It is illegal to sell or possess cannabis in Belgium. However, in 2003, limited personal use of cannabis was decriminalised. This only applies to amounts of 3g or less and is on the condition that the user is not being a public nuisance. Medical use of cannabis is legal but is limited to the use of one product – Sativex oral spray for multiple sclerosis.
Cannabis laws in Belgium
Can you possess and use cannabis in Belgium?
It is still technically illegal to possess cannabis in Belgium. The exception to the rule is personal use. The 2003 directive ruled that personal possession of cannabis was less serious than other forms of drug use. It was no longer regarded as a prosecutable offence, unless there was evidence of the cannabis use being problematic or causing a public nuisance.
In 2005, the Constitutional Court issued a new directive to more clearly define the terms of this law. Users could now be persecuted for possessing amounts of cannabis that were 3g or higher (or more than one plant).
Using cannabis near schools or other public areas was also made into a punishable offence. Individuals could face three months to one year in prison, and / or a fine (EUR 8,000 to EUR 800,000). Fines are increased for repeat offenders (within a year of the previous offence).
Some politicians and the media have highlighted the confusing nature of the law. For example, the City of Antwerp introduced a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in 2014, which gave police the power to issue on-the-spot fines (of EUR 75) to users caught with any amount of cannabis. This directly contradicted the Belgium government’s official stance.
Can you sell cannabis in Belgium?
It is illegal to sell cannabis in Belgium, and an individual caught selling it may face a fine or a prison sentence. Again, the law is complex on this issue. The 1998 directive suggested that those selling cannabis to finance their own addiction should be given a reduced prison sentence or fine. Then, a new law was introduced in 2003, categorising the sale of cannabis:
- Category 1 – import, possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use
- Category 2 – 1st category offences committed with aggravating circumstances
- Category 3 – all other offences (including substances that aren’t cannabis)
Can you grow cannabis in Belgium?
The current law states that it is legal to grow one plant in your own home. A report from 2015 found that cannabis cultivation was ‘endemic’ in Belgium, with many people choosing to grow it. While this may be the case, it is important to remember that it is still a ‘grey area’ and growing more than one plant is illegal.
Is CBD legal in Belgium?
The law does not permit the sale or purchase of CBD oil in Belgium. Products containing THC (the psychoactive substance responsible for the ‘high’) are illegal. In fact, any ‘foodstuffs’ that list cannabis as an ingredient, even if the levels of THC are below 0.2%, are illegal. Despite this, some CBD oil manufacturers supply within the country.
The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain states: “Cannabis sativa L. is included in List 1 “Dangerous plants which cannot be used as or in foodstuffs” annexed to the Royal Decree of 29 August 1997 on the manufacture of and trade in foodstuffs composed of or containing plants or plant preparations. These provisions also apply to hemp with a THC content of 0.2% or less…”
Can cannabis seeds be sent to Belgium?
The purchase of cannabis seeds in Belgium is legal, and the law has decriminalised growing one female cannabis plant at home. You are not permitted to grow more than one plant, nor can you use the seeds as food, in accordance with the laws outlined by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain.
Medicinal cannabis in Belgium
In 2015, the public health minister for Belgium (Maggie De Block) signed a royal decree to legalise the sale of medicinal cannabis. At the time, the decision was praised for its progressiveness, though only one product is eligible under the law. This is an oral spray for MS patients, called Sativex.
Some associations in Belgium have called for greater access to medical cannabis-based products. They claim that the current law excludes many patients whose symptoms could be eased by being able to use cannabis medically. A few organisations have even come together to offer patients a greater array of cannabis-based pain-relief options – but they are not technically operating within the law.
Industrial hemp in Belgium
In accordance with EU Regulation 1307 / 2013, Belgian law allows the growth of hemp for industrial purposes. This can be used to create a variety of things, from paper and textiles, to construction material and biodegradable plastic. The hemp industry in Belgium is undergoing a revival at present and many businesses are thriving as a result.
Belgium’s political parties and cannabis
The Belgian government has come under fire for its cannabis policies, which some see as too liberal. Experts have pointed out that numbers of cannabis users have risen (though numbers of young users have stagnated). There has also been a rise in ‘cannabis abuse’ referrals to psychiatric or rehabilitation centres.
Others call to legalise the drug. Professor Paul De Grauwe (KU Leuven) comments: “If it’s illegal, it’s profitable. That’s the paradox of a repressive policy. As the profit margin increases, so does supply. Criminals end up in a resource race with law enforcement, and usually the criminals win because the government simply doesn’t have the budget to compete.”
Good to know
If you are travelling to Belgium (or are a resident of the country), it is useful to know the following:
- Cannabis is the most commonly seized drug in Belgium. This is despite its semi-decriminalised status for personal use. Numbers of plantations uncovered by the police are also on the rise.
- Number of young cannabis users in the country remains high. The most recent figures suggest that one in six 15 to 16-year olds in the Flemish community and one in five in the French community have used cannabis in the past.
- Cannabis was also found to be the most popular drug among 15 to 34-year-olds, with 10.1% using the substance.
- Despite the prevalence of its use in Belgium, it is important to remember that it is still illegal to possess and sell.
Attitudes to cannabis
High numbers of Belgian people have tried cannabis, which demonstrates the popularity of the drug. However, unlike its neighbouring country the Netherlands, cannabis cannot legally be purchased in a coffeeshop. The government is more lenient on those who use cannabis in the privacy of their own homes – but those who use it in near schools for example, risk prosecution.
Hundreds of years ago, acres of land in Belgium were used to grow hemp. The seed from this plant was used as a grain for making food, and the husks were useful for manufacturing rope, canvas, clothes, shoes and material for sails.
In the twentieth century, the country’s attitude to cannabis underwent a noticeable shift. The supposed negatives of cannabis use were being publicised more widely, particularly in countries like the USA. Gradually, the hemp plantations vanished, even though many of the plants contained a low percentage of THC.
The 1960s counter-culture saw a rise in the use of cannabis in Belgium, and it became associated with the artistic community. Although the Belgian government initially adopted a repressive stance, the use of the drug has become widespread in recent years.
What medical cannabis products are available in Belgium?
At present, there is only one cannabis-based medical product available. This is Sativex, an oral spray used to alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis patients.
What is Belgian cannabis like?
The potency of both hash (cannabis resin) and herbal cannabis is generally strong in Belgium. A 2017 report found that hash had an average 31% THC content, and herbal cannabis had 24%.
What are Belgian Cannabis Social Clubs?
Belgium’s cannabis social clubs are privately owned by people that grow cannabis to distribute, but without generating profit from the activity. Belgium is not the first country to have such organisations; Spain’s CSCs provided the inspiration.
Through the social clubs, Belgian cannabis activists can meet their personal needs without resorting to purchasing illegally. Experts recognise the value of these clubs. They have good control over the quality and potency of their product. They also have control over who they supply to. Concerns have been raised about their general instability though, with some questioning the transparency of their operations.
The Belgian drugs market
In the 1950s and 1960s, most cannabis in Belgium was imported from countries such as India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This has changed in recent years, with imports decreasing and quantities of ‘homegrown’ cannabis rising steadily. This matches the general worldwide trend.
Is Belgium likely to decriminalise its use?
Pressure is on for the government to introduce a wider range of medical cannabis products. This is to ensure that patients suffering from health conditions other than MS also have the option to use it if desired. As for recreational use? It is difficult to say what the future holds for Belgium. Some call for more relaxed laws. By claiming control of the cannabis market, the government will then have greater powers in terms of regulation and distribution. However, others want the opposite – a more ‘zero tolerance’ approach, even to personal use.
- Disclaimer:While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.