Could Belgium become the next European country to legalise cannabis?

It looks like cannabis legalisation could be on the cards for Belgium following remarks from the Deputy Prime Minister, Pierre-Yves Dermagne.

by Megan Townsend

It appears that Belgium could become the next European country to legalise cannabis after the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy and Employment, Pierre-Yves Dermagne, recently declared that legalisation was ‘common sense’.

In an effort to target resources more effectively, the Minister has called for Belgium to consider legalising cannabis. The Belgian government has already announced an extra €1bn of funding for the police and justice department, and according to Dermagne it “no longer makes sense” to continue criminalising cannabis users. Instead, the Minister remarked that the focus should be on crimes which are more serious and have a bigger impact on society.

Giving the reasons behind his thought process, the Minister pointed to the three out of four neighbouring countries that have already started down the path of legalisation, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands. 

Dermagne also noted the financial boost that cannabis legalisation could offer, allowing greater spending on the police and prevention initiatives. It’s estimated that legalisation could generate around €660m a year. As legalisation offers more in the way of control over cultivation and sale, the Minister stated his firm preference for this over decriminalisation. 

Similarities to the German model

The views expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister and talks about legalisation in Belgium appear strikingly similar to Germany’s plans to legalise, which feature a firm focus on minimising health risks and the protection of children.

Dermagne stated he is well aware of the dangers of already legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and that cannabis is not innocent. However, he accepted that legalisation would allow the government to better guide users and prohibit sales to minors, allowing police to focus on ‘bigger problems’.

The Minister has already stated that he keeps a close eye on the ongoing initiatives in neighbouring countries, especially Germany which is set to permit cannabis clubs where members over 21 can purchase up to 50 grams of cannabis for personal use. 

However, Dermagne appeared critical of implementing a model similar to the Netherlands, where possession is legal and cultivation is not. Talking to The Brussels Times, he called this “hypocritical”, signalling his commitment to allowing Belgians to grow their own.

Technically growing or possessing cannabis in Belgium is still illegal and punishable by a fine or imprisonment. However, since 2003 personal possession of up to 3 grams of cannabis for those over 18 has been decriminalised and remains a ‘low prosecution priority’.

There’s no doubt that the support of the Deputy Prime Minister will help in bolstering reform in Belgium where legalisation plans are still taking shape. However, this is not to say that the Minister hasn’t been met with opposition in his support for cannabis reform. Following his announcement, the leader of the MR party, Georges-Louis Bouchez, stated that the party does not support calls for reform, and criticised the timing of Dermagne’s remarks and the ‘laxity’ toward drug use.

In the coming months lawmakers will have to consider the formal provisions and how legalisation could be implemented.

This piece was written by Volteface Content and Media Officer Megan Townsend. She is particularly interested in the reform of drug legislation, subcultural drug use and harm reduction initiatives. She also has an MA in Criminology from Birmingham City University. Tweets @megant2799.

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