Belgium has a strong tradition of looking to its neighbours when faced with tricky decisions. Adjacent nations are often allowed to test the water on policies that might provoke some resentment or deviate from established norms.
Such has been the case with issues from labour reforms to covid restrictions. Yesterday, the same line of reasoning was evoked by Belgium's Economy and Employment Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne in the context of cannabis, citing the successes seen in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany after laws on the drug's use and sale were relaxed.
With no concessions to archaic attitudes towards the soft drug, Dermagne's rhetoric was blunt (and pun-free) as he made a case for pragmatism. "Are Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg run by far-left governments full of idiots?" he asked, adding that the 101-year-old drug law still operating in Belgium is a pain to police and fills the country's notoriously overcrowded prisons with low-level offenders.
Far better surely to relieve the system of law and order of this "socially accepted" substance and direct energy to dealing with the major issues? Indeed, Dermagne highlighted the financial gains this could net the State – €660 million according to university estimations. At the same time, Belgium could play a far more effective role in regulating use and promoting safe consumption: "It would allow us to better guide users, prohibit sales to minors, and take over an important source of income from the criminal environment."
Then again, the call for a rational and moderate approach to drug control has been made umpteen times and inevitably bangs into stalwart opposition from scaremongers who insist that legalising cannabis is the first step towards heavy narcotics dependency – a claim uncorroborated by relevant scientific findings.
Reactionaries in Belgium's political midst make a virtue of severity, some willing to prove their worthiness in the drug war with quarterly blood tests whilst others preach a hardline stance that makes little distinction between substances. But how long can dogged intransigence hold out against modern policies that bear fruit just over Belgium's borders?
Let @Orlando_tbt know.
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