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French parliamentary election 2012

French right on drugs offensive after minister calls for decriminilisation of cannabis

Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

France’s right-wing opposition is up in arms after a Green Party minister on Tuesday called for the decriminilisation of cannabis. François Hollande opposed any change in the law during his presidential campaign and members of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP have seized on what they see as a division in the new government.

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“This idea of legalising cannabis is a real moral disaster,” said former Sarkozy adviser and National Assembly candidate Henri Guaino after housing minister Cécile Duflot told a television interviewer that the drug should be decriminalised.

Parliamentary elections 2012

“If the left wins [the legislative election], cannabis will be made legal. I’m sure of it,” said former health minister Xavier Bertrand said, while former justice minister Rachida Dati declared herself “deeply shocked”.

“The health and security risks associated with its consumption and traffic are too serious,” she said.

About 1.2 million people regularly smoke cannabis and its sale is worth between 700 million and one billion euros a year, according to the French drug control agency.

Duflot called for a policy of “public health and prevention” similar to the policy on alcohol and tobacco, explaining that it was not the policy of the government but was that of her party, EELV.

She is at present national secretary of EELV, although she will resign if she remains a minister after the election.

Government spokeperspon Najat Vallaud-Belkacem on Wednesday pointed out that the question has not been discussed at cabinet level but that Hollande opposes decriminalisation, while Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also distanced himself from Duflot’s position.

Some Socialist MPs were less stern, however.

Former interior minister Daniel Vaillant, standing to be reelected to parliament, promised initiatives on the “therapeutic use” of the drug, while Senator François Rebsamen criticised the fact that young people smoking it in the street have their fingerprints taken and kept ‘like big-time gangsters”.

Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit leapt to Duflot’s defence, claiming that she would only be obliged to defend a common position if the government was proposing a law to parliament.

To the left of the Socialists, parliamentary candidate François Delapierre told RFI that the reaction to Duflot’s statement proved that his Left Front was right not to take ministerial posts.

The minister has been “rapped over the knuckles”, he said. “They’re reminding her that the price of her position in the government is silence in the ranks.”

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