Belgium Country Drug Report 2018

Drug markets

Belgium has an important position in the production of cannabis and synthetic drugs (mostly MDMA/ecstasy and amphetamines) and, recently, in the distribution of new psychoactive substances (NPS), with strong connections to drug production in the neighbouring Netherlands. Cannabis-growing operations and clandestine laboratories are most often concentrated in the border region, sometimes with common production chains.

Cannabis remains the most frequently seized illicit substance in Belgium. While in 2016 the overall number of cannabis plantations shut down decreased by approximately 15 %, this was mainly owing to reduced numbers of mini- and micro-sites (fewer than 50 plants) identified; an increase in large plantations (500-999 plants) identified and shut down was observed compared with previous years. Most herbal cannabis consumed in Belgium is domestically produced, and domestic production is supplemented by imports from Spain, the Netherlands and some African countries. Cannabis resin, mostly of Moroccan origin, is trafficked into the country mainly by road via Spain and France. Cannabis is also trafficked to markets in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and other EU countries.

In 2016, 10 illicit synthetic drug laboratories were reportedly shut down, fewer than reported in the previous three years. Eight of these were linked to the synthesis of amphetamine and/or the conversion of alpha-phenylacetoacetonitrile (APAAN) (a precursor used in the illicit synthesis of amphetamine).

In recent years, Belgian law enforcement organisations have reported increases both in the numbers of seizures and in the seized quantities of MDMA. In 2016, the quantity of seized MDMA tablets was three times those reported in 2015, and the highest since 2008. No clear time trends can be observed regarding amphetamine seizures; in 2016, the amount of methamphetamine seized more than tripled.

The year 2016 was a record one for cocaine seizures in the country. The port of Antwerp is significant in international drug trafficking, primarily of cocaine, as are the airports of Brussels and Liège. The most common countries of origin for cocaine are Colombia and Brazil, with much of the cocaine that arrives in Belgium being destined for the Netherlands or other EU countries.

Belgium is also a transit zone for NPS, which frequently originate from China, although local synthetic cannabinoid blending and packaging have been reported.

Heroin seized in Belgium often arrives from countries of the sub-Saharan Africa, and is intended for further trafficking to the Netherlands. The number of heroin seizures and quantities seized have declined in the last five years.

Current law enforcement priorities in Belgium aim to ensure public safety and order through enhanced intersectoral cooperation, with a focus on consistent enforcement of criminal justice measures in the field of drugs. Moreover, the police focus their activities on large-scale production of illicit substances.

 

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Methodological note: Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in a hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Detailed information on methodology and caveats and comments on the limitations in the information set available can be found in the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin.