PARIS Three days before round one of a French parliamentary election, President Francois Hollande's Socialists have crossed swords over pot-smoking with their most likely coalition partner for the next five years, the Greens party.
The discord, unlikely to unstitch an election pact between the two, surfaced this week when Housing Minister Cecile Duflot, head of the Greens party, said she backed the legalization of cannabis.
Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, trying to put the matter to rest, said in a television interview on Wednesday night that Hollande had opposed legalization of the soft drug during the presidential election campaign.
"The answer is clear and it's No," he told TV channel TF1.
Duflot, one of two Greens party members in the interim cabinet, would have to quit her post as Greens party chief, and with it the pro-cannabis line, if the Left won the parliamentary contest taking place in two rounds on June 10 and 17, he said.
"Madame Duflot will do as she promised. From June 23, she will be a minister only, serving solely her mission as a member of the government," he said.
Duflot, whose party would be very much the junior partner in a Socialist-dominated coalition, caused a stir in May when she showed up at the presidential Elysee Palace in jeans for the first meeting of the new left-wing cabinet.
Some of her party comrades showed no sign of abandoning their campaign to legalize cannabis, a call they defend on the ground that drug bans drive dealing and abuse underground.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Greens party veteran and a leader of the French student riots of 1968, said on Thursday he hoped the party would press for a legalization bill in the National Assembly, the 577-member lower house of parliament that all polls suggest will fall under left-wing control this month for the first time in a decade.
"It's time to ditch the hypocrisy and double-speak," he told RMC radio. "Today's repression simply plays into the hands of drug traffickers."
Hollande, a social democrat who has promised to end France's ban on same-sex couples marrying or adopting children, is keen to stop the Left being labeled soft on law and order, a flaw many blame for the failure of Socialist ex-prime minister Lionel Jospin's presidential bid in 2002.
France's first Socialist president in 17 years is counting on a left-wing parliamentary election win to help him implement a program aimed at reviving the economy and reducing France's debts without subjecting voters to drastic Greek-style austerity.
Polls suggest that the Socialists have a chance of securing outright control of the National Assembly but will probably need the support of smaller left-wing groups, led by the Greens.
A BVA poll released on Thursday showed the Socialists taking 32 percent of the votes and the centre-right UMP party taking a similar number but, like other polls, showed that the Left was poised to take power, with 4.5 percent going to the Greens and 9 percent to the Left Front, a more hardline group.
An Ipsos poll earlier this week suggested the Socialists might take as many as 291 seats on their own, two more than needed for an outright majority, and reach the comfort zone with the help of 17-23 seats for the Greens.
(Reporting By Brian Love, editing by Tim Pearce)