Drogue : sortir du tout-répressif [reposted]

[Here is an editorial (my take at a Google translation) from Le Monde about the installment last week of a fixed fine of €200 for drug possession. Introduced in 2018 by the French Parliament, it is presented by the French government as a way to fight drug-trafficking (and its far reaching consequences in the (de)structuration of some suburbs) by turning consumers into de facto accomplices. Which I find counterproductive and irrational as prohibition never works and ultimately benefits criminals. Drug legalisation or at least drug decriminalisation, adopted in many other countries, would be much more beneficial. Disclaimer #1: I am not supporting the use of drugs, except tea of course. Disclaimer #2: I do not agree with the entirety of the editorial below.]

Five million French people say they have already smoked cannabis, a substance with 700,000 daily users. This figure, which has been steadily increasing makes France the leading country in Europe. By the age of 17, four in ten adolescents have already “smoked joints”. However, this use remains illegal: a 1970 law punishes the use of narcotics, including cannabis, with one year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros.

How can we get out of this spectacular paradox and this anomaly whereby a text enacting a firm sanction comes up against an implacable reality and most often goes unheeded? In real life, prison sentences are exceptional for users, with magistrates favoring “alternative measures to prosecution” such as “reminder of the law”.

An unenforceable law is a source of conflict and disorder. The government is therefore working pragmatically by generalizing the practice of fixed fines. The principle is simple: instead of opening legal proceedings, the police officers who witness the offense – which remains an offense – immediately impose a fine of 200 euros. The practice comes up against serious limits though: it presupposes that the culprit recognizes the offense, that he or she provides an identity document, is of legal age and pays the fine.

Theoretically applicable to all drugs but targeting in fact cannabis, this law is very far from constituting the utlimate policy combining prevention, care and repression that the country needs. But it is a first step towards a more realistic approach to a phenomenon that affects all territories but particularly strengthens the underground economy in some neighborhoods. While the police is rather welcoming a measure that will save them time and clarify the application of the Law, magistrates criticize the lack of individualization of the sanction. Associations fear that a sole police response will further weaken health aspects.

But, in an area conducive to unsuccessful political chin-ups, the main pitfall is linked with the inconsiderate language used by the Minister of the Interior to “sell” the reform. By presenting the fixed fines as a “technique which aims at killing drug trafficking and all consumption”, Gérald Darmanin turns it into a panacea, while it only aims at making the sanction effective and easing the burden on the police. Above all, by displaying the new procedure as a new step in the repression, it is, no doubt purposedly, committing a misunderstanding, in terms of a measure inducing in fact a moderate application of the penalties provided for by law.

While drug trafficking and consumption come under the dual treatment of health authorities and police, political discourse conveys an exclusively repressive approach. The Minister of the Interior should no longer be the only one to address the issue. Through modulated policies for the legalization of cannabis, other countries, such as Canada, Portugal or some US States, are obtaining more encouraging results than France. Only a policy combining public health and safety can allow progress in a terribly complex field. Does the absence of controversy at the time of the implementation of the “fixed fines” finally allow for a peaceful and constructive debate? We must wish for it.

Two days later came this [Google translated] editorial in Líbération by Vincent Delorme which is closer to my perspective:

Between controversy over the country’s “ensauvagement” and major police operations, Gérald Darmanin imposes his themes in this political re-entry, taking on the costume of France’s first cop without qualms . The line is clear, it is the sanction that prevails, a pledge of reparation for the victims and deterrence for the perpetrators. The debates on the role and place of the police institution in France, its relation to minorities, its relation to violence but also its missions and working conditions, are shelved. The generalization of the flat-rate fine for the use of narcotics, in force since September first, is part of this straight line, promising to repress consumers more effectively without questioning the merits of this policy and its effects on relations between the police and the population.

Indeed, more than any other, it is the repression of drugs, and mainly of cannabis, that leads to the abuses that we know. It explains the incessant checks on certain segments of the population and the concentration of means and police forces in the neighborhoods where trafficking takes place, this trafficking which rots the lives of the inhabitants and exacerbates the violence, but does not exist. only because the state decided to do so, by banning legal trade.

This repression feeds the policy of numbers and leads to a misuse of the mission of the police. The Police against Prohibition collective expresses it very well: “It is a crime which is solved as soon as it is observed, it is a 100% elucidation rate, and that is very precious for crime figures. 56% of the initiative of the cops, it is the repression of the use of drugs, to empty the pockets and to put in custody for the quarter of a gram of hash that one has in the back of the pocket .”

The figures speak for themselves. Between 2014 and 2015, 56% of offenses revealed by the action of the police, which represent the proactive part of police activity, were related to narcotics, of which 85% concerned simple use and 90% concerned cannabis. It is these offenses that clog the courts and feed prison overcrowding, since they concern nearly 20% of prisoners (International Observatory of Prisons). It should be noted that in convictions related to narcotics, trafficking occupies a marginal share, of the order of 2% (French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction).

Clearly, a disproportionate part of police activity consists in repressing behavior which does not harm others and whose occasional consumption presents limited health risks, in any case not greater than those emanating from the consumption of legal drugs. namely tobacco and alcohol. This law enforcement activity in turn generates disastrous side effects, in particular exacerbating tensions with some of the youth, for a non-existent result in terms of public health.

The new fixed fine of 200 euros will in no way solve these problems, worse, it risks aggravating them. It could lighten the judicial aspect of the drug repression by ending the prosecution when it is settled, but the fine must still be systematically paid. The first experiments are far from having demonstrated this. In terms of police work, however, we can predict the opposite effect. This measure, which makes it possible to punish users more simply, will encourage checks and penalties. It is hard to believe Gérald Darmanin when he declares that it will be applied “in the districts of Créteil as in the XVI arrondissement of Paris”, a sector of the capital where police activity is at the very least discreet. It is the inhabitants of the suburbs who will be the first target.

To put an end to this absurd war and its attendant tragedies and annoyances, there is a solution, legalization of cannabis. Done well, it would bring many benefits for users, police officers and the population as a whole. Beyond a better prevention policy and new economic and fiscal gains, legalization would also put an end to the unbearable human waste to which prohibition leads. It would finally rid the police of a repressive activity that has little to do with the protection of public order and the population.

Such legalization would not be synonymous with “intellectual cowardice”, as Gérald Darmanin thinks, but on the contrary would require showing great political courage. It is to be hoped that the parliamentary fact-finding mission “Regulation and impact of the various uses of cannabis” , which is being held at the end of 2020, will lead to concrete proposals in this direction and help to develop a debate undermined by postures. While most of its neighbors have already moved, by putting in place one form or another of decriminalization or tolerance, France can no longer be satisfied with such a retrograde posture, which has proven to be ineffective.

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