The proposed regulation of medicinal cannabis would increase the bureaucratic burden on people who need it and could even force patients into the black market, according to cannabis activists ReLeaf.

Reacting to the recent announcement that Parliament will soon begin discussing legislation on the use of medicinal cannabis, ReLeaf started off by applauding the government.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Chris Fearne said he would be submitting an amendment to the 2015 Drug Dependence Act. He noted that during the last legislature, the government introduced a law for the use of cannabis-derived products for medicinal purposes.

Although the law followed a period of consultation, medical professionals complained that it only allowed specialists to prescribe cannabis extracts registered in the Medicines Act.

For the ReLeaf activists, the recent steps towards legalising and regulating medicinal cannabis were “long overdue” and showed that the government was taking note of a global shift towards the effective use of cannabis as a medicine.

“We especially applaud allowing family doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis as they see fit, which is in line with our proposals… We also applaud the issuance of licenses for those who would like to manufacture cannabis-related products in Malta,” the group said.

But ReLeaf expressed disappointment at “certain measures” in the proposed amendment to the 2015 Act that it said were “counterproductive”.

If these measures were to be included in the final amendment, very little progress would actually be made, and just like the 2015 Act, it would be a case of too little, too late, the group added.

“Worst of all, it will condemn Maltese patients to continuing to resort to the black market for their much-needed medicine, as the situation is right now, and will show that the government does not have patients’ best interests at heart.”

The complaint arose because patients will need not only a prescription and a “control card”, but also a prescription approved by the Superintendent of Health.

Forcing a patient to have each prescription approved by the Superintendent will only increase bureaucracy, ReLeaf insisted.

The activists were also disappointed to see that only products with cannabis extracts – and not the flower - will be available to Maltese patients.

Not allowing patients access to the natural plant to use as they would like “severely” limited their health options, ReLeaf said.

“Forcing patients to buy expensive extracts when they can turn to the black market and buy a natural product, from which they can make their own medicine, will be a losing strategy for the government.

“It will only strengthen the black market,” the group added in its reaction.

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