The police are prosecuting people for the simple possession of cannabis at a rate of one person a day and most are first-time offenders, according to the latest data by the justice ministry.

A total of 1,897 people have been brought before the drugs tribunal since it was first set up as part of a legal reform in September 2015.

An overwhelming majority – 90 per cent – were first time offenders, the statistics up to December 2020 show.

The figures also indicate that cannabis possession accounts for six in every 10 drugs tribunal prosecutions for small quantities of drugs.

During the same period, 897 people were charged with the simple possession of cocaine, 184 with the simple possession of heroin and 136 with the possession of ecstasy.

The issue of how to tackle simple cannabis possession was highlighted last month when the arrest of a couple in a hotel was met with outrage.

The police did not say how much cannabis was found but photos showed a grinder - a tool for breaking up the drug - a small bag of cannabis and a joint that was half-smoked. 

Prime Minister Robert Abela confirmed plans to introduce a law that would end police arrests for those possessing a small amount of cannabis and plants for personal use.

The plans are to extend the depenalisation for possession of cannabis beyond the 3.5g already allowed by law and introduce the right to grow a small number of cannabis plants for personal use, Abela said.

Meanwhile, Caritas, Sedqa and several other organisations warned that legalisation of recreational use of cannabis will push up consumption, push down prices and lead to calls for higher concentrations of the drug.

Of those charged with simple possession of cannabis, 1,277 were charged with the possession of the plant or part of the plant while 620 others were charged with the possession of cannabis resin.

Under the law, the police could have arrested any of the people found with small amounts of cannabis before summoning them to appear before the tribunal, set up in 2015 by the Drug Dependence Act that introduced a new set of laws to deal with drugs in the society.

The current law means that those found guilty of simple possession of small quantities of drugs are not handed jail sentences but fined.

The law allows the police to detain people caught with small quantities of drugs for up to 48 hours to extract information related to drug trafficking.

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