“Allowing the use of cannabis for recreational purpose in a legal manner is a harm reduction measure.” This is the latest spin which is bombarding us during the debate currently under way in parliament related to the bill regulating the recreational use of this drug.

We have been told that this law will reduce the harm which the present situation creates for cannabis users since they are forced to pay money to criminals to obtain their supply of cannabis which may be of dubious quality.

While such an argument begs the obvious question whether users of other illegal drugs, faced with exactly the same issues, will eventually be offered the same harm reduction measure, in effect the mantra of harm reduction is the spin which is being fed to our country to pass a law in record time, just before a general election.

All this is taking place when there is clearly no apparent urgent need to rush blindly in a direction fraught with dangers and risks for our society. Through a repetition of the mantra of ‘harm reduction’ it seems we are being asked to forget that this law has the potential for massive harm propagation within our society, particularly among vulnerable groups, among children and among youths.

Clearly, the potential for harm that this law can bring should merit caution.

Such a law should not be rushed and forced down society’s throat without the chance to have a mature and researched discussion on such an important topic.  

In effect, the opportunity for such a discussion following the publication of a White Paper on the subject earlier this year has been ignored. The government has disregarded all feedback received and, to date, has not published any of the responses to the White Paper. The reasons for this seem very clear. Public reaction to the White Paper was invariably negative.

Such feedback came from all sectors representing thousands of stakeholders: educational institutions, employers, trade unions, NGOs, religious organisations and academics. Most notably, it also came from two organisations which have worked for decades in the area of substance abuse: Caritas Malta and OASI Foundation. Ignoring all other organisations may be unjustified but disregarding Caritas and OASI leaves one at a complete loss for words.

Surely, the strong calls made during the White Paper process, that such legislation should not be introduced at the end of a legislature but should follow a serious, mature and detailed national discussion, is a reasonable request to make. Such a discussion could help our country learn from the experiences of other countries,  such as Iceland, that have opted to develop strong protective measures to reduce substance abuse, particularly among youths, instead of introducing measures which will normalise substance use.

We appeal to the government to take a mature position when proposing a law which risks creating serious damage to society

Most importantly, the manner in which the government is riding roughshod over the appeal made by many to carry out a social impact assessment of the measures being proposed is completely unreasonable. Given the far-reaching implications for our society, if we get it wrong in this area, surely this would be the mature political path to take.

Most importantly, such a social impact assessment would answer the question whether such a law is in effect such a positive harm reduction measure that it would justify the undeniable harm propagation effects it will also create.

Following the publication of the draft bill currently being debated in parliament, 22 organisations have joined together to present their position to MPs. We are appealing to the government to take a mature and serious position when proposing a law which has clear risks of creating serious damage to our society.

We feel that the government should hit the pause button on this bill when we have arrived at such a late point in the present legislature. This will give it time to commission a serious social impact assessment of the proposals in the bill.

Furthermore, we have analysed in detail the proposals in the bill being debated in parliament. We feel that the bill creates a very weak regulated model with huge loopholes for abuse. We have serious concerns about several aspects proposed in the law, including the very limited regulation of cannabis grown in households, as well as the weak regulation of the opening of cannabis- growing associations in all towns and villages.

Another serious concern is the possibility of using loopholes in the law to allow the use of cannabis in public, despite declarations to the contrary made in the law. Our full position paper is available at   https://knisja.mt/22entitapositionpaperkannabis/.

As the debate in parliament continues, our appeal to the government is to listen to the grave concerns expressed by the vast majority of civil society. At the end of the day, the spin of harm reduction will be just another case of empty rhetoric if this law creates serious harmful repercussions which could have been avoided had the government had the humility to listen.

Signed by: Caritas Malta, OASI Foundation, Secretariat for Catholic Education, Church Schools’ Association, Dar tal-Providenza, Justice and Peace Commission, Millennium Chapel, Malta Catholic Youth Network (MCYN), YMCA Malta, Dar Merħba Bik Foundation, Fondazzjoni Sebħ, Kummissjoni Djoċesana Djakonija, Mater Dei and Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre Chaplains, Paulo Freire Institute Foundation, Peace and Good Foundation, Social Assistance Secretariat (SAS), Society St Vincent de Paul, SOS Malta, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, the Conference of Religious Major Superiors (KSMR), Uffiċċju Ħidma Pastorali mal-Persuni Separati and Church Homes for the Elderly.

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