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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 18:48 GMT
Cannabis report sparks call for debate
Report has highlighted scale of drug use in France
France's politicians are divided on how to tackle drugs
Over nine million French people, around 16% of their country's population, have used cannabis, a report has revealed.

It adds that almost 60% of boys and 43% of girls aged 18 have already tried the illegal drug.

On the day of the publication of the Drugs and Drug Addiction Observatory's annual report, Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu called for a debate on its decriminalisation.

"I think that starting the debate would not be a bad thing, because it has never been started properly," she said on France Inter radio.

"It will have to be taken to a conclusion one day," she said, but added: "I have never known how to reply to the question about decriminalisation."

The French are Europe's biggest alcohol consumers
Drinking to your health can be dangerous

The report says that 9.5 million French people say they have already tried cannabis, while 3.3 million reportedly use it regularly, French La Chaine Info television said.

It adds that it has become difficult or even impossible to treat cannabis in the same way as other illegal drugs.

Depressing figures

While the consumption of tobacco has fallen and the consumption of alcohol has remained stable over the last 10 years, the use of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs has jumped up by 70%, the report adds.

And one woman in four and 14% of men use antidepressants daily.

The number of French tobacco smokers has fallen from 40 to 36% of the population, but more 17-year-old girls than boys now smoke.

Smokers consume an average of 14 cigarettes a day and 60,000 people a year die from the effects of tobacco.

Record-breaking drinkers

Almost nine million people drink every day, and France has the highest rate of alcohol consumption in Europe, with 45,000 people dying from its effects annually, according to Professor Claude Got, chairman of the Observatory's scientific body.

Ecstasy and cocaine consumption have also increased over the last 10 years, while the consumption of heroin has stabilised, the report says.

Tobacco kills 45,000 French people annually
The French have in part stubbed out cigarettes

The statistics came out as the French daily Liberation published a survey on the April presidential election candidates' views on reforming the drug laws.

A spokesman for President Jacques Chirac's RPR party said that the president had always been against decriminalisation.

A spokesman for the Socialist Party supported its justice minister's suggestion of a debate and called for a distinction between the use and trafficking of drugs.

However Green Party candidate Noel Mamere said that he was in favour of the legalisation of soft drugs.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

14 Jan 02 | Features
Cannabis and drink? So what?
13 Jan 02 | UK
Cannabis: the facts
19 Nov 97 | Special Report
Legalising cannabis - a potted history
19 Nov 97 | Sci/Tech
British doctors back use of cannabis
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