Time for a new Belgian policy on cannabis?


Time for a new Belgian policy on cannabis?

9 April 2018

By Metaforum KU Leuven

Given the limited scientific knowledge of the day, it is understandable to a degree that the architects of the current international enforcement regime on drugs believed sixty years ago in the concept of total eradication of drug production and use. Nowadays, however, it is impossible to ignore the scientific insights and experiences that have been acquired since then in this regard: it is impossible to reduce production and trafficking in illegal drugs and their consumption on a global scale, and certainly not within the border-free European Union. In other words: the global ‘war on drugs’ launched in the 1980s cannot be won and only serves to create additional problems such as corruption, violence and illegal drug revenue in a number of countries worldwide (e.g. Paoli, Reuter & Greenfield, 2009). For decades, debate surrounding alternative regulatory models has been suppressed with the argument, among others, that international agreements and obligations do not permit it (Van Dijk, 1997). But after years of apparent immobility, several countries are presently engaged in an active search for ways to abandon the ‘war on drugs’ path – especially with respect to cannabis. A significant change of course via established international accords is unlikely in the short term because consensus is necessary in this regard and a number of traditionally exceptionally repressive countries might be inclined to obstruct already complicated procedures (Bewley-Taylor, 2003; Hall & Lynskey, 2009). Moreover, international organizations such as the United Nations (via the activities of the International Narcotics Control Board) – in addition to the European action plans – steer consistently in the direction of a uniform and strict approach to the drugs phenomenon. (Boekhout van Solinge, 2002; Roberts et al., 2005; Blom, 2006; Van Kempen & Fedorova, 2014).

In the meantime, many countries are well aware that the points of departure of the ‘war on drugs’ can only be disavowed on the basis of a policy realignment at the local and national levels, in particular when it comes to cannabis (Levine, 2003; Teurlings & Cohen, 2005; Chatwin, 2007). More and more countries, regions and cities have been testing the flexibility of the international agreements because they want to gain deeper insights into the complex character of the drugs phenomenon and potential strategies to deal with it (Bewley-Taylor, 2003; Roberts et al., 2005). They are no longer willing to wait and see what will happen in terms of the revision of international accords and agreements, but are determined by contrast to develop a policy without delay that will allow them to get a grip of the phenomenon and its problematic dimensions (Bewley-Taylor, 2003).

Uruguay and several American states (e.g. Colorado and Washington) have already opted for a regulation of the entire cannabis market, which Canada has announced that it plans to do the same in the summer of 2018. The Dutch coalition agreement of October 2017 allows for an experiment whereby a number of large municipalities are permitted to stock local Coffee Shops via government regulated cannabis production. The authoritative Global Commission on Drug Policy (members including Javier Solana, George Schultz, Kofi Annan, Richard Branson and the former presidents of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Greece, Mexico, Poland and Portugal) has advocated uninterruptedly for an end to the global ‘war on drugs’ since June 2011 (Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2011). In Europe, countries such as Portugal, Switzerland and the Czech Republic have already implemented important reforms in terms of decriminalization.