In the police, a low noise debate on the decriminalization of drugs


Photos of bundles of cocaine seized after a police operation and disseminated on social networks, press releases welcoming the dismantling of a new cannabis or heroin import chain: the days of the fight against drugs follow one after the other. resemble, punctuated by arrests, trials, convictions.

On paper – and for the statistics – these “victories” bear witness to the real mobilization of the police, gendarmerie and customs services in the tireless war waged against traffickers. But, beyond the satisfaction, a growing number of police officers in the field, including those assigned to specialized units, are beginning to doubt the effectiveness of a strategy which hardly seems to contain the level of trafficking or that of consumption. Neither the 100,000 flat-rate tort fines issued since September 2020 nor the large seizures made the same year (96 tonnes of cannabis, 13 tonnes of cocaine, 1 tonne of heroin and 1.2 million ecstasy tablets) have not reached deny this observation: the French remain the biggest consumers of psychoactive substances in Europe, in particular of cannabis.

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From 2016 to 2020, according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior, 208,000 people were accused on average each year for offenses against the legislation on narcotics. Consumers (179,000) are four times more numerous than traffickers (44,000), even if 17,000 are implicated for several categories of offense. In total, 18% of all people implicated by the police or gendarmerie are involved in drug-related proceedings. As for the share of criminal proceedings, it has increased from 15% to 32% in the space of fifteen years, according to the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Race for results

For police officers, there is no question of publicly declaring what this “endless cycle” inspires in them. They advance their reservations under cover of strict anonymity. A speech of weariness, heard from Marseille to Lille, from Lyon to Rennes. Whether they work in the judicial police, public highway services, departmental security, all describe an exhausting and repetitive daily life, where only the results of seizures or identity checks count in the hope of collecting the few. grams of cannabis which will allow – statistical subtlety – to reveal, in the police nomenclature, a case as quickly resolved as it was noted. For one of them, assigned to an antistup group in the provinces, « The current strategy only aims to try to prevent large networks from reaching a critical mass financially, which would allow them to turn into real cartels and threaten institutions ».

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