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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

Statistics on use and offences



The following is from a 1999 document entitled Drugs and Drug Addictions: Indicators and Trends prepared by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions, which synthesized available data and analyzed drugs and drug addiction in France.[1][42]

The current trends observed in that report were as follows:

··        a strong decrease in overdose-related deaths (554 in 1994, 143 in 1998) and AIDS deaths associated with injection drug use (1,037 in 1994, 267 in 1997);

··        an important drop in heroin use since 1996 possibly attributable to an increase in use of substitution treatments;

··        normalization of the use of cannabis as its use is becoming more and more commonplace particularly amongst young people;

··        cultivating cannabis is a developing phenomenon;

··        synthetic drugs have become much more widely available although these drugs still represent a very small percentage of drug consumption;

··        cocaine use is increasing; and

··        multiple drug use including licit substances such as alcohol, is an emerging phenomenon especially among youth–54% of young people in care in rehabilitation units are users of at least two products.


Surveys conducted in 1995 amongst a representative cross-section of French adults revealed that almost 25% of 18- to 44-year-olds declared having experimented with cannabis and 7.7% stated that they used it on an occasional or regular basis. Surveys conducted amongst conscripts in army selection centres in 1996 also showed that a large percentage (40%) of young men 18-23 years old had experimented with cannabis and 14.5% had used it during the past month.[2][43] Whereas adolescents are concerned, it is estimated that in the second half of the 1990s more than one-third of all 15- to 19-year-olds had experimented with drugs, mostly cannabis. Surveys also showed an important increase in the frequency of use of cannabis as "the share of young people who had used cannabis at least ten times during the year increased by over one-half from 1993 to 1997."[3][44] It was further found that boys are more likely than girls to use illicit substances and at much higher risk of repeated use. A 1998 survey indicated that 33% of the boys declared that they had experimented with cannabis, compared to 23% of the girls.[4][45] The 2002 report of the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions also notes an increase in the number of new health and social cases involving cannabis use: approximately 15 per cent of cases involved cannabis use. Those persons were generally younger than those involved in opiate use, more of them were entering the system for the first time and more had been referred by the courts.[5][46]

During the second half of the 1990s, the number of "problem" opiate users (drug use that may result in treatment in the health and social system and/or contact with law enforcement agencies) was estimated between 142,000 and 176,000.[6][47]



The report from the French Monitoring Centre indicates that the number of arrests for drug-related offences increased from 45,206 to 85,507 over the period 1993‑1998. The most important increase was in the number of individuals arrested for cannabis use (30,344 in 1993 compared to 72,281 in 1998) whereas the number of arrests for heroin use had actually decreased (14,959 in 1993, 7,469 in 1998, following a peak at 17,356 in 1995). Cannabis, in fact, accounted for 85% of drug-related arrests in France in 1998 compared to 63% in 1993. However, it must be noted that a little less than half of the individuals arrested for using drugs (45%) were retained for questioning and the vast majority of persons (97.2%) held for questioning were freed in 1997.[7][48]

Studies in France have emphasized that the statistics on arrests of drug users should be used with caution as it is difficult to ascertain how much of noted changes reflect variations in the population of drug users and how much of these changes are linked to modifications of police and gendarmerie services. For example, data on arrests for use between 1993 and 1998 indicated a significant growth of 30% in use-related arrests in 1997 and 9% in 1998.[8][49] Many factors may explain such an increase including changes in the behaviour of police and gendarmerie services, the reorganization of police departments, and the normalization of cannabis use. One explanation suggests that a circular letter on court-ordered treatment issued in 1995 by the Ministry of Justice has led public prosecutors to instruct the police and gendarmerie to "systematically report users." [9][50] It may be assumed that such instructions may have led to the notable increase in drug use-related arrests recorded in 1997.

With respect to trafficking, the number of arrests decreased between 1996 and 1998 from 8,412 to 5,541. Slightly more than half of dealers (52%) arrested in 1998 were trafficking cannabis, 24% were involved in dealing heroin, and 17% trafficked cocaine and crack. The main development was observed in the number of arrests of heroin traffickers which decreased from 3,395 in 1993 to 1,356 in 1998. Arrests for trafficking cocaine increased from 383 to 972 during the same period whereas arrest related to cannabis trafficking increased slightly from 2,456 to 2,920. [10][51]

The total number of convictions for drug use as the main offence went from 7,434 in 1992 to 6,530 in 1997, with a low of 4,670 convictions in 1995. In 1997, 3,368 convictions were for use only. Of these, 14% were sentenced to imprisonment with an average length of 2.4 months, 35% received a deferred sentence (often associated with probation and court-ordered treatment), 33% were fined, 7% were given an alternative sentence, and 6% were sentenced to an educational measure. The number of convictions for use and transporting increased from 761 in 1991 (6.6% of convictions) to 3,478 in 1997 (22.2%). Convictions for use and trafficking also increased from 475 in 1991 to 1,501 in 1997 (4.1% compared to 9.6% of convictions related to drug offences). In 21% of the convictions for use and other drug-related offences, a prison sentence was given out. In 37% of cases involving drug use and trafficking and 21% of drug use and transporting, individuals received a mixed sentence (prison time and deferred sentence). The average length of imprisonment was 16.8 months in 1997.[11][52]

In 1998, the number of cannabis seizures was 40,115, up from 27,320 seizures in 1996. However, the quantities seized were smaller in 1998 than in 1996 (55,698 kg compared to 66,861 kg).



In 1995, public funds devoted to implementing the French drug policy was 4.7 billion Francs. Out of the total expenses (specific budget and interdepartmental credits), approximately 1536.56 million Francs were spent on Justice, 1260.54 million F on police services, 469.55 million F on the gendarmerie, and 450.25 million F on customs expenses. The amount spent on enforcement was considerably higher than that spent on health (656.3 million F) and social affairs (28.58 million F).

More recent figures on interministerial credits indicated that for 1998, the expenditures of health and social affairs were set at 47.9 million F , those of Justice at 18.9 million F, the Ministry of the Interior (police) at 18.5 million F and Defence (gendarmerie) at 10.7 million F.



[1][42]  Observatoire français des drogues et des toxicomanies, Drogues et toxicomanies : indicateurs et tendances, 1999 Edition. Available online at: http://www.drogues.gouv.fr/fr/index.html.

[2][43]  OFDT, 1999, pages 62 and 63.

[3][44]  Ibid., page 83.

[4][45]  Ibid., page 82‑84.

[5][46]  OFDT, 2002, page 96.

[6][47]  OFDT, 1999, page 64.

[7][48]  Ibid., page 112 and 113. It should be noted that release refers to many situations and does not imply that prosecution does not go forward. Some may subsequently be convicted upon being summoned to court.

[8][49]  Ibid., page 112.

[9][50]  Ibid., page 114.

[10][51]  Ibid., page 164 and 165.

[11][52]  OFDT, 1999, page 121‑123.

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