The government opted for a "harm-reduction approach" through its proposed cannabis reform, aiming at regulating the sector and eradicating the black market, Robert Abela told parliament on Monday.
The Prime Minister lambasted the Nationalist Party which has taken a stance against the cannabis legalisation bill, claiming it will normalise drug abuse in Malta.
On Monday Abela said the PN's backtracking showed that the Opposition was indifferent to the challenges faced by youths looking for a job but whose record is tainted with a criminal conviction over a joint.
“I did not expect this insensitivity from the Opposition,” he said.
“We could not wait or postpone the reform to after the election. Each passing day that we ignore such realities is another day lost to addressing the problem,” Abela said.
Abela added that the government wanted to change the law so that anyone caught with a joint would no longer be considered a criminal, arrested, taken to the police lock-up and arraigned in court, where they could face up to six months in prison.
Hundreds of parents passed through this “trauma” with their children who chose to smoke cannabis despite the best upbringing, he said.
Abela said the PN had opposed the introduction of divorce, civil union rights and amendments to the IVF law and was now saying that the government was inviting people to take drugs.
“What we are doing is exactly the opposite. We are legislating to address a problem and taking the harm reduction approach by regulating the sector so that people do not have to resort to the black market to purchase cannabis,” he said.
'Drug trafficking will remain illegal'
Abela said there were people who were still facing persecution for smoking a joint.
"The black market is the only place where people can source their cannabis. The black market is an illegal source. We are dissuading people from smoking cannabis, while not treating those who choose to do so, as criminals. Drug trafficking will remain illegal,” Abela said.
The Prime Minister said that although the government had listened to everyone’s views and opinions during the public consultation sessions, those whose views were not reflected in the law will be involved in the new authority that is being set up to regulate recreational cannabis use.
The government will work closely with NGOs such as Caritas to launch education campaigns on drug use as it understood parents’ concerns, he said.
Abela noted that just how employers banned employees from being under the influence of alcohol at work, they could introduce similar rules on cannabis use.
Former Labour Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia, now an independent MP, warned that as a doctor, unlimited access to cannabis could spell trouble.
“I am all for reform but we need a cautious reform to eradicate the black market. I find it shocking that people can grow plants at home. Let’s not repeat the same mistake we did when introducing the law on medicinal cannabis. We cannot normalise a situation when we come to reform this plague,” he warned.