France rejects minister's call for debate on legal cannabis
PARIS - Agence France-Press
France's Education Minister Vincent Peillon speaks during the questions to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris October 9, 2012. Reuters photoFrance's Socialist government was forced to reassert its opposition to legalising cannabis on Monday after the education minister drew howls of outrage by calling for a debate on the issue.
Education Minister Vincent Peillon raised the issue on Sunday, saying legalising cannabis was a "serious question" that warranted debate.
After the remarks were pounced on by France's right-wing opposition, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's office insisted government policy had not changed.
"The prime minister and Mr. Peillon spoke on the telephone this morning, there will be no decriminalisation of cannabis," Ayrault's office said.
In a broadcast organised by France Inter radio, Le Monde and AFP, Peillon had said: "This question is worth asking, and I am amazed sometimes by how France is a bit behind on this subject, which for me is important." After coming under fire for the remarks, Peillon issued a statement saying his comments reflected his "personal opinion" and were in no way "contrary to the complete and total solidarity" within the government.
Former prime minister Francois Fillon of the right-wing UMP called Peillon's remarks "irresponsible and dangerous", saying: "The ban on consuming cannabis in France remains more than ever necessary to protect our children." UMP party leader Jean-Francois Cope called on President Francois Hollande to react to the minister's statements.
"The legalisation of so-called soft drugs is simply unacceptable," Cope said on France Info radio, citing "dozens and dozens of researchers around the world" who have pointed to the dangerous effects of smoking cannabis.
The controversy highlighted what critics say is increasing confusion and disorganisation within the government formed after Hollande won the presidency in May, which saw the Socialists take power for the first time in a decade.