The government's harm reduction approach to cannabis legalisation would not solve anything, according to an academic.

"I would like to declare that I will not subscribe to a social policy that justifies legalising cannabis by citing ‘harm reduction’. From where I stand the negative impact of this substance compared to the ‘benefits’ some might quote in legalizing cannabis consumption are unparalleled," Prof. Andrew Azzopardi, the Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, said in a statement on Friday.  

Legalising cannabis would be waving a white flag - Caritas

The government has in recent weeks hinted that it was moving towards dealing with the drug from a "harm reduction approach", and exploring the possibility of introducing a register of cannabis smokers that would legalise the use for those aged 21 and over. 

This would be coupled with increased effort to discourage use at an early age and awareness campaigns around health impacts. 

In Prof. Azzopardi's opinion, regulating the use of cannabis around a harm reduction rationale would not solve anything and the dangers of the underground illicit drug trafficking would remain "active and lively".

It might also lead to an increase in the use of harder substances. 

"I foresee a situation where once the drug becomes more readily available, the whole mystique of using cannabis as a form of etching distinctive identities will die a natural death and somewhat may lead to a gravitational pull towards the harder drugs," he said. 

Prof. Azzopardi said he would not make the argument that cannabis was a gateway drug, calling it an "old chestnut". 

"The impact of cannabis is what it is and it is useless trying to get away from the evidence," he said. 

His lengthy statement included information on the negative repercussions of cannabis use, including how it could induce dizziness, lower fertility rates, and effect short-term memory. 

Cannabis use, he said, might lead to the lessening of concentration on one’s studies or job and in the case of athletes’ would curtail performance. 

He also warned that it could increase anxiety and paranoia and there was evidence "that regular cannabis use increases the risk of developing psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia, particularly in adolescents”.

This, he said, was further compounded by what psychiatrist Anton Grech had found in research in the area of schizophrenia, that cannabis use might impact young people due to the malleability of their brain and potentially instigate memory impairment. 

Shifting from decriminalising to the legalisation of cannabis might lead to increased use, he said.

Won't end trafficking

"Whilst in a way I can understand the argument that legalising cannabis will partially curtail illicit use and sale, a so-called controlled market will not get the traffickers out of the way," he said. 

He added that interests of this criminal industry and the political pressures it forced should not define the country's social landscape.

The risks of legalising cannabis for leisure, harm reduction, and personal use, however strict and controlled, was way too risky.

"Legalising cannabis, in my opinion, is a declaration of failure in our social policy, social welfare agencies, NGOs and police force. Once legalised, it will be impossible to retract that position," he said. 

In his statement, Prof. Azzopardi recommended: 

* the commissioning of a study to analyse the impact if such ‘harm-reduction’ legislation were to be enacted;

* training the police in the field of addictions;

* improving youth work training and an increase in detached youth work services;

* increased collaboration between Caritas, Sedqa and Oasi; the three main agencies in the area of addictions in Malta; 

* a social policy is based on prevention;

* incentives for the development of more leisure activities that would ensure young people would not get caught in a spiral of boredom;

* emotional education to children and young people, helping them handle situations of pressure and disillusionment; and

* increase professional services in the justice system.

The state should not be weakened and intimidated by the threat of this criminal industry, Prof. Azzopardi said.

 

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