Drug Use and Possession
No distinction exists between hard and soft drugs in French law. Public or private use is punishable by one year in prison and a fine of €3,750. Nevertheless, users may also be ordered to attend, at their own expense, an awareness program regarding the dangers of drugs use or to undergo court-ordered therapy consisting of treatment or medical supervision.
The objective of police, prosecutor and courts is to stop drug use by giving a penal response, which can take the shape of treatment and/or social care, and to be tough with drug traffic. However, it is reported from various sources that implementation of the laws on drug issues is not uniform. It varies from metropolitan to rural area or from court to court.
Possession of illegal drugs is a criminal offence. The law does not distinguish between possession for personal use or for trafficking. Indeed, possession can be tried as a trafficking offence. In practice, however, based on the quantity of the drug found and the elements of the act, the prosecutor can opt for a charge of use or traffic accordingly.
If the offender is prosecuted for trafficking, the Penal Code foresees imprisonment for up to ten years and a fine of up to €7,600.000.
When drug use is associated with another drug offence like possession, transportation, retail sale, etc, prosecutor and Court will choose in most cases the highest qualification. If the user is sharing his drug with others, he will be very often classed as a trafficker. The same will happen if he goes abroad to purchase a drug, even if it is only for his own consumption. Generally a previous arrest will greatly increase the sentence.
Drugs Production or Manufacturing
The illegal production or manufacturing of narcotics is punishable by 20 years in prison and a fine of up to €7,600,000. When a criminal organization commits the offence, the penalty increases to 30 years’ imprisonment.
Trafficking and drug related crime
All cases of supply of narcotics even without remuneration are punished as traffic, although they are punished less severely when supply is destined to personal consumption. Jurisprudence shows that this softer provision is only in fact applied when the dealer is himself a user.
Import, export, transportation, possession, supply, delivery, acquisition etc. attract penalties of up to 10 years and up to €7,600.000 fine. In case of particularly serious offences penalties can go up to life imprisonment.
Trafficking narcotics might also be punishable as a customs offence (contraband and similar offences). It is punishable by a maximum three-year sentence and by fines equalling two-and-one-half times the value of the illegal merchandise (value is estimated using underground market prices). Customs prosecutions do not exclude penal prosecution and indeed it is possible that customs fines are added to the penal sanctions.
Drug user offenders may avoid penal action by spontaneously seeking treatment. The provisions for anonymity guarantee that the authorities will not ask for any explanations after treatment.
In practice, mere users are mainly dealt with by therapeutic alternatives. However, the 'therapeutic order' (law stipulates that the offender must enter and complete a drug rehabilitation programme to avoid prison) to avoid penal action is not the only one to be applied. In most cases, mere drug users receive a warning which may be accompanied by a request to contact a social or health service, without obliging the person to undergo treatment or counselling.
The prosecutors have a various range of measures by which, if accepted and duly accomplished, they can end prosecution. These measures include a probation time, the voluntary payment of a fine or the execution of non-remunerated community work.
For cannabis use, there might be no further action in most of the cases. The procedure could end with a summonds of police or of the delegate of the prosecutor under the supervision of the prosecutor. Penal proceedings will be undertaken only if the user has already been arrested before or if another offence has been committed at the same time.
For other drugs like heroin, the first arrest will lead to diversion from proceedings into medical detoxification. If the user refuses, or if he fails in the treatment, penal action can be undertaken against him. The same solution will probably be chosen if the user has already been arrested in the past. Medical detoxification can be part of the sentence pronounced by Court, mostly as a condition of deferment of imprisonment.
The administrative sanctions in case of infringement of the law are fines of up to €1,500 per breach, and fines of €150-750 per day in case of non-transmission of information or refusal of supervision.
In case of divertion of precursors for illegal drug production, the Customs may use their control and sanction powers, and the police may apply the provisions of the Penal Code on drug traffic.
The sale of tobacco is prohibited to persons under the age of 18.
In order to protect non-smokers, smoking is prohibited in places intended for collective use including bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Smoking in public places risks a fine of €68.
The sale, and even offering alcoholic beverages free of charge, to persons under the age of 18 is prohibited in licensed premises, shops, and public places.
"Open bars" – consisting of selling alcohol as a package deal – and "service at will" are also prohibited regardless of the consumer’s age.
A person found inebriated in the street, in bars, discos, and other public places may be taken to the police station and placed in a holding cell. The fine for obvious intoxication may reach €150.
Drugs, drinking, and driving
It is forbidden to drive with a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) greater than or equal to 0.5 grams of alcohol per liter (g/l) of blood:
- between 0.5-0.79 g/l, offenders face a fine of €135 and the loss of 6 driving license points;
- from 0.8 g/l, offenders face two years imprisonment, a €4,500 fine and the loss 6 driving license points;
- if a fatal accident occurs, offenders face up to 10 years imprisonment and a €150,000 fine.
In all these cases, their driving license may be suspended or cancelled. Offenders who do not have a home or a job in France may be forced to pay a fixed fine immediately, failing which, the vehicle may be impounded until a deposit of up to €4,500 is received.
Drivers who test positive for a substance classified as a narcotic face up to two years imprisonment and a €4,500 fine. These penalties are increased to three years imprisonment and a €9,000 fine for drivers also under the influence of alcohol.
Opiate substitute treatments
Opiate substitute treatments are legal in France. If you are visiting the country, it is strongly recommended you have your treatment with you for the trip as well as your prescriptions because they may be requested at a border crossing or upon any contact with the police or gendarmerie. If during your trip in France, you need to get your treatment, contact a doctor or a structure of specialized care (in town or at a hospital) presenting the prescription established in your home country. (See list of structures on www.drogues-info-service.fr)