As of Tuesday, marijuana possession is decriminalized in Belgium. The move, part of a broader revamping of the country's drug laws, was approved earlier this year by the Belgian government and went into effect upon its publication in the legislative journal this week.
Under the new law, possession of one plant or up to three grams of dried marijuana will draw a warning and a fine of 15 to 25 Euros, and the drug will be confiscated. A second offense within one year draws a fine of 26 to 50 Euros. A third offense within one year may be punished by up to a month in jail. Decriminalization does not apply to cannabis oil or cake. Smoking in the presence of minors, near schools or army barracks is considered a public nuisance, punishable by three months to a year in jail and/or a fine of 1,000 to 100,000 Euros. If police or prosecutors detect signs of "problematic use," the offender may be assigned therapeutic counseling by a court-appointed case manager.
The legislation also separates marijuana from other drugs and creates mechanisms for governmental coordination on drug policy. It wipes the offense of use of drugs in a group from the books, but creates the new offense of use of drugs in front of a minor. And it codifies the concept of case managers and therapeutic counseling within Belgian drug law -- a kinder, gentler version of the US drug court phenomenon.
Belgium now joins Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain on the list of European countries that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana possession. Britain has moved to reschedule marijuana as a less serious drug, with possession punishable only by a fine. The Netherlands keeps its marijuana laws on the books, but tolerates possession and regulated sales. Marijuana possession remains a crime in other European countries, but is generally lightly punished.
For French speakers, a copy
of the text of the Belgian law is available from the European Monitoring
Center for Drugs and Drug Abuse European Legal Database on Drugs at: