Belgium to legalise possession of cannabis

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The Independent Online

Belgium's cabinet has approved plans to legalise the use of cannabis, while resisting calls for a drugs regime as liberal as that of its northern neighbour, the Netherlands.

Belgium's cabinet has approved plans to legalise the use of cannabis, while resisting calls for a drugs regime as liberal as that of its northern neighbour, the Netherlands.

After a hotly fought debate yesterday, the coalition government agreed on a compromise which will make it legal to grow or smoke cannabis, but not to sell or buy it.

Smoking openly in the Grand Place of Brussels or other public places will still leave Belgians liable to prosecution under laws to prevent "social nuisance" commonly used for those who urinate flagrantly in public (doing so discreetly is not considered a crime).

Surveys show that as many as 40 per cent of the country's 10 million population has experience of cannabis and, with the Dutch border not much more than one hour away for most of the population, some liberalisation seemed inevitable. At present possession of any cannabis is technically punishable by a prison sentence.

Paul Geerts, spokesman for the consumer affairs and health ministry, said that plans to allow Dutch-style cafés, where cannabis is legally available, had been judged to "go too far". For people who want to obtain it there were two alternatives, he said: "You can grow it yourself or most people in Belgium know where you can buy it in the Netherlands."

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