VALETTA–Malta’s parliament approved the legalization of cannabis and cannabis cultivation for personal adult-use or, as it’s called in America, ‘recreational’ cannabis- a first in Europe, although other countries tolerate cannabis use.
Malta’s move comes weeks after Luxembourg announced similar proposals. Germany’s new government also plans to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. Malta is usually thought of as a socially conservative country. They only legalized abortion in 2011. However, Malta had already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis, and passed legislation that promoted the island as a potential centre for the production of medical cannabis.
Spain and the Netherlands already tolerate, to different degrees, the consumption and growing of cannabis for personal use. Both Czech Republic and Portugal, meanwhile, have decriminalized cannabis for personal use.
According to reporting from Reuters, Malta is also seeking to position itself as a European leader in the production of medical cannabis having approved legislation in 2018 to permit the production of such cannabis for medicinal and research purposes.
“I’m very glad that Malta will be the first [EU] country which will put words in statute in a comprehensive manner with a regulatory authority,” Owen Bonnici, who serves as the government’s minister for equality, research and innovation, said.
President George Vella is expected to sign the legislation into law by the weekend, according to reporting in The Guardian.
Under the new law, anyone over the age of 21 can possess up to seven grams of cannabis and grow up to four plants at home, according to Prime Minister Robert Abela’s Labour Party.”We are legislating to address a problem and taking the harm reduction approach by regulating the sector, so that people do not have to resort to the black market to purchase cannabis,” Mr Abela said during a parliamentary debate last month.
The law, which passed by 36 votes to 27, also allows for the creation of regulated non-profit associations of up to 500 people to grow the drug for the exclusive use of their members. “We are dissuading people from smoking cannabis, while not treating those who choose to do so as criminals.”
”Drug trafficking will remain illegal,” he said. The main opposition Nationalist Party opposed the latest plan, warning it would “normalize and increase drug abuse in our country”. The law also softens penalties for those found with larger amounts of cannabis.
Over 21 year old adults found in possession of between seven and 28 grams of cannabis for their own use, will now face a tribunal rather than a court, and a maximum €100 fine.
Minors caught in possession of cannabis meanwhile will be referred to a tribunal which may propose an addiction treatment program.
Consuming cannabis in public will remains illegal, punishable by a €235 fine, while consuming the drug in front of a child, entails a penalty of €300-€500.
In October, Luxembourg’s government outlined proposals to allow each household to grow up to four cannabis plants, and to reduce fines for public consumption in cases involving fewer than three grams. In Spain, the lack of a legal framework allows for the private production and consumption of cannabis by adults for their personal use in a private space, though its sale is still illegal.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands tolerates cannabis consumption but keeps cannabis illegal.
(Image: Malta – Marsamxett Harbour and Valletta: Air Malta)