Should I risk smoking weed in France?
June 23, 2012 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Should I risk smoking weed in (Nantes) France while on exchange from Canada?

I'm a frequent pot smoker going on a 10 month student exchange from very liberal Toronto (where you can smoke weed on the street and cops will at the worst ask you to put it out) to Nantes, France. I know that people do smoke in France, but also that the police follow the letter of the law more strictly. I obviously don't want to be detained or deported on my trip, and I'm perfectly willing to give up smoking if it's not worth the risk. Do any travellers have experience with smoking pot in France? Encounters with police? With Nantes specifically? Thank you!
posted by kansakwens to Law & Government (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
20ish years ago smoked a lot of hash in Toulouse, always outside, but discreetly - on a deserted street, in a little park under a bridge, etc. Never had any trouble. YMMV a lot!
posted by rtha at 3:06 PM on June 23, 2012

Allow me: ♫ No!

Good general rule: Foreign nationals should never knowingly break the law in a host country. However slim the risks are, the potential punishments far, far outweigh any marginal pleasure or benefit.

But also, you know, you are a guest in someone's country. Obeying their laws - however silly and arbitrary they seem is the courteous thing to do
posted by smoke at 3:18 PM on June 23, 2012 [13 favorites]

I would say not to do it, but I am old enough to remember "Midnight Express."
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:20 PM on June 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

If you get the chance to smoke weed quietly in a private home, then sure, go ahead and smoke it. I would consider that extremely mild risk taking.
posted by Greener Backyards at 3:51 PM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you were living in someone else's house for 10 months and they asked you not to smoke would there be a question. Also, Smoke is absolutely right--as a foreign national it is a good idea to obey the law.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:56 PM on June 23, 2012

Remember, that unlike the U.S. (at least in theory), the flicks in France can stop you and demand ID for no reason whatsoever, and you better produce it. I have personally witnessed many "cattle catches" where the cops situate themselves, f.ex. in an underground passageway and block entrance/exit after a group of young foreign-looking guys enter, and then they demand ID's from everyone. Anyone who cannot produce one is liable to be hauled off to the station. Many Americans are not in the habit of carrying their passports with them - would you like to be frisked at the station and they find you're carrying a joint? In other words, it's not safe to carry, even if you don't act "suspicious", because the flicks don't need "reasonable cause" to stop and ID you. You could be just walking down the street minding your own business, and suddenly you're stopped by the cops. Keep that in mind. If you are among friends, in a private residence and everyone is sparking up, well, use your judgment, but I think it's risky to do it outside or even carry outside. Better safe than sorry. YMMV.
posted by VikingSword at 4:05 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, on the one hand I have to advise you that this is not a good idea. On the other hand though, if it was me, I probably would. So who am I to give advice?
posted by atrazine at 4:06 PM on June 23, 2012

Yeah I'm with atrazine--I say it sounds unwise but speaking as a pothead myself, I'd definitely do it anyway..ha!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:11 PM on June 23, 2012

If you're reasonably social, at some point the chance to smoke dope is going to come up.

If that chance involves standing in an underpass, you're socialising with the wrong crowd.

Personally, I would take this as a great opportunity to not smoke. France has this stuff called 'wine'. It's some sort of legal high they have over there - I don't know too much about it, but I heard it can be a nice buzz. As always, moderation is the key. Imbibe safely.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:23 PM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Take your cue from the (French) people you're with, erring on the side of caution.

I have personally witnessed many "cattle catches" where the cops situate themselves, f.ex. in an underground passageway and block entrance/exit after a group of young foreign-looking guys enter, and then they demand ID's from everyone

This is far more likely if by 'foreign-looking' you mean 'North African/black'. I'd be very surprised to see it happen to a bunch of white North American college students, or a bunch of mostly white bunch of French college students including some foreign exchange students. However, if the OP is of Middle Eastern or African descent the innate racism of the French police* may win out over the desire to avoid the paperwork that pursuing any kind of case against someone with consular protection would incur. The poor 'foreign-looking' French kids who deal with this kind of hassle daily don't have a consul covering their back.

*This actually varies depending on what kind of unit it is (see Didier Fassin, La force de l'ordre, 2011), but it's wise never to underestimate it. Apply this guideline also to the RATP security staff on public transport in/around Paris.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 4:31 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Merci tlm! I figure I shouldn't risk it unless maybe in a private home or very private area away from any risk of police presence. I'm sure my instincts will guide me and yes... cheap wine ftw =D
posted by kansakwens at 4:45 PM on June 23, 2012

This is far more likely if by 'foreign-looking' you mean 'North African/black'.

