In June 2003, Belgium effectively decriminalized marijuana possession. Under that policy, marijuana remains illegal, but possession of less than three grams is not considered as a prosecutable offense. Now, two-and-a-half years in, a junior partner in the Belgian governing coalition is calling for outright decriminalization of up to five grams, as well as a move toward regulated marijuana sales.
Parti Socialiste leader Elio di Rupo made the proposal to relax the marijuana laws in a Monday press conference announcing the party's comprehensive drug policy proposals, according to a report issued by the European Coalition for a Safe and Effective Drug Policy (ENCOD). The party called for improved drug treatment, better coordination among government agencies, and more coherent sentencing policy. While di Rupo called for intensifying the fight against the illicit drug trade, he also called for a year-long campaign to educate marijuana smokers about the health consequences of the herb to be followed by introduction of the regulated sales and decrim proposal.
Di Rupo urged the Belgian government to do serious research about how to implement a regulated sales regime. The neighboring Netherlands would be a good place to start, he suggested.
The Parti Socialiste, a French-speaking party, is the third largest party in the left-leaning government of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. The Parti Socialiste holds 25 House seats (out of 150) and six Senate seats (out of 40). The Flemish Liberals and Democrats Party holds 25 House seats and seven Senate seats, while the Flemish-speaking Socialist Party -- Different Spirit holds 23 House seats and seven Senate seats.
According to ENCOD's Joep Oomen, the other two coalition parties are unlikely to move on the issue, largely for fear that any move to soften the drug laws would throw votes to hard-line rightist Flemish parties. Both parties released statement in response to di Rupo's remarks saying they felt no need for further cannabis liberalization.
The Antwerp Users' Union, a group of cannabis consumers in the Belgian port city, has its own ideas. In a Saturday meeting, the group announced a plan to develop collective cannabis cultivation that is says would stay within the law and asked the political parties to keep its ideas in mind.