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Cannabis Laws in France Have Disproportionately Affected Muslims |

In the U.S., it’s an all-too-familiar story that Black and Mexican folks have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, but in France, they have a similar issue with the impact cannabis laws have on Muslims. 

France and many countries across the globe are starting to flirt with ending prohibition. There are CBD cafes in France now. The European Union slowly changing their mind about cannabis treatment is also a trend. As in other places, the people who are most affected by cannabis use are the ones that have suffered the greatest. 

According to new research, the War on Drugs has been a difficult period for Muslims in recent years. Nearly one fifth of French prison inmates were currently arrested for drug offenses. The majority of the prisoners are men. It is hard to gain specific demographics in France because their “absolute equality” law makes it illegal to collect data based on race, ethnicity, or religion. 

Farhad Khosrokhavar, a sociologist who studies France’s prison system, found half of the French incarcerated people are Muslim or Arab. This is a 50% increase in the number of Muslims and Arabs currently incarcerated, even though they only represent 9% of France’s 67 million inhabitants. 

An additional study, commissioned by France’s National Assembly, shows that of the 117.420 arrests made in 2010, 86% were for cannabis related charges. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of people who have been arrested for using cannabis has risen from 14.501 to 139.683. All these studies can be compared to show that cannabis use is a common issue for Arab and Muslim people.

Much like how America demonized cannabis by equating it to a poison pedaled by Mexican drug cartels and Black criminals—a largely false and inflated narrative—French historians have done something similar with Muslims. French fiction talked of Muslim “hashish-eating assassins”  who were deranged, violent, and dangerous. French scientists also became tired of using cannabis as a treatment for cholera. In the end, there was a widespread distrust in cannabis culture due to the lack of medical interest combined with racist propaganda. The 1953 legalization of medical cannabis was implemented. 

They even have their own version of reefer madness: “folie haschischique.” French colonialists in Algeria claimed that hashish caused insanity and violent criminal behavior, often putting sober or self-medicating mentally ill folks into psychiatric care and claiming cannabis was the cause. 

As in the U.S. in 1968, there was racial tensions towards the North Africans who immigrated to France in 1968. These North Africans claimed they were criminals and prone to violence due to their use of marijuana in their culture. Even more severe criminalization followed. The drug problem in France was referred to as a “foreign plague” and blamed on Arab and Muslim drug traffickers, people of color, and immigrants. There was talk of a cult of Muslim murderers inspired by cannabis and known as the “Hachichins.”

France today is taking a stand against racism, although it’s still a fundamental part of the culture they have when it concerns the backlash against cannabis. It is clearly evident when data from prisons is pulled. France, like many countries around the globe, has much work ahead of it when it comes to distinguishing between what is really needed to regulate cannabis and what comes from racist propaganda.