Oh sure. I've witnessed this several times, like on a street (in Paris), where the cops would stop people walking along the sidewalk - they'd let me walk by unmolested, but they'd stop the Middle-Eastern looking young guys. So yes, how you look factors into this. But I also know of a case where a friend of mine (blond-blue-eyes) got stopped because he was unlucky enough to be in an underground passageway and cops simply stopped everyone, including him... I think in this case it would have been awkward to blatantly let him go while the whole passageway is stopped, so perhaps it was for the sake of appearances (fwiw, he didn't have any ID on him, but told them it was at the hotel, and they didn't pursue it). Anyhow, I just think that it's risky, because there may be circumstances where no matter how you look, you may get swept up in some roundup or another.
posted by VikingSword at 4:48 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, when travelling, it's not that risky to accept an offer to share in a private home, but you really don't want to by carrying it around anywhere, or even worse, buying your own supply. That's just asking for a whole world of trouble.
posted by scrute at 5:36 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I visited my friend who was studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, we did nothing BUT smoke hash (and the weed I had smuggled from Oxford where I was studying abroad... in hindsight, probably not the wisest move, but my friends were stoked because they couldn't get weed there, just hash). But I would recommend smoking in private homes only, don't carry it around, and be sure to do some research beforehand so you know your rights.
posted by désoeuvrée at 5:39 PM on June 23, 2012

I don't think I'll be at risk of being profiled, as I'm white as a sheet, an unthreatening 5'1", and a veritable Henry Higgins with accents, so I could easily pass for French. That being said, I'll avoid shady areas.
posted by kansakwens at 6:49 PM on June 23, 2012

In the rural backwater of Japan where I used to live, there was a certain group of guys who grew and smoked dope, both Japanese and non-Japanese. For many non-Japanese who live in Japan, the first years make it seems as though you're invulnerable to things like "laws" (I recall my roommate getting out of a drunk driving charge simply by yelling at the cops in English).

Anyway, these guys smoked dope, a big no-no in Japan, and some of them got caught. The non-Japanese guys ended up spending 6 lonely months in detention before getting deported.

My point is, when you're young and you live overseas, sometimes you let your guard down, and forget to use common sense. It's really a good idea to be cautious when living overseas, and remember that in many ways you are representing your country.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:03 PM on June 23, 2012

I've lived in France for 13 years now. I have never, not even once, been stopped and asked for ID, nor have I ever seen one of those roundups described above. And I'm someone who's called the police on terrible neighbors several times – they don't even ask me for ID when they arrive after answering a call. I've lived in Lyon and Nice, two of the largest cities in France, visited Marseille a few times, and Paris several times. I have French friends who "smoke" (scare quotes and unspecific because I'm not anonymous), and as long as you're doing it in a private place/home where there are non-cop-calling neighbors, you'll be fine. I've never heard of anyone getting nabbed for pot, not personally, and honestly I'm having a hard time coming up with anything that made the news either.

smoke's epoonysterical advice is good, in that you should also follow your host's lead. Being as you're from North America, though, even if they're pot smokers, they may never peep a word about it. It took my French friends several years of knowing me before they admitted to "smoking" because they had assumed I, as an American, would be "OH MY GAWD DRUGS OH MY GAWD". Thing is, I'm from Oregon, which, well, yeah. I grew up knowing what pot looked and smelled like. It's a wonder I've never smoked the stuff first-hand.

A little tangential, but I think so much "cops in France are terrible!!" stuff is another facet of the "let's hate France" message that gets passed around in the US and bleeds over to Canada. As a result, people who visit will look for the worst, fearing it for themselves, and find it, or misinterpret what they see as being awful without looking for further context to explain (were the ID traps because of known criminal activity? was there a major football game going on and profiling for hooligans? racism is indeed alive here, it is one other explanation, but not the only one). Because if y'all knew what life here was actually like, you'd be asking a hell of a lot more questions about the rampantly destructive brand of US capitalism and, y'know, paying attention to how instead, cops are being used to actively, violently shut down that kind of discourse (see: Occupy). Like I said, tangential. But it's so strange to see how widespread paranoia surrounding France is, when living here, well, I just don't see any of it to that professed degree.

TL;DR observe as a guest, without letting yourself be too influenced by "OMG French cops are strict".
posted by fraula at 2:24 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

People smoke all over Europe and if it is done in private behind closed doors or in public, say at a rock festival or on a quiet bit of beach or wandering along a canal bank nobody cares. The puritantical aspects of life is less obvious over here. If you are hanging out with losers in an underpass you raise your chances of being busted, but it probably isn't pot that the flics are after but they will bust you anyway.
Use your common sense, talk to friends when you get there and also enjoy the wine but remember that cheap isn't always good. Life Is Too Short For Bad Wine.
posted by adamvasco at 5:10 AM on June 24, 2012

I am a regular smoker, and when I went to Italy for two weeks I didn't really miss it. Sure it would have made the end of my night great with a glass of wine, but oh the wine! Seriously, it isnt worth the risk. And while I was offered cocaine and declined, I am sure if I went to the African street markets in some of the larger cities I could have scored some hash... but it wasnt worth the risk. Enjoy your time there, enjoy the wine and the culture. If the opportunity presents itself, thats great, if not life will go on.

And seriously, drink a lot of wine. I miss having the quality, local, and damn cheap wine.
posted by handbanana at 7:40 AM on June 24, 2012

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