A controversial new law on cannabis use will have to wait another week to be approved in parliament, after the opposition requested that MPs be called to vote individually on the matter. 

The proposed reform was set for its third and final reading in the House, which would normally be followed by a vote, on Tuesday afternoon.

However, while the government MPs said they were voting in favour, the opposition requested what is known as a division.  

This is a parliamentary procedure to take a vote that physically counts members voting. 

The vote by division will be held on Tuesday, December 14, Speaker An─ílu Farrugia announced.  

Request for petition discussion

Meanwhile, the opposition is also requesting that a last-minute petition against the reform be discussed in a parliamentary committee. 

It remains unclear whether the Speaker will allow the petition to be discussed before the final vote is taken. 

Church organisations, NGOs and lobby groups opposed to easing cannabis laws on Tuesday filed a petition to parliament, in a last-ditch attempt to stop a reform bill from becoming law in its current form.

The petition, which is signed by 44 organisations, former president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca and eight other individuals, calls on MPs to make a number of changes to the bill.

What the cannabis bill proposes

The government has been pushing forward the so-called Responsible Use of Cannabis law which eases rules on the drug. 

The reform lights up a clear pathway for cannabis users to legally grow, purchase buds and seeds for personal use and cultivation.

It proposes that users be allowed to carry up to 7g of cannabis in public without fear of arrest, though smoking it in public remains prohibited. Users can grow up to four plants at home, provided they do so in a concealed area or join cannabis associations to buy seeds or buds from.

The associations must be run as non-profits, be at least 250m away from schools and will be prohibited from advertising. 

Once the reform is voted for in parliament it will then have to be signed into law by President George Vella, a doctor, who has faced calls from the medical community and NGOs not to approve the law. 

While Church organisations oppose the reform, and medical lobbies have warned about its potential risks, the Labour Party has said that it wants the government to go one step further and fully legalise the sale of cannabis and cannabis seeds through licensed outlets.

The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, first indicated that it favoured the government's proposals but then changed tack and came out against them. 

Despite this, the government steamed ahead with the reform. 

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