A crowd of some 300 young people this morning took part in a demonstration in Valletta in favour of the decriminalisation of cannabis - well below the 700 who said on facebook that they would attend.

The protest, the first of its kind in Malta, was held in Republic Street and followed the 11-year jail term handed down recently to Briton Daniel Holmes, who was convicted of growing the cannabis plant at his home in Ghajnsielem. His case is pending appeal.

Many of those taking part in the demonstration wore green and carried placards in favour of decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis.

Some of the placards read: Relax it and tax it; God made Marijuana and man made pharmaceuticals, who do you trust?; Dealers do not check IDs – legalise marijuana and protect kids; Lethal dose – 20,000 joints in 20 minutes.

In front of the law courts they chanted - 'legalise it' and 'we are not criminals'.

Among those taking part in the demonstration was Xarabank presenter Peppi Azzopardi, who told timesofmalta that he never took drugs, but he was against the imprisonment of people who took drugs and people who sold drugs to fund their habit. Such people should be rehabilitated.

He also argued that society had failed Joanne Bickle – the prison inmate convicted of trafficking drugs in prison – from the age of 13. Her crime could have been prevented by the state had there been better control in prison.

Today's demonstration was organised by David Caruana.

Speaking at the end of the demonstration outside the Palace, Mr Caruana said that Malta was some 10 years late in decriminalising cannabis and the classification of drugs, but such a reform now needed to be discussed. The people taking part in the demo, he said, wanted legalisation and regulation of cannabis to ensure that the government could regulate the drug and take it out of the hands of children and criminals. At the same time adults would have control over their body and mind. He said the criminal act was not smoking a joint, but denying the substance for people who needed it, such as those who needed it for medical purposes. The PN, he said, had itself acknowledged such medical properties.

Mr Caruana also said this was the first step of a long walk towards reform and more activities will be planned in the future. He said the number of people who protested today would encourage those who stayed home to show up next time. 

Mr Caruana is himself facing criminal charges for growing the cannabis plant in his balcony.

"I'm charged with cultivating two plants, which, under Maltese law, is considered trafficking," David Caruana, 29, had told The Times. He stressed that he grew the plants strictly for his own use, to stop "financing a black market".

Mr Caruana, who works with an online business and studies social sciences at the Open University, was caught last year. He presumes the police got tipped off by a neighbour.

Although his voluntary public admission exposes him to accusations of having a vested interest in holding a demonstration, he makes no apologies.

"I have a personal interest in seeing the right of individuals to have authority over their body respected.

"I have a personal interest in seeing that the sick, who could benefit from this plant, are given the proper opportunity to heal or make their lives better.

"I have a personal interest in seeing the sale of cannabis being taken out of the hands of criminals. And, yes, I have a personal interest to remain a free man since I did not harm anyone," he said.