Pubdate: Fri, 19 Jan 2001
Source: Reuters
Copyright: 2001 Reuters Limited


BRUSSELS, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Belgium's government is expected to
approve plans to decriminalise the possession of cannabis for personal
use on Friday, making it only the second European country to opt for
tolerating soft drug use.

More than 20 years after the Netherlands relaxed its policy on the
small-scale use of soft drugs, its neighbour is expected to vote to
stop criminal proceedings against users.

"All possession for personal use won't elicit a reaction from the
(judicial) system. There'll be no charges," Health Minister Magda
Aelvoet told RTBF radio.

The new law would no longer punish possession of cannabis except when
it was deemed to be problematic for the user, or a nuisance to others.
But it falls short of regulating the use of cannabis by age, location
or production.

"The point of view of the government is that there is no objective
reason to treat cannabis in any other way to alcohol or tobacco,"
Health Ministry spokesman Paul Geerts told Reuters.

He said the next step was to change a law dating back to 1921 which
outlawed the use, possession and import of all drugs with a royal
decree. It could be a matter of months before decriminalisation comes
into effect.

The amount of cannabis deemed permissible per consumer was
deliberately left vague, Geerts said.

"The government did not want to give the impression that five grammes
or 15 grammes is good."

On Thursday, the core cabinet already gave the go-ahead for a white
paper outlining policy on all drugs, including alcohol, tobacco and
pharmaceutical drugs, but decriminalising cannabis has been a major
sticking point. 
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