A cannabis reform advocacy group has welcomed government plans to fully decriminalise the drug while urging it tweak its proposals to allow cannabis to consumed in public in adult-only settings.

In a position paper submitted to the government as part of a public consultation process, Releaf said the plans were "an innovative initial approach to move towards a more humane, just and inclusive Maltese society."

The government white paper proposes to fully decriminalise cannabis when possesed in small quantities for recreational use, allow users to grow up to four cannabis plants in a concealed environment within their own homes and to wipe clean the criminal records of people with cannabis possession convictions.

While Church organisations oppose the plan and medical lobbies have warned about its potential risks, the Labour Party has said that it wants the government to go one step further and fully legalise the sale of cannabis and cannabis seeds through licensed outlets.

In its position paper, Releaf said that drug prohibition had failed to reduce abuse while helping criminal organisations involved in drug cultivation, transportation and smuggling flourish.

Statistics from local courts showed that the majority of drug-related cases concerned drug possession, and particularly cannabis possession. According to the 2019 National Drug Situation in Malta report, 27 people were given prison sentences for cannabis-related crimes in 2016 alone, Releaf noted.

The organisation said decriminalising cannabis possession for up to 7 grams was a positive move, but it noted that the white paper did not specify what police procedure would be when the police found a person with amounts within that limit.

It said the law should specify what police procedure was to be and define what constituted a “reasonable suspicion” that gave police the right to search a person, their car or home.

Drug searches at roadblocks using AFM troops and canine units should be stopped immediately, it said.

Releaf said the proposal to allow the cultivation of cannabis plants for personal use was an “important and brave step” and would help cannabis users steer clear of the black market while promoting an evidence-based approach to the type of cannabis being consumed.

Private and public consumption

It however expressed some concern about the plans not allowing cannabis to be consumed on one’s terrace or balcony and asked how cannabis users would be able to consume the substance with their friends in a private social setting without breaking the law.

Cannabis use in public should be permitted in restricted, adults-only events in enclosed and designated areas, it added.

“The complete ban of public consumption of cannabis continues to echo discrimination and long-standing myths about cannabis consumers. It is unclear why smoking cannabis in public (not in the presence of minors) where tobacco is permitted will not be treated in the same way,” Releaf argued, saying it was unfortunate to see undercover drug squad police officers “preying and ambushing peaceful persons enjoying music” due to cannabis consumption.

Cannabis convictions

Releaf said that while it was important that people with convictions for cannabis possession should have their criminal records wiped clean, people currently in prison or awaiting judgement for similar issues should be released from jail or have proceedings against them dropped.

Jail terms for low-scale trafficking should be revised, it said, adding that cannabis education should focus on a non-judgemental understanding of cannabis’ benefits and risks.

Releaf also welcomed plans to set up a regulatory authority for cannabis. The authority should be fully transparent, include experts and representation from civil society and include a mandate to review and analyse the effects of cannabis decriminalisation two years after the law has come into force, it said.

Public consultation for the government’s white paper ends on Tuesday.

Read Releaf's position paper in the PDF below

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us