Cannabis clubs - dubbed Cannabis Harm Reduction Associations - can apply to sell home-grown marijuana from next month but must abide by a list of regulations outlined on Friday.

The associations are the only way to legally buy the drug, which was legalised in December 2021.

They can apply for licensing from February 28 through a non-profit model set by the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC).

They must be non-profit and can only sell their own product, meaning that only seeds can be imported from abroad. This means that cannabis legally sold in Malta must be grown in the country. 

“The reform is helping to bring about a more just and human society,”  Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg said during a 'Setting the Standards' conference' in Ta' Qali on Friday. 

People should not be criminalised for smoking a joint, and prohibition has never managed to stop cannabis use, she added.

“We are fighting trafficking and criminal activity,” she said. 

What are the restrictions?

Under the new regulations, cannabis clubs must have a maximum of 500 members and cannot be within 250 metres of a school or youth centre. 

The association cannot advertise itself. This includes its name, which cannot include the word cannabis or incite the use of cannabis.

Two founders without a history of money laundering, an administrator who has lived in Malta for at least five years and a legal representative need to apply to create an association. They must have a location to grow cannabis and a location to sell. 

Applicants must pay a registration fee of €1,000 and the license fee starts at €8,750 for the first 50 members. 

Cannabis sold must include a label that discourages cannabis use, and have details of the plant used.  

ARUC is responsible for issuing licensing, ensuring compliance and quality control. It will first issue a one-year license, followed by a three-year license upon renewal.

The authority will also vet association finances, ensure cannabis clubs are following all regulations, and test samples for mould, micro-organisms and synthetic elements. Operating licenses can be revoked or suspended by ARUC.

Testing must happen before a batch is distributed and also after its sold. 

Clubs can cultivate the seed at any location that is compliant with planning regulations but the plants must be hidden away from plain sight such as in a greenhouse. 

For example, if someone currently grows tomatoes in an agricultural field, their permit can be switched to growing cannabis instead. 

What are the rules for users?

Anyone over 18 can join a club, However, there is a cap on the level of THC - the cannabis compound that gets people high - for anyone under the age of 21.

A person can only join one organization.

The authority is also still discussing whether non-profit members will be able to smoke inside the club

What happens to the revenue?

All revenue must be reinvested in the organisation or in salaries. Associations will also contribute a portion of their sales to a harm reduction fund.

Steve Rolles from Transform Drug Policy Foundation said that Malta is a global pioneer in the model in its seed-to-sale, non-profit model.

“Malta is now a global leader so please don't mess this up,” he said.

Newly appointed ARUC CEO Leonid McKay said it was important that cannabis is not commercialised "because as soon as we do that the intentions and aims change completely”.

McKay said that the aim of ARUC is not to promote cannabis but to create a safe and regulated market for people to avoid “gangsters of the black market”.

Those that use cannabis will rest assured that the product they use is not synthetic or mouldy but a high-quality product, he said.

However Maya Dimitrijevic from Releaf, a pro- cannabis NGO, said that the costs associated with opening an association makes it inaccessible to people from lower-earning households.

"The black market will still remain if things remain so stringent," she warned.

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