French artists challenge judges over drugs law

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The Independent Online
MORE than 100 French artists and intellectuals have signed a petition admitting to taking soft drugs and offering themselves for prosecution, writes John Lichfield in Paris.

The intention is partly to embarrass the government of Lionel Jospin, but mostly to embarrass the judiciary, which has brought a number of legal cases against high-profile campaigners for the legalisation of cannabis and other drugs.

The signatories of the "petition of 111" include the 1960s Franco-German political activist, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the film director Patrice Chereau, the fashion designer and President of Paris Opera, Pierre Berge, and the actress Marina Vlady. The petitioners state: "At one moment or other of my life, I have consumed stupefying drugs. I know that in admitting publicly that I am a drug user, I can be prosecuted. This is a risk I am ready to take."

The motive is to draw attention to the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of government policy and the application of the French anti-drugs law. Public admission to drugs-taking can be prosecuted in France as an incitement to use by others.

The president of Act-Up, a group campaigning for the legalisation of soft drugs, appeared in court this week for distributing a tract called "I like ecstasy". A counter-culture newspaper, L'Elephant Rose was forced into bankruptcy recently after being prosecuted under the same law. No action was taken, however, against others like the pop singer Johnny Hallyday and the Justice Minister Elisabeth Guignou, who have also spoken frankly about drugs.

Mr Jospin said he favoured the decriminalisation of cannabis during the election campaign last May. His government has stepped back from that position but measures are expected soon to allow experimental use of cannabis in hospitals.

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