The government is currently proposing a law that decriminalises the use of cannabis for personal use and, over the last days, an official debate went through the second reading in parliament.
The aim of the law is to do away with the penalisation of those who, out of a mature adult decision, decide in favour of the use of the drug, within the permissible amounts and in accordance with the parameters of the law.
The issue at play here is being honest with ourselves as a society. The new law is not intended to incentivise the use or create a culture of cannabis consumption. Let me be clear, the message that society needs to continue to give is one against the use of drugs. That is why this law does not legalise cannabis but decriminalises it.
This is done with two aims in mind: freeing responsible adults from interventions in their private life as long as their behaviour is within the law and stepping up our efforts against the running of this drug trade by the criminal underworld.
Not just as a politician but also as a father, I would better have my children brought up in an environment where societal truths are discussed, debated and addressed rather than pushing everyone to the black market to illegally procure cannabis.
In this sense, I will be lobbying for a strong campaign that advertises the harm and risks that drug abuse brings with it. However, I will always support changes that can protect vulnerable people and that give another opportunity in life when it comes to work opportunities.
Let’s start by understanding what the draft law is proposing in more detail.
As I already explained, the government is proposing the decriminalisation of the drug as opposed to making the use of the drug legal. If we had to take an idea of what legalisation would mean, we could look at the example of the American state of Colorado. In their case, Colorado allows having six plants per person and possession of up to 28 grams and even public smoking. This approach has even helped Colorado to attract tourism with an approximate added income of $2.2 billion for this state in 2020. This, however, is not the approach the government is proposing for Malta.
Under the proposed law, cannabis smokers in Malta will be able to carry up to seven grams of cannabis on their person. Persons aged 18 and over can have up to seven grams in their possession and won’t be charged in court or face proceedings before a justice commissioner if caught. The police will no longer have the right to detain anyone caught with the plant.
Up to four cannabis plants will be allowed in private residences but they must still be kept out of sight. The consumption of cannabis in public or around minors will be illegal while the Responsible Cannabis Use Authority, which will regulate the sector in such a way that it also carries out educational, outreach and stakeholder measures in the sector, will be set up.
Meanwhile, cannabis associations that distribute cannabis among their members will be allowed but they cannot be situated within 250 metres of a school, a club or a youth centre. These organisations must be authorised by the new authority.
The new law is not intended to incentivise the use or create a culture of cannabis consumption- Carmelo Abela
As the minister responsible for employment relations, I was happy to actively participate in two MCESD plenaries where this topic was discussed. All social partners could make their point of view and ideas heard. In a statement, all MCESD members expressed that they are in favour of reform on this matter. A number of them did not agree with the timing since an election is approaching. Well, election or not, this is an issue that we cannot continue to avoid since we know that consumption of this drug is widespread.
One of the main contested issues remains the element of workplace control on workers who choose to use the drug for non-medical reasons and the effect this will have on their performance at work. I agree that we need to always act wisely to protect safety and productivity at the workplace.
I believe that not doing anything about the issue of decriminalisation of cannabis because of the fear of an effect on employee performance is not an option, even because this drug is already being consumed. Therefore, I agree that similar rules to those which apply to the abuse of alcohol and its impact on work outputs need to be introduced here.
We believe that, while enforcement is part of the solution, this needs to be coupled with more education on the side effects of consumption of this drug and the effect on employee’s performance.
I believe that decriminalising the drug and providing a stop to the listing of this personal choice on one’s criminal record are a needed step in the right direction. We have been discussing this topic for years on end. Our remit as a government is to lead and not to push important conversations such as this under the carpet.
The time is ripe to address this challenge head-on.