November 12, 2014
Let’s End Wasted Justice Resources: Second Round in Hasselt ‘Cannabis Social Club’ Lawsuit
Hasselt – To understand how wrong it is for Belgian public safety that on Thursday, November 13th, the Board of the Mambo Social Club in Hasselt has to appear in court for the second time in a short period, one first must understand that the club has operated legally since its first day, with the intent of reducing crime.
Mambo Social Club is a non-profit organization, which was founded in May 2013 as the second Cannabis Social Club in Belgium (following the association ‘Trekt Uw Plant in Antwerp, which is still in operation with 350 members). It operates on the basis of the ministerial directive of 2005, which states that possession by an adult of up to 3 grams of cannabis and/or one cannabis plant is no longer prosecuted, except in cases of public nuisance or aggravating circumstances. The Mambo plants were being grown collectively and out of public view, before being harvested and safely transferred to 60 of its members. 39-year-old Mambo founder Michel Degens has announced the Club’s proceedings to the Hasselt Police every step of the way.
What we are seeing in this case is similar to cases that were started, and subsequently dismissed, in The United States and Canada as drug policy began to change: despite public opinion and scientific research, some individual prosecutors are so dedicated to maintaining a failed policy that they are failing to follow the law themselves, and in fact targeting crime-reducing, law-abiding operators. Organized criminals are laughing — they are thanking the prosecutor for keeping their illicit economies operating even as the world wakes up to the best way to eliminate them.
After operating without a single complaint from the start, the board of the Cannabis Social Club was summoned for a first time on September 9. The Prosecutor asked the civil court to dissolve the Club but the court did not take on the case. Now the prosecutors’ office is trying a second time, before the criminal court. Such a prosecution is wrong-minded, and on the wrong side of history. It is blind to Belgian law, and to the sea of change underway in worldwide cannabis policy. It is ludicrous.
This time the accusation is ‘trade in and incitement to the use of drugs’. Mambo President Degens is dedicated to operating legally, and is confident in the outcome of this second unwarranted harassment (not just of himself and Mambo members but of his own mother, a club officer). This is especially true given the recent support of renowned criminologists Professor Brice De Ruyver (University of Ghent, Belgium) and Professor Cyrille Fijnaut (Tilburg University, Netherlands) for the Cannabis Social Club model. Their research concludes that the social club model is a wise bridge between the criminal drug economy that plagues Belgium today, and regulated cannabis.
The case is a result of an almost comically wasteful and over-manned raid on Mambo Social Club’s family on December 18, 2013. On that day, 10 members of the Hasselt police stopped Degens when he was on his way to a meeting with sixty members of the model Social Club. In his possession were the proceeds of twenty seven legally grown cannabis plants, a total of 1,100 grams. Later, in a search at two of the breeding sites of the club, 36 plants, all with documents and ID-cards of the members, were seized. In other words, the Club was, as always, operating in sync with Belgian policy.
Cannabis Social Clubs are an initiative of cannabis consumers who want to demonstrate that it is perfectly possible to regulate the cannabis market without there having to be any nuisance or profit. They are tired of having to obtain cannabis from criminal elements who provide low quality plants. Taking control of their own cannabis production, they contribute to public safety, ensure the club’s cannabis is healthy and safe, and perform what is proving to be a successful experiment with legal regulation. Mambo and other Belgian social clubs should have the enthusiastic support of government. They do of the media and public, overwhelmingly.
On Friday, October 31st, criminologists De Ruyver and Fijnaut released a statement that appealed to government officials to apply the model of Trekt Uw Plant and Mambo Social Club nationally. “Cannabis social clubs are an interesting path. Provided that you can keep the number of clubs limited, you have good controls on who is allowed to join, limits to how many plants can be grown and the agency that can monitor clubs.”
Mambo Social Club President Degens didn’t ask to be a public figure. He was simply tired of being a criminal for utilizing one of humanity’s longest utilized plants, which U.S. President Obama recently declared is “no more dangerous than alcohol.” What is dangerous is criminal economies. But now Degens knows how important it is for Belgian cannabis policy to reflect reality and aid public safety. “We have kept one hundred percent to the ministerial directive and have operated as upstanding members of the community. That is evident from the many warm messages of support we have received from our neighbors and from the Hasselt population. If we are convicted, we could be obliged to send our members, many of whom use cannabis as treatment for medical conditions like severe pain, multiple sclerosis, or cancer, back to the streets. We cannot imagine letting that happen, and expect common sense and awareness of the cannabis directive from the court. To those who worry about youth access to cannabis, as we do, we point to every major study in Europe and North America, which shows conclusively that youth use rates of cannabis decrease with sensible regulation. That is one of the reasons we adopted the social club model.” Degens welcomes attendance at the court hearing, which will be held at the Hasselt Courthouse on Thursday november 13th at 9:00 Am.Republish