Ine Van Wymersch, a former prosecutor and current National Drug Commissioner of Belgium, is pushing for the decriminalization of the possession and use of illegal drugs. As part of her efforts, she aims to adopt a curative approach towards drug users instead of focusing on repressive measures.
Portugal’s success story: tackling a heroin epidemic and reducing crime rates
In the late 1990s, Portugal faced a significant heroin epidemic, leading to a dramatic rise in HIV infections, drug-related deaths, and associated criminal activities. However, by decriminalizing drug possession and usage for quantities less than ten daily doses, Portugal has experienced commendable results, including a decrease in drug-related issues and crimes. Nevertheless, individuals possessing over ten daily doses, engaging in illegal drug trafficking, or involved in drug production or sales can still be convicted by the criminal court.
When caught with drugs in Portugal within legal limits, the offender must appear before a Deterrence Commission within 72 hours. This commission then evaluates the situation based on factors such as the type of drug, offender’s history, and severity of the offense, followed by the appropriate sanction. These penalties may include administrative fines similar to those found in Belgium (GAS-boetes), community service, or referral to assistance programs aimed at rehabilitation.
Belgium debates drug reform: are there lessons to learn from Portugal?
As Belgium weighs its options concerning drug policy reforms, it is essential to consider Portugal’s model and integrate its successes into its own approaches. Belgian Drug Coordinator Colman acknowledges the positive outcomes achieved in Portugal but emphasizes the need for a holistic strategy tailored to the specific context of Belgium.
Although it might be an uphill struggle, adopting a curative approach towards drug users is worth considering. This perspective prioritizes providing assistance and support for individuals who have an addiction rather than focusing solely on punishment. A shift in policy may prevent further drug-related harm and promote increased access to treatment services for those in need.
Challenges in implementing Portugal’s model
Effectively implementing a model similar to Portugal’s drug policy requires addressing several challenges unique to Belgium, including legal and social aspects.
Firstly, it involves updating existing legislation related to drug possession and use to better align with this new, progressive stance. This change could trigger resistance from conservative lawmakers or opposition from certain sections of society that don’t approve of decriminalization under any circumstance.
Secondly, an efficient administrative framework must be developed and put into place. Adapting Portugal’s Deterrence Commission infrastructure to the Belgian context proves crucial for efficiently working through cases and allowing for judicial discretion when meeting appropriate sanctions.
Lastly, long-term success requires increased investments in education, prevention, and rehabilitation programs. These initiatives will help curb drug usage rates and create awareness about illegal substances, potential dangers, and available support facilities.
A new direction: where does Belgium go from here?
With the ongoing debate surrounding drug policy reform, Belgium finds itself at a crossroads. By looking at Portugal’s example of successfully combating its heroin epidemic, lowering HIV infection rates, and reducing associated crime, Belgium has the opportunity to follow suit by adopting progressive policies in line with evolving global stances.
Though various challenges are involved in incorporating Portugal’s drug decriminalization model into its laws, Belgium can nonetheless draw inspiration and learn valuable lessons to forge a path towards a progressive, effective, and compassionate drug policy.