The Times of Malta has recently carried a report about an online “klub” selling cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms which uses food couriers to deliver orders to users’ homes.
Similar “services” exist abroad, in jurisdictions where cannabis hasn’t been legalised, and it is to be expected that a similar platform would find a sizeable market of around 700 users in Malta. More so when users are still depending on the illicit market to purchase cannabis almost two years after its legalisation. A quick look at the price list offered by this klub indicates that its prices are on a par with illicit market rates.
Yet, the so-called harm reduction social clubs are still a blip on a distant horizon and the issue of prohibitive fees for operators and, consequently, members has also arisen.
Leonid McKay, who chairs the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis, the body that will regulate the clubs, has frequently emphasised his intent to regulate according to the spirit of the law, including the non-proliferation of commercial interests in the social-based market.
This episode is not only a reminder of the perennial need to enforce but also of the legal vacuum caused by the lull after Mariella Dimech was appointed to the newly formed authority.
It’s an inheritance which McKay has to deal with firmly and decisively but he also has to deal with the Robert Abela method: that of introducing laws without proper frameworks in place.
The legalisation of cannabis is a textbook case. Introduced months before the election after years of struggles, useless arrests and scandalous prison sentences to minor “offenders”, the law was only followed up by the creation of the authority.
There was minimal contact with users and with civil society and no finalised legal framework.
After Dimech’s removal, much of the law was written in patchwork fashion, through the use of legal notices. This is a frequently used tool by the government, which has found it useful whenever it needs to legislate quickly while blindsiding civil society: legal notices can only be contested at a constitutional level, a cumbersome process.
This has happened in many other areas of interest, such as lands, planning and transportation. It has created huge legal loopholes and has also led to CEOs in various agencies or authorities acting with unfettered power.
Thankfully, it appears McKay’s intentions for the sector are clear. One hopes he is being allowed to work serenely; and one hopes to see the authority take the lead and file a report to the police.
In this regard, enforcement will once again be key to the success or failure of this law.
Successive Labour administrations have created countless government bodies but not all of them are given enough resources to work, especially when it comes to reining in offenders.
Besides enforcement, the interpretation of the spirit of the law will be another defining factor. The model used by this cannabis klub exploits the cheap labour provided by the recruiters of delivery drivers, which clashes head-on with the social aspect of legalising cannabis in Malta.
The authority faces a challenge in providing cannabis users with an alternative to the illicit market, otherwise the latter will predominate, especially if it can still offer a more competitive price for the product. The longer it takes for the full legal framework to be in place – let alone a period of testing the impact of the measures, a process which seems inevitable – the stronger the illicit market will be in dictating terms.
Until that legal framework becomes fully enforceable, the scenario remains, at best, rather hazy.