Opposition UMP party leader Jean-François Copé had demanded clarification “today” from President François Hollande on the subject of legalising cannabis, which was not one of Hollande’s election pledges.
Vincent Peillon told the Tous Politique programme on France Inter Radio that he favoured a debate on the legalisation of cannabis.
"It’s a perfectly serious question to ask….We can combat [drug trafficking] by repressive means, I am totally for that….but at the same time, I see that the results suggest that it’s not very effective …So it begs that question and I would like to take it forward in all serenity."
"I am sometimes amazed by how France is a bit behind on this subject, which for me is important."
Asked whether he agreed with former interior minister Daniel Vaillant that a debate should be held on the matter, he replied “I thought he was right at the time, and I still do.”
Several right-wing former ministers voiced their shock that an education minister should be open to the legalisation of cannabis – Valérie Pécresse, herself a former higher education minister, tweeted “It’s unheard of! An education minister preaching the legalisation of cannabis. What kind of impact will that have on educational attainment?”
The leader of the UMP in parliament, Christian Jacob said Peillon’s words would “sap the authority of those working in schools”.
Peillon duly issued a communiqué this morning stating that his comments were “his personal thoughts” and that in no way did they impact on his “total and complete solidarity with the government.
“So there is no polemic about this” he insisted.
But the affair is unlikely to die down and some observers are predicting that Peillon will be forced to resign before long.
Even though the Socialists won a clear majority in June’s legislative elections, to cap Socialist François Hollande’s victory in the presidentials, surveys indicated that the combined votes on the right outnumbered those on the left and the idea of legalising cannabis will annoy much of the electorate,
Vincent Peillon has a difficult relationship with Ayrault, who is under media pressure to demonstrate that he has control over his ministers.