The debate on whether the use of recreational cannabis should be legalised has reached our shores after Canada recently voted to legalise the sale and use of marijuana by adults. A similar public discussion is being conducted in other advanced industrial countries, like the UK, which are openly admitting they are failing to stamp out the recreational use of cannabis.

Legalising the use of cannabis seems to have become the Holy Grail of ‘progressive and liberal’ governments.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Reform, Citizenship and Simplification, Julia Farrugia Portelli has been entrusted by the government to come up with plans to reform cannabis legislation. During a round-table consultation meeting held by the National Centre for Freedom from Addiction, part of the President’s Foundation for the Well-Being of Society, experts aired their views on the liberalisation of the sale and use of non-medical cannabis.

As is expected in such events, the arguments for and against the use of recreational drugs were varied and often opposed. Doctors, psychiatrists, policymakers and law enforcement officers exchanged views with the cannabis pressure group ReLeaf Malta.

The general feeling among those present was that Malta should not rush in legalising recreational cannabis. ReLeaf arguably adopts a defeatist attitude claiming that whether legalised or not, cannabis is already a part of society.

What are the facts behind the proposed use of recreational cannabis? One option suggested by Ms Farrugia Portelli is to randomly test children aged under 15 by using mouth swabs to determine the extent of drug abuse by youngsters. Not surprisingly, drug experts present at the meeting “heavily criticised” this. Professional medical experts sensibly appealed to the government to rely on the scientific trends from the European Survey Project for Alcohol and Other Drugs.

Iceland, rather than Canada, should be taken as a model for how to deal with adolescent substance abuse. This progressive island with a similar population to Malta pushes sports and other activities to promote healthy attitudes among young people. No wonder it tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens.

The President, who also attended the meeting, was rightly concerned when she commented: “We’re moving towards a culture where nothing seems to shock.” She evidently wanted to make a point: “We cannot transmit the message that cannabis is OK.”

There is no doubt that cannabis can be harmful in several ways. Some effects are felt right away and others damage a person’s health over time. A quick medical search on reputable medical websites like the US University of Rochester Medical Centre graphically describe the effects of the use of cannabis. One comment posted on the website is: “Marijuana affects short-term memory and the ability to handle demanding tasks. Under the influence of marijuana, students may find it hard to study and learn because it hurts the ability to concentrate and pay attention’. Surely, this is not what policymakers want for Malta’s young people.

There is no silver bullet to prevent young people from using drugs. Home education is the best option as parents can best influence children by setting clear rules but, more importantly, by relating the facts and dangers associated with the use of marijuana and other substances.

More crucially, parents should remain involved in their children’s lives as they struggle to adjust to the pains of becoming adults.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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