Malta moves to legalise cannabis – a decision that will likely trigger waves of reform across the rest of Europe in 2022.
This week, the EU’s smallest member state will become the first European country to legalise the cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal use, the Guardian reports.
The Maltese parliament voted in favour of legislation that allows possession of up to seven grams of the drug for those aged 18 and over. Home cultivation of up to four cannabis plants, with up to 50g of the dried product storable, will also be permitted. The vote will be followed by Malta’s president signing the new law, so it may be enacted by the weekend.
While the EU is undergoing a wave of change to its drug laws, Malta has unexpectedly pipped Luxembourg – who announced their intention to legalise personal use earlier this year – to the post. Malta’s move will likely be followed by cannabis reform across the rest of Europe in 2022.
Germany recently announced their move to establish a legally regulated market, following announcements from Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Italy has planned a referendum, while Canada, Mexico and 18 US states have already enacted similar legislation.
While the Netherlands is the European country most closely associated with a relaxed attitude towards cannabis use, possession and trade are technically illegal. Instead, the government has a gedoogbeleid, a “tolerance policy”, whereby use is accepted within limits. Nevertheless, a trial is planned which will test the production and regulation of the plant.
In contrast, the UK has been accused of enforcing a Richard Nixon-style ‘war on drugs’ approach by doubling down on punitive enforcement against drug use. Boris Johnson’s government will maintain its tough approach to cannabis while making criminal sanctions for the users of class A narcotics a central tenet of its recently published 10-year strategy.
Owen Bonnici, the Maltese minister responsible for the new legislation, stated that there is no evidence for the argument that cannabis use in itself is a gateway to harder substances.
Bonnici said in conversation with the Guardian that his government now understands that a hard-fist approach against cannabis users was disproportionate in causing suffering to people who are leading exemplary lives. Banning the use of cannabis on a personal basis, unnecessarily placed many on the precarious edge of criminality.
Although Malta does not want to encourage the use of recreational drugs, Bonnici says, legislation to decriminalise cannabis use will make way for regulation that ensures harm reduction.
This shift in approach exhibited across a number of European governments is pursuant to a decision by the UN last December to remove cannabis from a category of drugs designated as potentially addictive and dangerous, and having little or no therapeutic use.
Possession over the 7g limit and up to 28g will lead to a fine of €50-€100 but with no criminal record. Minors found in possession are to face a commission of justice for the recommendation of a care plan, rather than face criminal proceedings. The consumption of cannabis in front of a child is punishable by a fine between €300 and €500.
Beyond private cultivation, non-profit cannabis clubs will be permitted to cultivate the plant for distribution amongst its members, similar to organisations tolerated in Spain and the Netherlands.
Cannabis club membership will be capped at 500 people and only 7 grams may be distributed to each person daily, with a maximum of 50 grams a month. These organisations, which must not be located within a 250 metre radius of any school, club or youth centre, may also distribute up to 20 cannabis plant seeds to each member on a monthly basis.
After a long debate, Malta’s government decided against placing controls on the strength of cannabis that can be grown and used, as measured by the level of the primary psychoactive ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Bonnici explains that the reasoning behind this move is that any limit placed on THC levels in cannabis would promote the creation of a new illicit market. Instead, Malta’s efforts will be put into public education and creating access to information which reduces any harms resulting from cannabis use.
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