The Malta Association of Social Workers said Tuesday that it supports the full decriminalisation of the use of cannabis, but not legalisation of its use because that would be a devastating step for society.

The association said it had discussed the recently-issued White Paper regarding the legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis and held a survey among its members.

The reform was opened for consultation at the end of March. It proposes that cannabis users be allowed to grow their own plants at home and legally carry up to 7 grams of the drug for personal use. The proposals also open the door to creating a legalised market for cannabis flower and seeds.

Based on the survey results and the discussion, the association said its position is that:

It supports the full decriminalisation of the use of cannabis where people are offered support to rehabilitate rather than sent before the court. Persons selling the drug should still be prosecuted.

MASW recognises that any changes in legislation should be made following a thorough research on the matter. It recommends that such research is led by the Faculty for Social Wellbeing (University of Malta) and other key stakeholders. 

Relevant stakeholders mostly agree on the negative aspects of the use of cannabis. However, cannabis use in the community has increased over the past decade. MASW would be in favour of an education campaign to inform the population of such negative effects. The campaign should not be one based on fear but on evidence and facts.

MASW is firmly against any attempts to legalise cannabis. This would be a devastating step for our service users and for all society.

MASW and its members are concerned with the lack of clarity in the White Paper, namely that it offers little clarification on how minors will be safeguarded from not having access to cannabis. There is no indication on how the authorities will ensure that children and young people in private residences will not be exposed to cannabis and the White Paper does not consider the consequences of substance use on family relationships and the complex dynamics that this can create both in the shorter term and the longer term. There is no reference to how the use of cannabis amongst young people will be avoided, in view of research showing that cannabis ingredients directly harm the developing brain of adolescents.

The association said that a worrying imbalance found in this White Paper was the fact that it is depicting cannabis use as beneficial. "This aspect overlooks the research, which shows the long-term psychosocial effects which cannabis use leaves on one’s own life".

Similarly, the impact cannabis use has on the well-being of vulnerable groups was neither referred to nor researched.

The association said vulnerable groups are at a greater risk of developing substance use-related problems and addictions due to the difficulties they are already experiencing.

"The implied message being passed through the White Paper, is that cannabis use is healthy, has no harming effects and is a human right. Such a message continues to dangerously normalise cannabis use and substance use in general which is a very serious concern for our members," the association said, adding that law enforcement in Malta is already limited, and it is already challenging to control current illegal substance use. It therefore questioned how the enforcement agencies would make sure that be managing to ascertain that individuals are abiding by the new legalisation. 

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