“Punitive action is not the only response”

Should we decriminalise cannabis? Or legalise it? Or, as in one option discussed by the French government, make its use punishable only by a fine? Two members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Michel Kazatchkine, former director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, and Ruth Dreifuss, former president of the Swiss Confederation, came to speak at Sciences Po at a debate with Henri Bergeron, director of the Sciences Po Centre for the Sociology of Organisations, and Didier Jayle, professor of addiction studies at CNAM.

The failure of current policy

“Looking back over the last four decades, drug control policy has not accomplished its goal.” For Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, the evidence of prohibition's ineffectiveness is overwhelming: there are more drugs on the illegal market, drugs are more readily available than ever and drug use is increasing. In his opinion, continuing with a policy that is costly, raises issues concerning the freedom to dispose of one's own body and, above all, induces a culture of illegality through the real and widespread violation of the law is no longer an option.
 
But beyond the problems intrinsic to repressive drug policy, the policy’s application causes a whole series of negative consequences. First, explains Kazatchkine, the criminalisation of drug use has worsened the AIDS epidemic and continues to impact the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis. Next, the “war on drugs” has driven the development of state and government-sponsored violence and corruption in many parts of the world. Not to mention that mass imprisonment, particularly affecting racialized groups, is a reality and that “repression has always been used as a tool of social control.” Finally, Kazatchkine points out, on top of the health, security and human rights aspects come the geopolitical and urban management issues.

New approaches to break the deadlock

Ruth Dreifuss explains that in view of the current state of the decriminalization debate in France, there is no one path to follow. Internationally, various options have been experimented, ranging from simple “tolerance” of drug use (as in the Netherlands), to the formal elimination of penalties for drug use from the criminal justice framework. On this point, there are also several examples: changes may concern one or all drugs (Portugal), replace criminal prosecution with an administrative penalty (Israel), or simply abolish all sanctions (Colombia).
 
For Dreifuss, there are two crucial aspects. First, we have stop dealing with drug use within the criminal justice framework because a criminal record is a real obstacle in contemporary society. Second, what she calls “acts preparatory to use”, i.e., production or transport, should also be decriminalised to prevent the new norms from reproducing the punitive logic that exists today.
 
With regard to the current debate in France, Dreifuss argues that “a small step forward is a good thing, but if it’s small step in the wrong direction then we would be better to do without it”. In her view, a plan to make cannabis use a minor offence, punishable only by a fine, is incoherent with the French situation. Cannabis use here is among the highest in Europe and, according to a 2016 survey funded in part by LIEPP, 84 percent of the French population considers the current policy ineffective and 50 percent are in favour of cannabis use being authorised under certain conditions.
 
These specialists see France as an “anthropological anomaly” because it is so hard here, socially and politically, to get the debate off the ground. Yet the major issues today are not the result of the drugs themselves, but of the policy that struggles to deal with them. According to Dreifuss, “we must move towards regulation of the drug market, taking account of the dangerousness and consequences of the various substances”.
 
Article by Luis Rivera-Velez, PhD student at Sciences Po.
 
“Decriminalisation of drug use: issues and challenges”, debate organised by LIEPP (Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Public Policy Evaluation), the Health Research Chair (fr) and OSC (Sciences Po Observatoire sociologique du changement) (fr)

Related links 

 

This summer, experience college life at Sciences Po

This summer, experience college life at Sciences Po

Every summer, Sciences Po opens its doors to secondary school students from around the world as part of the Summer School’s Pre-College Programme. This programme is an opportunity to discover Sciences Po and experience college life and academics at one of France’s leading universities.

More
The

The "gilets jaunes" movement is not a Facebook revolution

In less than a month, France’s gilets jaunes (yellow vests) have gone from being a celebrated example of Facebook’s ability to power a spontaneous revolution to a cautionary tale of how social networks can be manipulated by outsiders to provoke outrage and sow dissension. But in both of these extreme scenarios, the central actors lie outside France, whether it’s the platforms based in Silicon Valley or the suspected propagandists in Russia.

More
Robots will never replace journalists

Robots will never replace journalists

Artificial intelligence was the keyword at this year’s New Practices in Journalism conference. Lisa Gibbs, AI Newsroom Lead at the Associated Press, answered our questions on the promise and the risks linked to robot journalism. For Gibbs, artificial intelligence should be welcomed as a means for journalists to bypass routine daily tasks, affording them more time to focus on the mission of their field: informing the world. Watch the video.

More
Live Q&A Sessions on our Master's Programmes

Live Q&A Sessions on our Master's Programmes

This November and December, the Sciences Po undergraduate college and seven graduate schools will run a series of live Q&A sessions. Tune in live to meet current Sciences Po students and graduate school deans and ask any questions you may have about admissions, education, financial aid, career prospects, life in Paris and more!

More
Animal Rights: slow but definite progress

Animal Rights: slow but definite progress

To mark International Animal Rights Day 2018, we take a look back over an interview with Regis Bismuth, professor at the Sciences Po Law School and co-editor of Sensibilité animale. Perspectives juridiques (CNRS Editions)* for an overview of advances in animal rights.

More
How much is tuition at Sciences Po?

How much is tuition at Sciences Po?

At Sciences Po, we believe that financial barriers should never get in the way of education. Tuition fees are relatively lower than other world-class universities as a result of our proactive social policy to be an open and inclusive university.

More
Witnessing the impact of education in Myanmar

Witnessing the impact of education in Myanmar

Thiffanie Rodriguez, a Master’s student in International Public Management at Sciences Po is passionate about education. Before finishing the last semester of her Master’s, she took a gap year to explore discrepancies in education worldwide. After an internship at the Directorate of Education of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), she completed another internship over three months in the Myanmar Country Office of the World Food Programme. Read her account of the experience.

More
A new master's in luxury marketing

A new master's in luxury marketing

Starting in September 2019, the School of Management and Innovation is launching a new Master’s degree in marketing entitled “New Luxury & Art de Vivre.” Taught entirely in English, the aim of this new programme is to train high-level marketing managers to master luxury and French art de vivre specifically, with a refined understanding of the sector thanks to a strong background in the social sciences and a clear strategic vision of the new trends in that sector: digitalization and a drive towards social responsibility and sustainability issues.

More
Gene-edited babies: China wants to be the world leader, but at what cost?

Gene-edited babies: China wants to be the world leader, but at what cost?

Recent claims of the world’s first gene-edited babies have sparked a strong response, to say the least. In particular, the Southern University of Science and Technology, which employs the researcher involved, He Jiankui, stated in a press release that they were not aware of his work, that it took place off campus, and that it was a case of potential scientific misconduct that would not go unaddressed.

More