Malta to legalize cannabis for recreational use and home-growing
More European legalization news! It seems that Malta -and not Luxembourg– will be the first European country to allow users to grow cannabis at home. The Maltese government is one step away from passing a cannabis reform bill that needs to be approved by parliament. But given the majority in parliament, this bill is already a fact!
This bill to reform the law on cannabis in Malta will also regulate cannabis social clubs.
This bill will mainly decriminalize the use of cannabis in Malta, which is a beautiful starting point. Decriminalization decreases the chances of convictions and criminal records, and it prompts legalization. This bill is aimed for adult cannabis consumers.
After a four-hour meeting, Maltese MPs approved this bill to reform the law on cannabis with no major amendments. The aims are:
Decriminalization of cannabis possession: Possession of up to 7 grams of cannabis for personal use will not be prosecuted. Possession from 7 to 18 grams will be dealt with by a justice commissioner. Underage offenders will be part of a care plan. Any citizen having a criminal record for cannabis possession can request it to be removed.
Conduct harm reduction campaigns: Education on cannabis in Malta will be a priority in order to encourage responsible use. In this sense Owen Bonnici, Minister for Equality, Research and Innovation stated that there is no will to encourage cannabis use but to help people make informed choices. A better strategy than criminalizing users, according to him.
Legalization of home cultivation: Growing up to four cannabis plants at home for personal use will be allowed. These plants should not be visible from the outside.
Regulation of cannabis social clubs: Cannabis will be available in regulated associations that will be run as non-profit organizations. They will be responsible for the cultivation of their own cannabis. There will be a maximum of 500 members. Citizens can only be members of one association, and the maximum purchase will be 7gr per day and 50gr per month. 500 grams will be the maximum of cannabis available in storage. Cannabis seeds will also be sold in these cannabis clubs, with a maximum of 20 seeds per month for each member. These cannabis clubs must be at least 250 meters away from any school or youth-related center. This model differs from the Spanish cannabis social clubs because consumption will not be allowed in those premises in Malta. Cannabis consumption in public will remain illegal with fines up to 235€ for adults and 300€ for minors.
Owen Bonnici announced the approval of this cannabis reform bill on Twitter. Even if the bill passed this stage without amendments, there was a discussion between Opposition MPs and NGO representatives. Several controversies were addressed.
Cannabis authority in Malta: Stephen Spiteri and Claudio Grech from the Nationalist Party consider it contradictory that cannabis will be regularized and that educational campaigns will be carried out at the same time. According to Grech, it is like sending the message that there is a good way of consuming cannabis.
Increase in cannabis use and criminality: NGO representatives had something to say about this. Caritas director Anthony Gatt shared his concern that this bill could promote cannabis use. Ian Mifsud, from the Secretariat for Catholic Education, considers cannabis as a potential gateway drug. On the other hand, Re-Leaf president Andrew Bonello welcomed the bill because of the impact it will have in erasing the focus on fear and punishment from the past.
Cannabis clubs: Stephen Cachia, from the Church Schools Association requested for an increase of the 250-metre limit of cannabis clubs to 1 km. He claimed cannabis associations could endanger children and specially teens in post-secondary institutions.
Age limit: MP Claudio Grech from the Nationalist Party asked to raise the age limit for cannabis consumption and purchase from 18 to 25. As a response, Bonnici replied that “If we do that, we will create a vacuum, and they will face the same consequences we are trying to eliminate”.
Limit on the THC potency: Owen Bonnici announced that there would be no limit on THC percentages in order to avoid creating a niche for the black market. Caritas director Anthony Gatt responded that potency is tied to the effect a specific amount of cannabis could have on one person. He was concerned about the effects of THC levels and claimed a direct link between THC potency and intoxication levels.
In May 2021, Prime Minister Robert Abela explained why people should not be treated like criminals for cannabis possession. As a lawyer, he is especially sensitive about decriminalization. These controversial opinions on cannabis were not new to Malta. Here is a timeline of cannabis regulations in Malta:
Before 2015: Possession carried sentences from 1 to 12 years in prison. Cultivation also meant immediate prison sentences.
May 2015: Partial decriminalization. Possession of up to 3,5 grams not prosecuted. However, law enforcement could arrest and enquire for about 48 hours and even make the detainees testify. Cultivation for personal use was not prosecuted either.
February 2018: Medical cannabis officially legalized. Health practitioners prescribed non-smokable cannabis that could be purchased in pharmacies. These medications are approved by the Superintendent of Public Health. Patients suffering from chronic pain, the effects of chemotherapy and multiple sclerosis were eligible for medical cannabis. Malta Enterprise approved 5 projects to produce medical cannabis.
It seems like Europe is on a cannabis decriminalization and legalization frenzy:
In September 2021, Italy passed a bill to decriminalize home-grown cannabis. It was followed by Italy’s cannabis referendum for the legalization of home-grown cannabis and use, an event that proved the existing demand for change. If the courts allow it to move forward, a new vote could take place between April 15th and June 15th, 2022.
In October 2021, Luxembourg was most likely the first EU country to legalize growing cannabis for personal use. However, it is still refining its draft bill on recreational cannabis due to the pandemic, diplomatic reasons and international constraints. Its Chamber of Deputies will introduce this new bill beginning of 2022.