Cannabis, a path to hard drugs?

Multiple opponents of the legalization of cannabis argue that this decision could lead to a shift in crime towards much more dangerous substances. The question therefore arises, legalizing cannabis will lead to a «postponement of trafficking on hard drugs» according to Dupont-Aignan, president of the party Debout la France.

These statements echo a well-known theory in the world of cannabis, the theory of the “gateway”, the “gateway” or “escalation” to hard drugs and addiction. The idea is based on the assumption that there is a causal link created by the brain linking the use of weed with the use of cocaine, heroin or amphetamine.

The term “gateway theory” appeared in anti-drug campaigns in the 1980s, after studies in rats led scientists to believe that cannabis use predisposed individuals to administer other drugs according to a human reward system.

However, MP Caroline Janvier explains that a parliamentary report, recently prepared with the help of her colleagues following numerous analyses and hearings, highlights that «the path of legalization with state control is the best way to protect the French».

In an interview given on April 18, 2021, Emmanuel Macron evokes the subject and supports the idea of Dupont-Aignan and others by saying: «I do not even talk about the effects of slippage towards harder drugs». In Caroline Janvier’s report, the issue is addressed and confirms more or less these remarks with certain nuances: “The postponement of trafficking in other addictive substances or other delinquent activities, such as the maintenance of a residual black market, is indeed possible in part, if not likely; they have been observed in all countries that have legalized (…)”

This is a fear that can also be found among law enforcement and security forces anticipating a stagnation or even increase in crime.

In a report dating from 2017 and completed in 2021, the French Observatory on Drugs and Drug Addiction indicates that in the United States, after 5 years of legalization, «it seems that the activities of transnational criminal groups have not been fundamentally questioned». In addition, they were still “heavily invested in the black cannabis market” leading to “other trafficking in order to offset the economic losses caused by the partial drying-up of their markets.”

Indeed, the legalization of cannabis will almost certainly lead to a more dense trafficking of hard drugs. However, this in no way assures that the consumption of these substances will experience an increase because the theory of escalation has been recognized as obsolete, for lack of evidence.