Coffee shops will 'hopefully' soon open in Brussels,' says Mayor

Coffee shops will 'hopefully' soon open in Brussels,' says Mayor
A man smoking a joint in a coffee shop in Maastricht. Credit: Belga / Michel Krakowski

In an interview with the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Brussels City Mayor Philippe Close repeated his plea to decriminalise the use of cannabis in Belgium – as a first step toward legalisation.

A few days before the interview in the Dutch newspaper, Close already launched a proposal in Belgian media to have a "serene debate" about the decriminalisation and eventual legalisation of cannabis through a "national drugs plan" – partly following the example set by the Netherlands.

"We know that there are drugs in our society. Whoever thinks that this problem will be solved only by the police is wrong," he said. "Why do we never listen to doctors, psychologists and social workers when it comes to drugs? They are the ones who work with drug addicts. Let's concentrate on prevention. Not on punishment."

'Like a glass of whisky'

Belgium's main issue, Close said, is that the country does not want to see the problems that drugs cause, and therefore does not want to talk about it. "But I genuinely do not know anyone who has never tried a joint."

"However, in Belgium, people do not know where to go when their use gets out of hand. Users are only seen as criminals. This can all be done much better," he said, adding that he wants Belgium to legalise, distribute, produce and control cannabis, and also start prevention programmes like in the Canadian province of Québec.

He underlined that he is in favour of heavy repression against both drug smugglers and traffickers, but that these problems cannot be solved by the police alone, which is why other solutions have to be considered. "Too often, people who use drugs are still seen as failures today," said Close. "We push them away, but I say: let's help them."

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"This is something for the social and medical authorities. I see a joint like I see a glass of whisky," Close explained. "If you have one on a Saturday evening, you do not have a problem. But if you start your day with it, you do. And then you need help."

Currently, some small stores are already selling cannabis sweets, "without the active THC components, we think," he said, adding that he wants to create a framework to regulate them. "For example, they should not be too close to schools. With that same framework, I hope that we will also soon have coffee shops in Brussels."

On Twitter, he added that "it is time for Belgium to stop its hypocrisy and really put in place an integrated plan on the problem of drug use."

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