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French citizens may face a new fine for using cannabis, which police officers may be able to levy in a lump sum.

The French National Assembly voted 28 to 14 In November 2018 to create a new fine for “narcotics” users who are caught consuming cannabis in public spaces. The official objective is to better sanction the illicit use of narcotics, cannabis included, though critics say the fines are ineffective at best.

Until now, French law repressed the use of cannabis by a potential one-year prison sentence and a fine of 3,750 euros, or about $4,265 U.S. dollars at the Dec. 12, 2018, exchange rate. These penalties were rarely administered and were unevenly applied. Enforcement in large cities was more lenient on cannabis use, while smaller cities typically had more time and opportunity to sanction cannabis users. However, France still counted approximately 144,000 arrests a year, mainly for simple use, and fewer than 3,000 jail sentences a year, often for recidivism.

Though officials settled on charging 200 euros (150 euros if paid immediately, or about $171 to $227 U.S. dollars), they haven't determined a date to enact the new measure and the fines could be applied to nearly any situation, without regard to the degree of the offense.

The fine is the first major update of French cannabis law since 1970. The new fine structure was the result of a two-year government project to gather information, though support for the fine was hardly unanimous. Officials accelerated passage of the law, aiming to minimize disputes. Despite the precautions, many criticisms emerged from prohibitionists and pro-cannabis advocates alike.

Leading French prohibitionist Jean Costentin, professor of pharmacology and member of the National Academy of Medicine and Pharmacy, heavily criticized the fine in right-wing French news site Boulevard Voltaire, saying that the government moved from one extreme to the other. He called the fine “an alms to the budget, not dissuasive … [and] without the possibility of getting after the criminals.…”

Eight non-governmental organizations, among them the League of Human Rights (LDH), HIV/AIDS organization AIDES, and the Judicial Union (SM), also criticized the fine. In a white paper, AIDES officials denounced the fine as another prohibitionist, and ultimately ineffective, approach to regulation that also disregards fundamental human rights and fails to curtail illegal trade.

"With this fine, we see a failure, and we say: 'Since we cannot manage to handle it, we will slaughter it,' but how will be examined on a case-by-case basis?" Malik Salemkour, president of the LDH, said to French newspaper Le Monde.

For Katia Dubreuil, president of the SM, told Le Monde that law enforcement will be able to “give fines to everybody nonstop, maybe three times a week to the same person” and still could “call the public prosecutor at any given time, so potentially sentences of imprisonment or conditional sentences against users can still be pronounced.”

France counts about 1.4 million frequent users of cannabis and 700,000 daily users. With a 200 euro fine, the government estimates that penalties could bring in 10 million euros, or $11,368,220 U.S. dollars, a year.

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