There is broad agreement in our country, registered time and time again, that we should put a stop to the arresting and taking to court people who decide, out of their own volition, to make personal use of cannabis.
We agree, of course, to all this but as a government, we also firmly and strongly believe that this decriminalisation effort should be coupled with the establishment, pari passu, of a strong and robust authority which would regulate the obtainment of cannabis for personal use by adults from non-profit outlets, subject to controls and regulations that protect minors and society at large.
This is what internationally is called ‘the harm-reduction approach’ and has been successfully applied in various jurisdictions and states, in varying degrees, around the world.
Those who, here in Malta, are opposed to this harm-reduction approach, throw everything they have at it and stop there. And when they are asked: okay, so let’s imagine we heed your advice and limit ourselves to decriminalise/regularise simple possession of small quantities of cannabis, how are you proposing to solve the issue of the obtainment of cannabis for personal use? From where is a responsible law-abiding adult expected to obtain cannabis, now that the possession in the scenario you are advocating, is decriminalised?
Are we going to keep sending cannabis users to the jaws of the illicit trafficker whose only aim is making unlawful profit? Are we going to tell them to grow plants at home, while at the same time keeping this practice illegal?
And here you are inevitably met with complete wall of silence. It happens all the time. The reason is simple. You cannot propose decriminalisation and at the same time do not propose a regulated environment from where cannabis is safe and small quantities are obtained. It’s either doing them both or doing nothing. And doing nothing is certainly not an option for us.
The government is in no way urging adults to resort to cannabis use
The government is in no way urging adults to resort to cannabis use or promoting a cannabis culture. The government always urges people to make healthier choices. But if an adult, out of free volition, decides to make use of cannabis, he or she must have a safe and regularised route from where the cannabis can be obtained.
In this context, we are putting all our efforts to make sure that the new authority, which will be established by means of the new cannabis legislation, is provided with all the necessary resources and is led by competent people who are well-respected in their field of work.
Truly, the cannabis reform bill has at its very first and main aim the setting up this new regulatory authority and all the other amendments are consequential to it. The functions of this authority are spelled out in the law: to regulate the use of cannabis for purposes other than medical or scientific purposes and to carry out work to implement harm reduction from the use of cannabis.
Once these core functions are established, the bill sets out a whole list of duties which the new regulatory authority must fulfil: these range from the submission of proposals and recommendations from time to time to the government concerning a national policy on the responsible use of cannabis, to the monitoring and research on the non-medical use of cannabis; from acting as a strong regulator with regard to the activities of non-profit associations to cultivating and distributing cannabis among its members according to strict rules and regulations, and to giving clear and impartial information on the risks of cannabis use.
Also, the authority will be statutory- bound to assist the police and other law enforcement and regulatory authorities in the fight against crime in the field of dangerous drugs. The illicit sale of cannabis will remain, of course, a very serious violation of the law, punishable with mandatory imprisonment.
Cannabis reform will bring a change for the better in our society by means of this unprecedented effort in harm reduction within a regularised context.