France Country Drug Report 2018

Drug laws and drug law offences

National drug laws

The use and possession of illicit drugs are criminal offences in France. The law itself does not distinguish between possession for personal use or for trafficking, or by type of substance. However, the prosecutor will opt for a charge relating to use or trafficking based on the quantity of the drug found and the context of the case. Based on the principle of expediency, the prosecutor may decide to take legal action against the offender, simply close the case, or propose other measures as an alternative to prosecution. An offender charged with personal use faces a maximum prison sentence of one year and a fine of up to EUR 3 750, although prosecution may be waived or a simplified procedure resulting in a fine of up to EUR 1 875 can be ordered in minor cases. The maximum sentence increases to five years and the fine increases to EUR 75 000 if the offender endangered users of transport or if the offence was committed by a public servant while on duty. As with many crimes, sentences may be doubled in the event of a subsequent offence within a five-year period.

A directive of 9 May 2008 defined a new ‘rapid and graduated’ policy. In simple cases, drug users may receive a caution, but this should usually be accompanied by a requirement to attend a compulsory drug awareness course, introduced in March 2007, for which a non-drug-dependent offender may have to pay up to EUR 450. Drug-dependent individuals would continue to receive the therapeutic injunction directing them to treatment. If there are aggravating circumstances, such as in the case of recurring offenders, a term of imprisonment may be imposed. In 2012, a directive establishing a criminal policy strategy for drug-related crimes reiterated that, when sentencing, courts should take account of factors that suggest a simple drug use or drug dependence. The principle of proportionality calls for systematic penal responses and increasingly effective judicial measures in the case of more severe offences. The application of educational and health measures is prioritised for simple drug law crimes and for minors, in line with a general trend in the EU to reduce the severity of punishments for such offences.

Drug supply is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years, or up to life in prison if offences are particularly serious, and a fine of up to EUR 7.5 million.

In France, new psychoactive substances are controlled under the Criminal Code by listing them as drugs by a decision of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. From 2012, generic classifications of chemical groups have been introduced, with a ban on most cathinones. Since 2015, putting synthetic cannabinoids and 25x-NBOMe (phenethylamine) derivatives on the market has been prohibited. In 2017, a new legislation came into force specifically to control synthetic cannabinoids.

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Drug law offences

Drug law offence (DLO) data are the foundation for monitoring drug-related crime and are also a measure of law enforcement activity and drug market dynamics; they may be used to inform policies on the implementation of drug laws and to improve strategies.

In France, the most recent data on drug law offenders are obtained from the database of the Ministry of the Interior (ETAT 4001). In 2016, a total of 192 120 drug law offenders were reported in France. However, this database does not provide details on the drugs involved. Since 2004, the reported numbers of drug law offenders charged have almost doubled, with drug use/possession offences being more common than supply offences.

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Methodological note: Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in a hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Detailed information on methodology and caveats and comments on the limitations in the information set available can be found in the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin.