The French government said Thursday it will start handing out smaller, on-the-spot fines as part of a new policy on cannabis use, ruling out a decriminalisation of the drug.
Cannabis use is on the rise in France, with around 700,000 people estimated to use the drug every day.
The number of 15- and 16-year-olds who admitted recent use of cannabis was higher in France than any other European country in a 2015 survey published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug addiction, an EU agency.
“We are going to introduce simplified fines for this offence,” said Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
Collomb said further action against offenders would remain an option, adding: “Therefore there will be no decriminalisation for cannabis use.”
The new fines are expected to be set at 150 to 200 euros ($180 to $250).
France’s current laws on drug use are some of Europe’s strictest, providing for fines of up to 3,750 euros and prison sentences of up to a year.
In 2015, the last year for which figures were published, 140,000 people were arrested for drug use offences, though only 3,098 were given prison sentences.
Parliament speaker François de Rugy hailed the new policy as “pragmatic”.
“In the past, police officers and judges would spend a lot of time on procedures which ended in formal warnings being given, so it didn’t serve any purpose,” de Rugy told BFMTV/RMC television.
Decriminalisation of cannabis and other drugs has been a hot topic in France in recent years, with those advocating such a course facing accusations of being soft on crime.
Police unions and judges have also expressed their opposition to any softening of the law.
Some other Western countries have recently moved towards softer penalties for cannabis use, with several US states legalising recreational use altogether.
Germany, Belgium and Italy are among those European states that have opted for decriminalisation.