The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Belgium
Belgium is the land of famed chocolates, tasty waffles and complicated cannabis laws. Even though more than 10 percent of Belgian young adults aged 15 to 34 admit to using cannabis at least once in the past year, cannabis is still illegal in Belgium.
As a tourist, you might be wondering ‘is cannabis legal in Belgium?’ Well, it is not. But there’s a catch. Personal possession of cannabis was decriminalised back in 2003. In the absence of aggravating circumstances, the possession of up to 3 g of cannabis is considered a misdemeanour in Belgium and is punishable by a small fine.
Belgians are allowed to grow cannabis but shouldn’t consume it in public
Cannabis has been decriminalised for personal use in Belgium, and Belgians are allowed to grow one cannabis plant in their homes. A study by Letizia Paoli et al, which was conducted in 2015, found that ‘ cannabis cultivation has become endemic in Belgium .’ The authors also found that ‘ cannabis cultivation generates limited harms in Belgium’ and that ‘ cannabis cultivation should thus not be a law enforcement priority .’
The study concluded as follows:
‘ Given the limited harms generated, there is scarce scientific justification to prioritize cannabis cultivation in Belgian law enforcement strategies. […] Given the policy origin of most harms, policy-makers should seek to develop policies likely to reduce such harms .’
And since Belgians are allowed to grow and possess cannabis, they’re also allowed to consume it, but not in public. In Belgium, using cannabis is considered a punishable offense only if it’s problematic (the authorities decide what’s problematic on a case by case basis) or if it causes a public nuisance.
Using cannabis near public areas such as schools is punishable by a large fine (up to €800,000) or even a prison sentence of up to one year.
Belgian cannabis businesses operate in a legal grey area
Hemp is completely legal in Belgium, as it is in the rest of the European Union. However, several years ago the Belgian law did not specifically cover hemp-derived products such as cannabidiol (CBD), so entrepreneurs jumped to capitalise on the situation.
As a result, CBD shops popped up all over Belgium, but especially in crowded Brussels. More than one hundred cannabis stores opened across Belgium almost overnight. People looking to relax or to relieve pain started using CBD and the cannabinoid became quite popular in a short amount of time.
Now, the Belgian law didn’t specify anything about CBD, but the law clearly stated that products containing more than 0.2 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) were illegal. So the police raided CBD shops and confiscated their merchandise, sometimes for several months, to test it.
Then, in 2017, the Belgian government passed a decree stating that cannabis-derived products containing less than 0.2 percent THC are not subjected to the drug law regulating psychotropic and controlled substances. But the decree had a catch. The cannabis-derived products would fall under the purview of the federal medicines agency if the seller claimed they produced health benefits.
So most entrepreneurs decided to label their cannabis-derived products as not suitable for human consumption to avoid authority raids and the confiscation of their products.
One of the differences that make Belgium stand out from most of the other EU countries is that it allows shops to sell dried hemp flowers that have a THC content of less than 0.2 percent. Since April 2019, Belgium has legalised cannabis flowers and classified dried cannabis flower as a tobacco product. This move made cannabis accessible to virtually every Belgian citizen, making it legal in more than 100,000 stores across the country.
Cannabis social clubs gain popularity in Belgium
Cannabis social clubs have existed in Belgium for about 15 years now. The first club appeared after the Belgian government decided that the possession of one cannabis plant or three grams of marijuana will no longer be punishable offences.
The first cannabis social club argued that, by growing a single cannabis plant in the name of each of its registered members, it did not break any laws. And all the social clubs that appeared since then have followed the same model.
However, cannabis social clubs were still raided by law enforcement agencies, had their crops confiscated and faced criminal proceedings.
To join a cannabis social group, an individual has to be a Belgian resident or national over 18 or 21 years of age. Some social clubs also have specific requirements, such as providing a declaration that the candidate has used cannabis before joining or producing a recommendation letter.
Cannabis social clubs supply their members with cannabis flower either directly or through exchange fairs — collective gatherings where members of different clubs can exchange the cannabis strains they’ve cultivated.
In 2016, two of the oldest cannabis social clubs in Belgium joined efforts to develop a blueprint for the regulation of cannabis. Their proposal stated three models for the supply of cannabis: individual growing, cannabis social clubs and via a pharmacy for medical reasons.
The proposal included steps and procedures that should be followed, rules concerning growing sites, transport, delivery, etc. Their plan stated that the harvest produced by individual growers could be bought and distributed by the state, and it recommended that a federal agency should oversee the entire process.
Medical cannabis in Belgium
Belgium legalised medical cannabis in 2015 . The decision was seen as progressive at the time, even though the list of diseases that were eligible for cannabis medication was short. In addition, only a single product was eligible by law — Sativex, the oral cannabis spray developed by GW Pharma that can be used as a treatment by those suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Multiple patient associations have called for better access to medical cannabis, claiming that many medical users have to join cannabis social clubs or to cross the border into the Netherlands to get their medicine.
In February 2019, Belgium’s parliamentary Health Committee adopted a bill that facilitates the creation of a cannabis agency. The bill also enabled cannabis to be prescribed to patients for whom usual medicines have little or no use.
In September 2019, members of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives drafted a resolution that called on the federal government to invest in clinical research regarding the effectiveness of cannabinoids as treatment, the controlled production of CBD oil for medical use and the extension of the therapeutic use of cannabinoids for patients.
Will Belgium legalise cannabis?
Cannabis is one of the topics Belgian politicians tackle before every election and then forget shortly after the elections are over. Last year was an election year in Belgium and many politicians expressed their intentions to do more regarding cannabis.
Now, you could say that 2019 was a good year for medical cannabis in Belgium, but it’s difficult to say what the future holds for recreational cannabis in Belgium. Some politicians are calling for cannabis legalisation while members of the government are arguing that the laws are already too lenient.
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Victor is a staff writer at Strain Insider and a digital marketer. He writes about cannabis, health & wellness, and marketing topics. When he’s not writing, Victor usually wastes time online looking for the perfect gif.
As a tourist, you might be wondering 'is cannabis legal in Belgium?' Well, it is not. But there’s a catch. Cannabis laws in Belgium are quite complicated.
Cannabis in Belgium – Laws, Use, and History
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.
- CBD Products
- Recreational cannabis
- Medicinal cannabis
- Legal since 2015
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 – 1 st 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.
Cannabis in Luxembourg – Laws, Use, and History
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%.
Cannabis in France – Laws, Use, and History
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.
Cannabis in Germany – Laws, Use, and History
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.
It is illegal to sell or possess cannabis, but the law has become more relaxed with ‘personal use’ amounts. Here’s more information.