The Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC) has confirmed it has granted the first two in-principle licences to prospective cannabis associations.

The licences allow the associations to begin construction of growing facilities but does not allow growing to take place.

Associations will only be able to start cultivating cannabis once an operating permit is granted following further inspections by the ARUC, the authority’s executive chairman, Leonid McKay explained.

“The in-principle licence approves the proposed operational setup. The operating permit will be issued when the associations complete their setup and the authority confirms that it is compliant,” he said.

Two associations had been issued with licences, McKay confirmed, with others “currently at the final stages of vetting and authorisation”.

The next step for those associations granted an in-principle licence will be the issuing of a registration number providing them “legal personality”, he said.

The news comes five months after a legal notice was issued spelling out revised fines, membership rules and paperwork requirements for cannabis associations following an initial announcement in January.

Under the rules announced in March, clubs will be obliged to keep a register of members’ personal details and must be “non-profit making”, paying their administrators in line with market rates established by the Voluntary Organisations Act.

Fines of up to €10,000 for selling to minors, non-members

While penalties for non-compliance were established – including fines of up to €10,000 for selling to minors or non-members – registration fees were also slashed from the minimum €8,750 annual fee originally announced to only €1,000 a year for small associations of up to 50 members.

Larger associations having between 351 and 500 members will pay an annual fee amounting to €26,000.

The legal notice also empowers ARUC inspectors to carry out on-site inspections or audits, with associations breaking the rules facing penalties ranging from warnings to having their licences revoked.

The granting of the first in-principle licences comes less than a year since McKay was brought in to replace the authority’s former head.

Psychotherapist Mariella Dimech was sacked from the post in November, at which time no regulatory guidelines had been issued by the authority. 

Dimech’s removal came just days after Prime Minister Robert Abela said in a Times of Malta interview that he was frustrated by delays and was “pushing” for things to move faster.

Following her sacking, the former ARUC head said she had not been given sufficient resources and had disagreed with the government’s policy direction.

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