By Caroline Pailliez and Mourad Guichard
PARIS/ORLEANS, France (Reuters) – The street price of cannabis in French cities has surged after tight border controls imposed as part of a nationwide lockdown to slow the coronavirus outbreak disrupted the flow of illegal narcotics and drug gangs hiked their rates.
Cannabis use is outlawed in France but the country has one of Europe’s highest consumption rates. Most cannabis resin that enters France comes from Morocco via Spain. Marijuana, or grass, is typically imported from the Netherlands.
“The price of a 100 gram bar of resin went from 280 euros to 500 euros in a week in Marseille,” said Yann Bastiere, a senior police union official who works with counter-narcotics investigators.
He said similar trends were observed in Bordeaux, in southwestern France, and Rennes in the northwest.
France imposed its lockdown on March 17 and joined other European states like Spain, Austria and Germany in tightening national border controls. A day later, the EU closed the Schengen area’s external borders to third-country citizens.
“France can no longer get its cannabis supplies,” said organized crime expert Thierry Colombie. “With the halt in exports from Morocco, we’re seeing prices go up in France as supply falls and dealers charge a premium.”
Colombie said an estimated 70% of cannabis resin sold on French streets was trafficked from Morocco, through Spain and over the Pyrenees. Much of the rest is shipped via Belgium and Holland.
SUPERMARKET CAR PARKS
In a flat in central Orleans, filled with the pungent aroma of hashish, one user said prices on the street leapt after Macron announced the lockdown and left France’s 67 million people only 16 hours to prepare.
Smoking his last joint before needing to source more, Cedric, who requested anonymity because recreational drug use is illegal in France, said that hours before the lockdown, the price of a gram of cannabis had doubled.
His dealer said he was demanding an extra 200 euros per 100 gram brick and would turn to locally-grown weed if the lockdown persisted.
“But I’m going to have to be able to get to their place,” said the small-time dealer, who earns up to 3,000 euros a month selling drugs, referring to the heightened police checks. “It’s going to be a nightmare.”
Dealers were having to be more creative in reaching their buyers, he said. Supermarket car parks were popular, with grocery shopping allowed under the lockdown rules. Others were dressing up as a joggers, with daily exercise still permitted.
Some police sources have privately expressed concerns that a prolonged scarcity of cannabis could fan trouble in France’s restless city suburbs and prisons.
Rivalries between drug gangs could escalate, while a fragile social peace in the deprived zones risked being tested once users were unable to get drugs.
“The shortage of drugs on the streets could lead to public disorder in the high-rise suburbs,” said Colombie, echoing the police fears. “We could be on the cusp of real trouble.”
(Reporting by Caroline Pailliez; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mike Collett-White)