, the government should then consider a regulation of the commerce of cannabis under the strict control of the state. It should be noted, however, that some members of the Commission thought that such a regulation should be implemented concurrently with the decriminalization of cannabis and that there should not be any trial period.[12][37] These recommendations have yet to be implemented.

The Henrion Commission also recommended the adoption of a harm reduction policy that would not limit itself to minimizing the health risks related to drug use, but would be grounded in a public health perspective that would rigorously crack down on specific problem behaviours such as discarding needles in a public place.[13][38]


Expert reports

In Chapters 5, 6 and 7, we have more fully discussed the scientific data from three recent expert reports, the Roques report on the dangerousness of drugs (1995),[14][39] the Parquet and Reynaud report on addictive practices (1997)[15][40] and the INSERM expert report on cannabis (2001).[16][41] Those three reports, which supplement each other and are largely consistent in their main conclusions, constitute one of the most rigorous international scientific information bases, and certainly the least ideological, that we consulted. As they were not associated with a commission established to study the public policy aspects of the issue, the three commissions were thus likely in a slightly better position to escape the potential contamination of teleological interpretations of research data.


[1][26]  M. Pelletier, Rapport de la mission d’étude sur l’ensemble des problèmes de la drogue, Paris: La Documentation française, 1978.

[2][27]  Centre d’aide et d’accueil en toxicomanie (CAAT), La mise en application de la loi. See: http://caat.multimania.com/info/app_loi.htm.

[3][28]  OFDT, 1999, page 25.

[4][29]  Ibid.

[5][30]  Ibid., page 26.

[6][31]  CAAT, 2001, page 3.

[7][32]  OFDT, 1999, pages 26‑27.

[8][33]  C. Trautmann, Lutte contre la toxicomanie et le trafic de stupéfiants. Report to the Prime Minister, Paris: La Documentation française, 1990.

[9][34]  Ibid., Annexe 10, pages 252 and 253.

[10][35]  R. Henrion, Rapport de la Commission de réflexion sur la drogue et la toxicomanie. Report to the Minister of Social Affairs, Health and Cities, Paris: La Documentation française, 1995.

[11][36]  Ibid., pages 82‑83.

[12][37]  Ibid., page 83.

[13][38]  Ibid., page 89.

[14][39]  B. Roques, La dangerosité des drogues. Paris: Odile Jacob, 1995.

[15][40]  Reynaud, M. et al., (1999) Les pratiques addictives. Usage, usage nocif et dépendance aux substances psychoactives. Paris : Secrétariat d’État à la Santé et aux Affaires sociales.

[16][41]  INSERM, Cannabis : Quels effets sur le comportement et la santé? Paris: author, 2001.

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