Unlike selling and/or possessing controlled substances, the use of controlled substances is not mentioned as an offence in Belgian drug laws. In 2003, personal possession of cannabis was differentiated from the possession of other controlled substances, with the result that the public prosecutor did not have to prosecute if there was no evidence of problematic drug use or of public nuisance. After the Constitutional Court found that these terms were insufficiently defined, a new directive, issued in February 2005, called for full prosecution for possession in cases in which the ‘user amount’ (3 g or one plant) was exceeded, public order was disturbed or aggravating circumstances were identified. This includes possession of cannabis in or near places where schoolchildren might gather and also ‘blatant’ possession in a public place or building. Such cases are punishable by three months to one year in prison and/or a fine of EUR 8 000 to EUR 800 000. In the absence of aggravating circumstances, possession of cannabis for personal use is punishable by a fine of EUR 120 to EUR 200, based on a simplified police report. Increased fines are imposed for second and third offences within a year of the previous offence, with up to one year in prison also possible for a third offence. (Note that all the amounts shown here have been adjusted by the official inflation figure, that is, multiplied by a factor of 8).
For drugs other than cannabis, Belgian law punishes possession, production, import, export or sale without aggravating circumstances with three months’ to five years’ imprisonment and an additional fine of EUR 8 000 to EUR 800 000. The term of imprisonment may be increased to 10, 15 or even 20 years (with an optional fine) in various specified aggravating circumstances.
Until 2014, the control of new psychoactive substances was achieved by amending the list of controlled substances. In 2014, the law was adapted to allow generic group definitions of controlled substances to be listed, and the Royal Decree of September 2017 implemented this classification with the addition of several generic groups.
Drug law offence (DLO) data are the foundation for monitoring drug-related crime and are also a measure of law enforcement activity and drug market dynamics; they may be used to inform policies on implementation of drug laws and to improve strategies.
Data from the federal police indicate that most DLOs in Belgium are related to possession. Cannabis is the drug most commonly involved in DLOs, with an increase in the number of cannabis-related possession offences recorded between 2005 up to 2014, and a decrease found in more recent years. The number of DLOs linked to MDMA/ecstasy has been increasing since 2010. In the meantime, a drop in the number of heroin-related offences has been observed since 2010 and may be attributed to the changing priorities of the National Security Plan since 2012, namely that heroin is no longer a priority.