If there is one issue which made it clear that there was no longer the possibility of reasonable national debate, it was the recent enactment of the law providing for the legalisation of cannabis.
Like the majority of people, I subscribe to the view that there shouldn’t be draconian punishment or criminal penalty attached to the consumption of cannabis on a personal basis. However, this has already been the case since 2015, when the Labour government enacted legislation decriminalising the use of small amounts of marijuana.
Despite this, the government persisted in depicting this mad dash, new law frenzy as a desperately needed reform to prevent young people being slammed behind bars.
Anybody who voiced concern was misrepresented as an ultra-conservative stick-in-the-mud who longed for a return to the times of Prohibition. Why should young people’s lives be permanently blighted for consuming a plant? Why was there this insistence on locking up young people and throwing away the key? Was the previous unregulated state of affairs not helping the black market? Tobacco, alcohol and sugar are just as bad for people’s health – is there a suggestion to clamp down on those too?
All these are arguments which resonate on an emotional level. However, they are all false premises – examples of strawman fallacies where there is the distortion of an opponent’s views and then the attack on the distorted, ridiculous view. To start with – nobody was suggesting clapping young, first-time or minimal users in jail.
Nor was there any call for any form of shaming or demonisation of anyone. And there was no foot-stamping in favour of unregulated chaos or the black market. What people were concerned about was the active normalisation and promotion of cannabis consumption, which is quite evidently what this law is about. The next inevitable step will be commercialisation of recreational cannabis use.
Back to the reasoned concerns forwarded by many organisations. While nobody would want to impose what people consume in the privacy of their homes, there are legitimate concerns about minors’ access to cannabis and people driving or operating machinery or working under the influence.
All these have an effect beyond the personal and private sphere. Now, there may be many who don’t find any problem with that and who think that the issue may be adequately tackled through regulation, enforcement and education to protect minors or potentially vulnerable users.
But here’s the rub. We don’t do regulation. There is much scepticism as to how yet another government-appointed quango will be effective in its regulatory mission. If other government regulators such as MFSA and the Malta Gaming Authority are anything to go by, we will have a surfeit of generously paid persons of trust and not much regulation.
People are concerned about the active normalisation and promotion of cannabis consumption, which is quite evidently what this law is about- Claire Bonello
Enforcement is another dirty word in Malta. Recent episodes have shown that there is negligible enforcement of any rules – be they financial or tax-related or other. We don’t even have proper enforcement of traffic contraventions. Only last month we woke up to the news that hundreds of fines for traffic contraventions had been cancelled for politicians, businessmen, with top LESA officials being suspected of deleting fines from an internal database.
That news report was not greeted with much surprise by the nation. How could it? Last year, the traffic section of the police force was rocked by an overtime racket scandal.
On another front, that ‘regulatory’ entity – the Planning Authority – is hardly doing any regulating – as is evidenced by our surroundings. So, this is not a question of ‘light-touch’ regulation. It is a free-for-all where there will be absolutely no inspections, monitoring or even mild slaps on the wrist for the sale, possession or dealing of cannabis to minors beyond that prescribed by law.
That leaves us with education. That sounds reasonable. What’s not to like about educating minors so they can make well-informed decisions about how to go about consuming cannabis in moderation? What about public education campaigns directed towards the use of cannabis and driving – maybe on the same lines as the campaigns discouraging drink driving? It sounds good in theory. It doesn’t work in practice – at least in Malta.
Despite several laudable campaigns to discourage excessive speeding and drink driving, there are several traffic accidents on our roads every week – many with tragic consequences.
As for breathalyser tests? It seems we’re not very keen on those either. For example, as of last December, only 26 breathalysers had been carried out in St Julian’s and San Ġwann over the preceding three years. That’s outside Paceville – Malta’s entertainment mecca where you’d expect to have the greatest intake of alcohol.
These statistics were ignored by our gung-ho legislators touting the educational campaigns and the regulation to be carried out by its authority. There were other statistics which were ignored of course.
The report on the effects of marijuana legalisation released by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice in July 2021 was one such document. It confirmed concerns that the legalisation of marijuana would result in more impaired drivers on the road and an increase in marijuana-related driving under the influence incidents.
The number of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for marijuana or in combination with other substances also increased. The government refused to consider such statistics and the experiences of other countries, preferring to shroud itself in a cloak of a faux-progressive administration which chokes reasoned debate.
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