As far as pot goes, France has been one of the most repressive countries in Europe for over a decade. But there are signs that things may be loosening up.
France’s current Health Minister Bernard Kouchner joined a “legalize it” campaign over twenty years ago, before going into politics. During the last year however, his statements about cannabis have been confusing and confused. Early in December, he declared on television that he was against decriminalization ? adding in the same breath that he was not opposed to a state of affairs where people would be allowed to smoke pot in the privacy of their own homes, as has recently been allowed in Belgium.
This statement marks a subtle change of opinion. More and more people in France are realizing that cannabis is here to stay. Green Environment Minister Dominique Voynet also declared a few months ago that yes, she had smoked pot ? then answered the question “Do you still do it?” with an astonishing and impossible to translate “Merde!”
With the coming of European elections in June, the cannabis issue, ever avoided at the time of national elections, is likely to finally come to the surface. Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit (one of the sparkles that started the French “revolution” of May 1968) is quite a star in France at the moment, and also an advocate of sane drug laws. Though not a smoker himself, he admits to the occasional spacecake.
Hemp Day in Paris
The first “Journ?e du chanvre” (Hemp Day) took place in Paris last November. It was organized by “Chanvre et Compagnie”, France’s first hemp store, located close to Paris.
This first Hemp Day included an expo with a wide variety of hemp products. France is the only country in Europe where hemp cultivation was never discontinued. It almost died in the mid-sixties, but was resurrected by the addition of hemp to regular wood pulp for the making of fine paper (such as cigarette paper, of which France has become the number one manufacturer and exporter).
In the early seventies, the French sought ways to exploit the by-product of hemp fibre, the hurds, which have since been used very successfully in construction for a decade. So this Journ?e du Chanvre featured the building of a hemp wall, as well as a choreographed fashion show, a wide selection of hemp beers, cosmetics, drinks, and, last but not least, paraphernalia and “grow” technology.
Some people made a long trip to witness this first “global hemp” event in France, coming from Switzerland or the Netherlands. The place was crowded, as more than 700 people paid to get in, and there was no hassle whatsoever from the police.
French Cannabis Embassy
A few days later another French event took place, this time in Amsterdam. I had the pleasure of organizing it myself, together with a friend who is also an activist, a woman by the name of Fabienne.
The idea was to create a French marijuana event that would be, if not technically legal, at least open and fully tolerated ? just like the High Times Cannabis Cup is tolerated by the Dutch. Very good pot is grown outdoors in wine-growing France. Sativa varieties, always close to my heart, can be grown in the southern half of the country ? where olives and oranges are traditional harvests. We wanted to celebrate tolerance while indulging in the tasting of French cannabis flowers.
For years, French president Chirac has put a lot of pressure on the Dutch government over their tolerant drug policies. A French senator declared that the Netherlands were a “narco state”. The Dutch were also very upset with president Chirac’s stubbornness on nuclear testing in the Pacific.
In June, president Chirac went to the UN meeting on drug policies and took it upon himself to speak “in the name of Europe,” which particularly irritated the tolerant Dutch. Finally, in July, came the soccer World Cup; the Dutch had serious hopes to win and the French didn’t stand a chance. Then, to everyone’s dismay, the French actually won and went almost mad with joy at winning.
This was the last straw on the camel’s back. Strong anti-French feeling bloomed all summer in the Netherlands. You can now buy postcards in Amsterdam that show a picture of Chirac smoking a big joint, or a pot leaf on the French flag, together with the words: “Fuck the French!”
Fabienne and I wanted to let the Dutch know that there are people in France who agree with their policy of tolerance. This is why we called our evening an “Embassy”. We were hosted for this event by the Cannabis College, a foundation in Amsterdam’s city centre which aims to spread information on cannabis, and features an indoor pot garden.
Some French growers were generous enough to donate portions of their harvest, providing plenty of samples to be offered to our guests. It was a real treat for Fabienne and I to go from guest to guest with our offerings: a variety of French pot on a tray for them to pick from, all of them labeled, from “Sensi Denis” to “Paris Nord”.
Among our guests, our friend Jean-Pierre Galland (founder of the CIRC, the only free-the-weed movement in France) told how he needed to raise money to pay his fines for sending a joint to each of the 577 French members of Parliament, and for various other symbolic actions. If he fails to pay he will go to jail at the end of February.
Meanwhile, a big painting (2 x 6 meters!) was being created by a team of graphic comic artists named Coma Lucide, accompanied on this occasion by the most famous of them all, as far as pot smokers are concerned: Gilbert Shelton himself, creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, who has lived in Paris for many years.
Also present that evening were the British ex-hashish smuggler Howard Marks; co-authors of the classic Book
of Grass, Simon Vinkenoog and George Andrews; author of Cannabis in Amsterdam, Adriaan Jansen; author of Marijuana Botany and Hashish!, Rob Clarke; writer and master gardener Jorge Cervantes; and Swiss farmer Bernard Rappaz.
The Embassy (complete with organic food and wine, as France remains France) was such a success that everybody was instantly discussing “next year”. No doubt about it, things are changing in Europe.
? Michka, a writer and activist, has written four books on cannabis over a twenty-year period. She has two homes, one in Paris, the other in BC. She can be reached by email at: [email protected]