How Paris plans to tackle its crack-cocaine problem – by moving addicts elsewhere

France's Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has promised action to move on crack dealers and users that have long blighted a part of northern Paris - but the solution is as unpalatable as the problem to some residents.

How Paris plans to tackle its crack-cocaine problem - by moving addicts elsewhere
Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

For months, the Stalingrad area in the capital’s 19th arrondissement has been plagued by drug traffickers trading in crack cocaine, who moved in after a nearby area – known as Crack Hill – was evacuated in 2019.

Significant police resources had been deployed for a year to try to contain the problem. Officers have patrolled the area 24 hours a day. Benches have been removed to stop users congregating, public lighting has been improved, traffickers have been targeted, and users systematically referred to rehabilitation programmes and barred from entering the area.

But the issue remains and has been the subject of noisy protests by exasperated locals.

In a letter addressed to Paris MP Mounir Mahjoubi, the minister said that dealers and users would be moved on ‘in the coming days’.

Discussions on the issue between the government and Paris City Hall had been under way since February Darmanin said, with the plan being “to migrate the scene to another Parisian place … by carrying out a binding operation vis-à-vis drug addicts and associations that accompany them. 

“This new place would be occupied temporarily, with a new evacuation after a few months”.

READ ALSO: ‘The capital of crack’ – Why can’t Paris deal with its drug problem?

Crack smokers prepare their pipes by the canal in the Stalingrad area of Paris. Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

The Minister laid some of the blame for the problems at Stalingrad at the door of City Hall.

“Food distributions, whether they are explicitly authorised by the city of Paris or tolerated, contribute to the creation of a point of fixation for Stalingrad in the evening … and of the Jardins d’Eole during the day,” he wrote in his letter to Mahjoubi.

On Monday, police began to close off Place Stalingrad to users and dealers after plans to clear the area were brought forward because of rising tensions with residents. Patrols have been stepped up to prevent addicts loitering in the squad and near apartment buildings.

Meanwhile, some 500m away, the Jardins d’Eole – where about 150 addicts would gather during the day – has remained open until 1am every night, way past its usual closing time.

“It is not only a place that they know well since many drug addicts spend their day in the upper part of this park, but it is also an area where there are relatively few residents and where the nuisance will therefore be less significant,” a police officer told 20 minutes.

After the park closes, those addicts still on the streets are confined to rue Ricquet, which borders the park and then spans the railroad tracks. It is a street with few apartment buildings but is not far from residential areas.

The operation has not gone down well with those living nearby.

“We are flabbergasted by this decision,” Frédéric Francelle, head of a group of residents told Le Figaro. “We endure from morning to night the cries, the brawls of the crack dealers and all kinds of nuisances.

“We are the sacrificed,” he said, arguing that this decision will hurt the whole district and will not solve the problems or placate the fears of residents.

The arrondissement’s mayor François Dagnaud has admitted the solution is far from a miracle cure – but described it as the ‘least bad’ short-term option.

He described the recent actions of local residents as a ‘cry for help’. “We must measure the exasperation of residents who no longer sleep at night because of the shouting and settling of scores, the feeling of permanent insecurity …”

This solution is temporary, he added. It was intended to calm tensions in Place Stalingrad before café terraces and cinemas reopened on Wednesday.

A decree issued on Monday by the Paris police chief prohibits the distribution of food and syringes in the square – but not at the Jardins d’Eole. “Of course that shifts the problem – but to less populated areas,” insists Dagnaud

“For the moment, we have to admit that nothing that has been put in place has made it possible to eliminate the problem.”

A report published in January after a two-year study by ans, l’Inserm and l’Observatoire français des drogues et toxicomanie (OFDT) recommended the opening of specialised facilities for crack users – as well as four supervised inhalation rooms, similar to shooting rooms, to limit consumption in public spaces.

City Hall is said to favour the recommendations, but police and judicial authorities fear that they would set a dangerous precedent.

Meanwhile, Mahjoubi has another suggestion: move the addicts – and the problem – to Les Invalides. 

“This is where we find the fewest shops and homes. Then set up tents there to accommodate this population,” he said. “But for this to work and if we do not want to alienate the population, social monitoring and the security system must work 24 hours a day.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Germany should make cannabis available at pharmacies not ‘coffee shops’, says FDP boss

Germany's possible new government could well relax the country's strict cannabis laws. But FDP leader Christian Lindner says he doesn't want to go down the Netherlands route.

A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021.
A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

The Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are set to engage in coalition talks in a bid to become the next German government.  And the future of cannabis will likely be one of the topics to be thrashed out.

In drug policy, the three parties are not too far apart in their positions. So it’s possible that the drug could be decriminalised.

However, nothing is set in stone and the parties still haven’t come to a common line on the question of where and to what extent cannabis could be accessed. 

The leader of the Liberal FDP, Christian Lindner, has now come out in favour of allowing cannabis products such as hashish to be sold in a controlled manner. 

Consumers should be allowed “to purchase a quantity for their own use, for example, in a pharmacy after health education,” Lindner told a live broadcast on German daily Bild on Sunday.

Lindner said he was sceptical about the sale in “coffee shops” according to the Dutch model. “I am in favour of controlled distribution, and therefore health education must be able to take place,” he said.

READ MORE: Patients in Germany still face hurdles accessing medical marijuana

People in the Netherlands can access cannabis products in coffee shops under the country’s tolerant drugs policy. However coffee shops have to follow certain strict conditions. For instance they are not allowed to sell large quantities to an individual. 

Lindner said his main aims were about “crime and health prevention” and not with “legalising a right to intoxication”.

It’s not clear if Lindner advocates for prescription-only cannabis for medical use, or an over-the-counter model. 

The FDP previously said that they they are in favour of the creation of licensed shops. Their manifesto highlights the health benefits, tax windfalls and reallocation of police resources that legalisation would create.

The Green party also want licensed shops, as well as a whole new approach to drug control starting with the controlled legalisation of marijuana. The Greens state that “strict youth and user protection” would be the centre point of their legislation and hope to “pull the rug from under the black market”.

The SPD also want a reform of Germany’s prohibition stance – but are more cautious than the smaller parties on the legalisation aspect. They would like to initially set up pilot projects. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany could be on the brink of legalising cannabis

Controversial topic

So far, the sale of cannabis is officially banned in Germany. Possession of cannabis is also currently illegal across the entire country. Those caught carrying the substance can face anything from a fine to five years in jail.

However, the justice system generally looks away if you are caught carry small quantities for personal use unless you have a previous conviction.

The definition of personal use differs from state to state, with Berlin having the most liberal rules and Bavaria the tightest.

It is estimated that around four million people regularly use cannabis in Germany.

Representatives of police unions in Germany have warned against legalisation. They argue that cannabis is an often trivialised drug that can lead to considerable health problems and social conflicts, especially among young people.

Oliver Malchow, from the GdP police union, said that “it doesn’t make any sense to legalise another dangerous drug on top of alcohol”.

The current Ministry of Health also continues to oppose the legalisation of cannabis, a spokesperson for Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) made clear. Cannabis is a dangerous substance and therefore legalisation is not advisable, the spokesman said.