Regularisation of hard narcotics needed to tackle drug issue, says councillor

Regularisation of hard narcotics needed to tackle drug issue, says councillor
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The Belgian drug law will turn 101 on Thursday, and for this occasion, Antwerp councillor Jinnih Beels is once again calling for the current narcotics legislation in the country to be adapted to today's situation.

The law is currently largely repressive  — with a focus on punishment — rather than preventive. Beels, who has a background in criminology, is calling for the legislation to be updated to regulate the use of drugs, including hard drugs like cocaine, under certain conditions, to help control and contain the drug crisis.

"I am totally against all kinds of drugs; they are not part of a healthy lifestyle. But if we want to tackle the drug problem, we must eventually go to regulation and control by the government," Beels said on Twitter. "We could also then monitor the quality of products and can offer users the necessary treatment."

She added that she hopes the drug debate can finally exit the "ideological realm" and can be held taking into account the situation on the ground.

According to Beels, the current drug policy is Einstein's definition of madness, as the government is always implementing the same formula, in hopes of different results every time. However, in reality, it has not reduced the number of drug users, disrupted the market or fixed criminality linked to narcotics.

Decriminalising drug use and possession

Together with drug expert Tom Decorte (UGent), Beels suggested changes to modernise the law in an interview with Knack magazine, among others by taking away the possession and use of drugs out of criminal law, against the recommendation of Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.

"The fines exacerbate inequality. Those who can afford it pay €200 or €300 and continue smoking or snorting. The others end up in misery," she said, arguing that a new approach is needed.

This was backed by Decorte, who explained that the fines don't stop users. "Cannabis represents 90% of illegal drug use. The most important element that you have to counter that as a government is prevention: you have to explain the health risks."

Beels also highlighted this health aspect and explained that by legalising drugs, the government can control and know what is in narcotics. As councillor for Education and Youth, she stressed the health aspect of adjusting the law is particularly important for young people. Brains grow until the age of 24, and the use of drugs can affect brain development.

"I think that first and foremost we should teach young people how to handle intoxicants in a responsible way," she said. She also advocates a specific ban on drug use for minors, as is already in place for spirits.

Tackling criminality

Belgium, which is not only a big producer of hard drugs including cocaine and heroin, is also a massive exporter of these narcotics, making the country feeding ground of drug gangs and the illegal trade of such substances.

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In 2019, 7.9 tonnes of heroin and 213 tonnes of cocaine were seized in EU countries, of which the amount seized in Belgium accounted for 1.9 tonnes and 65 tonnes. Beels not only wants the policy to be improved on a national but also an international level, to replace the currently fragmented policy and achieve uniformity.

Beels said that in time the government itself will have to organise the selling of drugs through regularisation to "strike a blow against drug gangs and the illegal trade in the country," but both Beels and Decorte stressed that this should go hand in hand with higher thresholds and restrictions as to what products are harmful, and for them to be used in controlled environments. 

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