Almost 10 months after the introduction of the cannabis reform, the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC) has yet to start issuing licences for non-profit associations that want to sell the substance.

Despite the fanfare and enthusiasm surrounding the announcement of the new law, the government has yet to deliver on the reform itself.

In fact, besides a conference held in May, the ARUC has yet to communicate its direction, especially when it comes to social justice, environmental sustainability, and most importantly, how the non-profit framework will function.

Neither have there been any significant consultations between the authority and the Council for the Voluntary Sector to ensure the registration of these non-profit organisations as NGOs, to ensure that they are scrutinised under a transparent and comprehensive framework.

Part of the reason is that the authority lacks human resources, casting further doubts as to whether the provisions of the law can be effectively enforced.

The cannabis reform was spearheaded by civil society and based on models which effectively prohibit the commercialisation of the substance under any circumstance. However, the more the ARUC takes its time to regulate, the more it frustrates the users it seeks to protect.

Moreover, it is doing nothing to combat the purchase of cannabis from illicit sources, one the new law’s key aims.

Worryingly, however, the reform is under threat from two sides.

In May, the ARUC’s first and only conference saw a sizeable turnout of members of the business sector, who have little knowledge, experience and interest in cannabis as a substance. That big business is eyeing cannabis as another source of profit is no secret, considering the not infrequent PR pieces written, as well as the launch of medical cannabis investments frequently championed by the government.

Similarly, the advertising of cannabis-related products, prohibited by the law, has been permitted to run on numerous, expensive bus shelters across the islands.

This is a symptom of the ills of commercialising cannabis: the creation of uneven playing fields which will allow some operators to be above the law and destroy the spirit and operation of the proposed non-profit cannabis social clubs.

Concurrently, the setting up of another toothless authority appears to be the hallmark of Robert Abela’s administration. In fact, be it in planning, tourism and even regular law and order, this summer has given us countless instances where the regulators have shown no interest to enforce, regulate and far less investigate.

This drive to deregulation mirrors the economic policies of the last few years, and also endangers this civil liberty.

This impasse has already caused its first victim.

Andrew Agius, a doctor who runs a clinic specialising in pain treatment, was arrested and raided by the police for “stockpiling cannabis”. It turns out that Agius was merely selling CBD products which contain a negligible 0.2% THC content. The magistrate would then reject the prosecution’s grotesque request for the freezing of Agius’ assets; a parliamentary petition presented by Releaf to remove this legal anomaly has yet to be discussed.

This is a reminder of law enforcement’s zeal and selectivity in enforcement. Agius was made to look like a large-scale drug dealer, in what is a damaging attack on his reputation and on the community of cannabis users.

Ironically, the ARUC, just like the police, falls under the purview of Minister Byron Camilleri: he is ultimately responsible for the lack of clarity in the sector, brought about not only by the ARUC’s foot-dragging but also by his government’s servility to business interests.

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