A guide dog accompanying a visually impaired man got high from inhaling second-hand cannabis smoke in a restaurant and was not able to take its owner home, Claudette Buttigieg told parliament on Monday.

The Opposition MP used the anecdote as an example of what she said was lax enforcement of cannabis laws ever since the substance was decriminalised for recreational use. 

She said the visually impaired man spoke to her last week and said that if it were not for his friends, he would not have been able to make it home, because the dog was affected by the smoke.

"I met this man last week. He is visually impaired and he told me he was eating out in a restaurant and was close to the venue's smoking area," she told parliament.

"It seems that some people were smoking cannabis in the smoking area where they should have only been smoking tobacco. And this man told me his dog was affected. He said he got home thanks to his friends because the dog was not in a position to take him home."

Cannabis laws were reformed in late 2021 to allow users to smoke it recreationally without fear of prosecution. However, by law cannabis cannot be smoked in public settings. 

The PN initially said it was in favour of that legislative change but ultimately ended up opposing it. 

Buttigieg and other PN MPs speaking on Monday argued that the change in law has normalised weed and led to people smoking cannabis in public without any real enforcement of the law.

"This is extremely serious, that we do not even have respect for a visually impaired person and his dog, on which he fully depends," she said.

"There is no enforcement of the laws we pass here. How come nobody gets caught smoking in public? Is it possible that only we [the Opposition MPs] smell cannabis smoke on the street? Go for a walk in places like Sliema and you will smell it. And I hear this from many people. It has been normalised."

MPs are currently debating the second reading of an amendment to the cannabis law that would, among other things, regulate how cannabis associations should work and within which parameters the drug is to be sold.

The amendment will also give the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC) the power to issue fines for breaches of the law.

PN MP Claudette Buttigieg.PN MP Claudette Buttigieg.

The December 2021 reform made Malta the first country in Europe to permit restricted use of cannabis for recreational use. It allows cannabis users to carry up to 7g of the substance on them without fear of prosecution and grow four plants at home. Any users who were convicted of cannabis possession offences in the past were also given the right to apply to have their criminal records expunged.

PN MPs: Time has proven us right

PN MPs Graziella Attard Previ and Albert Buttigieg echoed Claudette Buttigieg's sentiment, saying time proved that PN was right in fearing that the new cannabis law would eventually be more harmful to young people and society's safety.

Scientific evidence continues to point to the fact that cannabis is more harmful and while Amsterdam is moving towards restricting their law, the Maltese government still thought it was a good idea to allow its use with little to no enforcement, Albert Buttigieg said.

The law has led to more people smoking cannabis and it has transpired that the majority of drivers in the latest traffic fatalities were under the influence of drugs, Attard Previ claimed. 

Claudette Buttigieg and Attard Previ also said cannabis products are being sold openly in several shops that mushroomed around the islands since the law passed, and people can even buy a ready-rolled-up joint from a popular food delivery application and have it delivered by courier just like they have food delivered to their doorstep.

Junior Minister: PN stuck with Reagan-era slogans

But reforms parliamentary secretary Rebecca Buttigieg hit out at the Opposition MPs for engaging in scaremongering tactics and attempting to stall the country from moving forward.

Buttigieg, who is spearheading the latest amendment in the reform, said that while Nationalist governments continuously refused to regulate cannabis use to avoid the contentious issue, the current government has acknowledged that around 40,000 people smoke cannabis anyway, irrespective of the law, and bravely sought ways to make its use as safe as possible.

The junior minister emphasised the harm reduction intention of the legal reform. The safest course of action would be to not use cannabis at all, she said, but people who still opt to smoke it could, thanks to the reform, be assured that the cannabis they buy is safe and has been tested.

Buttigieg also argued that the reform will stifle the black market. 

Cannabis has not become legal, it will not be available to tourists and it will not give rise to drug trafficking, she insisted. And it is not true that there is no enforcement, she said.

A few weeks ago a person was charged for smoking in front of a child and another person was charged for having a few grams of cannabis, well within the legal limit, but they were packaged, ready for trafficking.

And the drivers in the latest traffic fatalities were not on cannabis, she said. In fact, it transpired that one was on cocaine and the other was on a cocktail of cocaine, cannabis and alcohol, and it is not fair for the Opposition to make it look like all cannabis users are junkies.

"The Opposition continues to speak about cannabis with the same rhetoric of the war on drugs, waged for the first time in the US by President Reagan," she said.

"But we have known for many years since then that that is an ineffective way of running politics. We need to move forward and look forward at different solutions."

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