France Country Drug Report 2019

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. An offender charged with personal use faces a maximum prison sentence of 1 year and a fine, although in minor cases prosecution may be waived or simplified. The maximum sentence increases 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 5-year period.

A directive of 9 May 2008 defined a ‘rapid and graduated’ policy. In simple cases, drug users may receive a caution, but for all offenders aged over 13 years this should usually be accompanied by a requirement to attend a compulsory drug awareness course, introduced in March 2007, for which an offender may have to pay. Drug-dependent individuals would continue to receive the therapeutic injunction directing them to treatment. If there are aggravating circumstances, such as recidivism, imprisonment may be imposed. In 2012, a directive establishing a criminal policy strategy for drug-related crimes reiterated that, when sentencing, courts should take into account simple drug use or drug dependence. The application of educational and health measures is prioritised for both simple drug law crimes and minors.

Drug supply is punishable with imprisonment of up to 5 years and a fine, or 10 years in specified aggravating circumstances. Sentences of up to life in prison and a fine of up to EUR 7.5 million is possible for criminal groups engaged in drug trafficking.

In France, new psychoactive substances are controlled under the Criminal Code, which lists them as drugs based on a decision of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Since 2012, generic classifications of chemical groups have also been introduced, with a ban on most cathinones having been implemented that year, followed by synthetic cannabinoids and 25x-NBOMe (phenethylamine) derivatives in 2015, and fentanils and more cathinones in 2017.

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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 2017, a total of 199 024 drug law offenders were reported in France. However, this database does not provide details of the drugs involved.

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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.