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Feature: Belgian Bud Brouhaha Unfolds as Antwerp's First Open Marijuana Garden Gets Busted Before Beginning

Belgian activists Tuesday planned to inaugurate the country's first publicly known marijuana garden, but Belgian police intervened, arresting four of them after a press conference to announce their plans but before they could actually transport their clones to the garden site. While the press conference was covered by the media and police were present, the cops waited until the media had left and the activists were on the way to the garden to swoop down.

The action was undertaken by Draw Up Your Plant, an Antwerp consumer group, working in conjunction with the broader European Cannabis Social Clubs movement, which seeks to regularize consumer marijuana production across the continent. The cannabis club movement is an outgrowth of the Freedom to Farm campaign targeting United Nations bans on the cultivation of cannabis, coca, and opium, sponsored by European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD).

ENCOD coordinator Joep Oomen was one of those arrested as the group headed for the garden after its public event. He and three other Draw Up Your Plant members were detained for four hours and now face legal proceedings. Oomen reports that police seized his cell phone and laptop computer, where vital ENCOD information is stored, thus crippling the organization until the devices are returned.

July marijuana planting, Antwerp Botanical Garden (photo from cannaclopedia.be)
The establishment of a garden where individual consumers could collectively grow their allowable plants was an effort to push the envelope on Belgian drug policy. Under Belgian federal drug policy, the possession of up to three grams of marijuana and one female plant is not prosecuted as a criminal offense, but the law does not address collective gardens.

"Belgian drug policy is ambiguous," Oomen told Drug War Chronicle. "It says it is illegal to produce THC, which is considered as an illegal drug, but it also says that the possession of up to three grams or one female plant is considered the lowest priority in prosecution. The first is due to the fact that Belgium has signed the UN conventions, the second is a pragmatic solution to the debate on depenalization of cannabis use," Oomen explained. "Our action is a way to test the law, to denounce this ambiguity."

The day got off to a good start, with a large contingent of national and international media on hand as Draw Up Your Plant members, including Belgian parliamentarian Stijn Bex, produced a mother plant that had been publicly planted this summer in the Antwerp Botanical Garden and took six clones from it -- one for each group member. After the presentation, the group gave a letter to the Lord Mayor of Antwerp that provided the address of the garden and keys to the door. The event took place with the permission of local authorities, including the police.

"This is an excellent action to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the law," said Bex. "The authorities should install a decent regulation for the production and sale of cannabis."

But that's not what Belgian police had in mind. Once the media had departed and the group was heading for the garden, police stopped them and confiscated their clones and the mother plant, as well as Oomen's electronic devices. The four were interrogated for four hours on suspicion of being involved in drug production and their homes were searched.

Had the group been allowed to go to the garden, Belgian authorities would for the first time have faced a situation where the "drug dealers" were working with the police and providing detailed information about their activities. Instead, the police chose to go after them the old-fashioned way. Now they will get a court battle.

"Our lawyers say we have a strong case," said Oomen. "If we are found innocent, that will be a great advance. If we are found guilty, we will appeal."

In a draft ENCOD press release circulating Thursday, the group argued that European policies of tolerating marijuana use while keeping it technically illegal were not enough. "The legal status of the cultivation of cannabis for personal use remains one of the weak points of international drug prohibition," the group argued. "In practice, it is tolerated, but officially it remains an illegal practice. Prohibition of cannabis causes legal insecurity for cannabis consumers -- estimated between 10 and 30 million EU citizens -- as well as corruption and arbitrariness on behalf of legal authorities. By organizing an association of cannabis cultivators, who operate within the margin of tolerance created by pragmatic politicians in order to avoid making an end to end of cannabis prohibition, the Cannabis Social Clubs are offering a simple solution to create a transparent system of cannabis cultivation which allows control by health and legal authorities."

The governments of Europe have a problem with unregulated marijuana production. The Cannabis Social Club movement has a solution. The Belgian government had the opportunity to take a step forward Tuesday; instead, it took a step backward. Now it will be up to the courts.

Prohibition: a crippling habit; There is only one way to end the misery of addiction revealed by the investigation into the Ipswich murders: legalise the drugs.

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The Guardian (UK)

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The Nation (Thailand)

East Asia: Reefer Madness Snares Taiwan Celebrities

Seven Taiwanese entertainers have been questioned by police about whether they smoked marijuana, and while they all initially denied using the weed, at least two came forth this week to tearfully admit they had indeed puffed. They face two months in drug treatment if their urine tests come back positive.

Tuo Chung-kang and Chu Chung-heng, the hosts of a popular TV program, made the ritual confession and self-flagellation at a Sunday press conference where they apologized to the public for earlier trying to hide their misdeeds. "I was abroad and so I thought I could relax and have some fun," Tuo said, adding that he had only smoked when he was in Thailand and the Philippines earlier this year. "I was too naive and I feel bad about it."

Chu, an actor and variety show host, told a separate news conference that he had lied because he was afraid of the ramifications . "I feared that I might lose all that I've strived for if I confessed," Chu tearfully told reporters. Chu said he decided to tell the truth "so that I could face my daughter and family... and not live under the shadow for the rest of my life."

At least five other singers and TV personalities have been questioned by police in a case that began when they discovered marijuana growing in the yard of a wealthy residence owned by Cheng Po-geng. Police accused Cheng of selling marijuana to the entertainers through a night club owner, Chen Chiu-mu, whom police said sold marijuana "to over 10 entertainers."

Although marijuana is an illegal drug in Taiwan, the National Bureau of Controlled Drugs reported last week that some 60,000 Taiwanese smoke pot. Bureau Director-General Chien Chun-sheng is concerned. He said abusing marijuana causes distorted perceptions, difficulties in thinking, and makes the user "a lazybones."

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