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France is European champion in smoking le reefer

The average age of cannabis users is increasing. Weed may fall out of fashion before it becomes legal everywhere.
a map of europe showing the percentage of people in each country.
France is closely followed by Spain and Italy, among others. (Credit: Landgeist)
Key Takeaways
  • 11% of French people have smoked cannabis in the past 12 months, more than anywhere else in Europe.
  • Malta is the only country in Europe where weed is totally legal, but many others tolerate it, or allow its medical use.
  • As the average age of users increases, it may be only a matter of time before the cool kids stop using it entirely.

The French are European champions in smoking le reefer. As this map shows, 11% of French people aged 18 to 64 had used cannabis in the previous 12 months. That’s more than anywhere else in Europe — although Spain and Monaco (both 10.5%), Italy and Croatia (both 10.2%), and the Netherlands (10.1%) come pretty close.

the sun shining through the leaves of a plant.
Cannabis use is legal in France, but only if the level of THC, the molecule which creates the psychoactive effects, does not exceed 0.3%. (Credit: Loïc Venance / AFP via Getty Images)

Those high numbers are in remarkable contrast to some of the continent’s lowest results, mainly in Eastern Europe. Barely 1 in 100 Turks, Kosovans, and Hungarians had used cannabis in the previous 12 months, with Serbians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Lithuanians, and Greeks also reporting results below 3%.

Finns are the regional cannabis champions in Scandinavia, with a share more than double that in neighboring Sweden. Similarly, Spain doubles Portugal’s percentage.

Le Reefer Madness

The data on this map is a couple of years old, but a study published in December last year shows the overall figure for cannabis use in France has remained fairly stable: 10.6% (for 2021), with 47.3% having tried it at least once in their lives.

One interesting change is that the average age of cannabis users in France is increasing, from just over 25 in 1992 to almost 33 in 2021. Habitual use by under-25s in France is down from 8.4% in 2017 to 6.3% in 2021. Cannabis use is more prevalent in the over-30s and over-40s.

That evolution is not what researchers would have expected a few decades ago. Le Monde quotes Stanislas Spilka, co-author of the study: “At the end of the 1990s, it was thought that over the age of 25, among working people in a relationship, marijuana use would decrease. However, we can see that some of these young users of that time continued or resumed their use as they got older.”

a map showing the percentage of people smoking weed in the country.
There’s a remarkable difference between Western and Eastern Europe, as well as regionally, with the Finns the undisputed cannabis champions of Scandinavia. (Credit: Landgeist)

According to Mr Spilka, reduced cannabis use among young people is closely linked to the drop in cigarette smoking, which is ushering in a “behavioral change” in younger generations. Perhaps cost is also a factor. The retail price of marijuana has increased by more than 25% in just ten years. In 2011, a gram of herbal marijuana would have cost €7.50. In 2020, that had increased to €10. (By comparison, cumulative inflation was only about 10% over the same time period.)

Is there any correlation between cannabis use and its legal status? That’s hard to tell, as most countries practice some degree of practical leniency rather than official approval. In contrast to the wave of legalization in the U.S., cannabis use remains illegal in all countries of Europe, except one: Malta. The Maltese government legalized cannabis use in December 2021, but under strict conditions. Germany is now also moving toward legalization.

The Netherlands is famous for its relaxed attitude towards soft drugs, which can be acquired freely in “coffee shops.” Yet the sale and use of cannabis is merely tolerated, not legalized. In various other countries across Europe, marijuana use has also been “decriminalized”: not yet legal, but no longer a police matter.

However, marijuana use for medical purposes has been approved in a wide range of countries, from Ireland and Romania to Portugal and Finland. As this map shows, two countries are conspicuous by their absence: Spain and France, where cannabis consumption is especially high, at least for now. As the average age of cannabis users increases, the cool kids may turn away from this “old people drug.” Perhaps cannabis will become legal across Europe just as it falls out of fashion.

a map of europe with all the major cities.
Medical marijuana use is allowed across much of the continent, but not in Spain or France. (Credit: Cannigma)

Strange Maps #1204

Check Landgeist for more on this topic and Cannigma for more on the legal status of cannabis in the various countries of Europe.

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