Updated at 10.37am with reactions

Psychotherapist Mariella Dimech has been sacked from her position as executive chairperson of the cannabis authority after just 10 months in the role.

The government made no announcement but when contacted on Friday, Dimech said she was informed on Thursday by the Home Affairs ministry that her post was being terminated with immediate effect.

"Over the last 10 months, I have worked with no functional office, no staff, no budget and a political strategy and decision strategy I disagreed with," she said.

Dimech was the first person to lead the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC). She was appointed earlier this year on a contract worth up to €82,000-a-year and her term was meant to last three years.

Times of Malta has revealed that Leonid McKay, a former director of Caritas, will replace her as head of the authority.

Malta legalised the cultivation and possession of cannabis at the end of 2021, becoming the first EU country to do so. ARUC was established as part of the new law.

The new body acts as a regulator for non-profit associations that are now allowed to cultivate and distribute cannabis to approved members.

It is also tasked with educational campaigns.

Dimech said she had been "personally approached" by Prime Minister Robert Abela because of her vast experience and history addressing drug abuse and harm.

"I hope that any future policy implementation will recognise the great sensitivity of this initiative and ensure that the first priority is not financial gain of the few over the general interests and fabric of our national communities," she added.

Dimech worked with drug rehabilitation service Caritas for 21 years, ten of which saw her work as coordinator of all Tama Ġdida radio programs and services, with the aim of providing support to drug victims and their families.

As coordinator, she was responsible for the creation of clinical programs for all the organisation's services.

For six years, she ran the San Blas Therapeutic Community.

Releaf, the NGO that had campaigned for the regulation of cannabis, said it was "shocked" to hear the news of Dimech's dismissal, and that she had been left without human resources or a sound infrastructure to do her work.

"It is now all clear how the industry has already taken hold of decision-makers, and aims to transform a human rights framework into a commercial model for the few". 

It praised Dimech for listening to the cannabis community and prioritising well-being over financial gains. 

"One questions how could we seriously combat the negative effects of a profit-driven illicit market if this is now being replaced by an equally profit-driven market run by a few friends in high places". 

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