Updated 9.15pm, adds Oasi's reaction

Sedqa, the national agency against substance use disorder and addictions, has urged the government to frame the debate on the legalisation of cannabis within the wider context of a much-needed updated comprehensive drugs policy. 

Its position has also been proposed by Caritas, a church organisation that works with drug users, which said such a policy should set the direction for supply and demand reduction policies and should be informed by research on what keeps young people away from drugs and what are risk factors for use. 

According to the proposed reform, cannabis users will be allowed to grow their own plants at home and legally carry up to seven grams of the drug for personal use. 

In a position paper (see pdf link below), Sedqa said it does not condone the legalisation of any psychoactive substance due to the risk of normalisation of use, likely increased consumption and the concomitant risk of developing substance use disorder. 

Although it agreed with the proposal to decriminalise the use of cannabis, it said this should be done across the board.

“We cannot have a situation where young people aged 21 years and over may use cannabis freely because it is no longer a criminal act while those under 21 are still penalised because cannabis use would still be a criminal act for them,” Sedqa said.

It said effective mechanisms should be in place to ensure that vulnerable youths do not become double victims - of cannabis addiction and of the "sharks" who operate the black market. 

Sedqa urged the government to increase awareness to the negative outcomes of indulging in cannabis use saying the name of the game should be education and prevention.

Cannabis should not be 'popularised'

In another position paper (see pdf link below), Caritas said that while it believed that drug users and addicts should not be jailed or have their police conduct tarnished, drug use should be contained as much as possible.

Cannabis, it said, should not be popularised and its use should be discouraged.

Caritas noted that the possibility of having plants at home and the lifting of any sanction for possession of up to seven grams may facilitate use, give the impression that cannabis effects are not as serious and may lead to increased use.

It argued that the lifting of any sanctions for up to seven grams may also push the black market to use runners to distribute cannabis in seven gram individual packets. 

The organisation noted that the attempt to contain the use of cannabis use in-front of minors in homes where parents use cannabis makes sense but is not practical. Enforcement of the proposal will also prove very difficult, it noted.

Caritas also said that THC level thresholds for decriminalisation also needed to be established. 

It noted that the white paper does not make any reference to the prevention and control of driving under the influence of cannabis. Likewise, no reference is made to the relative health and safety responsibilities of employers with regards to employees who used the drug. 

The gross ill-effects of liberalisation will be faced 10, 20 years down the line, it said, as it proposed the setting up of a commission to carry out an impact assessment.

Only after such an assessment is held should decriminalisation be considered, it said adding that this should be accompanied by an administrative fine and citation to a tribunal. 

'Decriminalisation should not promote use'

In another statement later, the Oasi Foundation said it is not against people who use any kind of psychoactive substances but it does not agree with the use of any such substances for socialising, relaxation or feel-good purposes.

It said that the White Paper seemed to promote the legalisation of cannabis by allowing limited possession and cultivation without any form of sanctioning.

Oasi said that although it welcomed decriminalisation of substance abuse, this should not indirectly promote use.

Normalising the use of such substances is a non-static social phenomenon, and thus requires continuous monitoring and the participative contribution of all experts in the field.

A more detailed position from the organisation can be found here.

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