“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 

 

Sciences Po invests in African talent

Sciences Po invests in African talent

Today is the official opening of Sciences Po’s office in Nairobi, Kenya—our first in Africa. This makes Sciences Po the first French university to have an office in an English-speaking part of the continent. The office will coordinate and run a whole series of activities in sub-Saharan Africa.

More
Latin American students: six reasons to choose Sciences Po

Latin American students: six reasons to choose Sciences Po

Are you a Latin American student looking for a selective international university? Sciences Po is one of the world’s leading universities for social sciences and the humanities. Each year we welcome around 600 Latin American students keen to benefit from our multidisciplinary programmes. Still uncertain? Here are six great reasons to choose Sciences Po.

More
“The world economy is more dangerous and less stable now than in 2008”

“The world economy is more dangerous and less stable now than in 2008”

Nearly ten years on from the global financial crisis of 2008, Colin Hay, researcher at Sciences Po’s Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics, and Tom Hunt (University of Sheffield) have edited a little book which provides a timely warning as to the dangers still present and building in the global economic system. In The Coming Crisis (Palgrave, 2017) they draw on research on the political economy of growth, stagnation, austerity and crisis, placing each in the context of the wider environmental crisis. Interview with Professor Hay.

More
Stay calm and relaxed!

Stay calm and relaxed!

Each year, half of new students at the Sciences Po Undergraduate College come from outside France. International applicants go through a two-step procedure. First, they complete and submit an online application. Based on this application, certain candidates are then pre-selected for an interview, which can be held in various cities around the world.
More

A week in Silicon Valley

A week in Silicon Valley

To get students thinking about the many aspects of the digital revolution, Sciences Po’s Entrepreneurship Centre took 15 of them to Silicon Valley for a close-up look at technology’s key players, including Facebook, Google and AirBnb. Yaël, who is doing a research-based Master’s in political theory at the Sciences Po Doctoral School, and Thomas, an engineering student at Polytechnique, took part in this immersion-learning trip. Machine learning, blockchain, data science... they told us all about it.

More
“France, a great environment for startups”

“France, a great environment for startups”

Tony Fadell, former senior vice president at Apple, iPod designer and founder of connected objects company Nest, moved to Paris a few months ago. The serial entrepreneur has left Silicon Valley behind him to develop his next projects in the French capital. “France is a country that believes so much in education”, he said. In November 2017 he came to share ideas with Sciences Po students. He goes over a few key points from his talk in this video.

More
“The future is being built today”

“The future is being built today”

Fitiavana Andry from Madagascar wants to play a part in her country's future. Fitiavana belongs to the first cohort of Sciences Po - MasterCard Foundation scholars, a programme that supports committed students from Africa.

More