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‘Let’s Treat Cannabis Users As Adults’: Minister Owen Bonnici Reminds Malta Why Reform Is Happening

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Kicking off a debate in Parliament on a proposed landmark cannabis reform, Reforms Minister Owen Bonnici broke down the government’s rationale behind this new law.

“The main reason we’re legislating is because we really need to stop hurting people, objectifying them and making them pass though a disproportionate penal process,” he said.

Bonnici harked back to the arrest of a young Maltese couple were last Valentine’s Day after police found them smoking a joint in their hotel room.

“The story of that young couple struck a nerve with me,” Bonnici said. “Imagine that, two youths arrested because they used cannabis in a room together.”

He recounted how many people he “respects”, including PN MEP Roberta Metsola, PL deputy leader Daniel Micallef and tenor Joseph Calleja had criticised these arrests.

“This is the norm for people who use cannabis responsibly and we should end this link between crime and cannabis use,” Bonnici said. “Why should cannabis users be turned into criminals even if they’re responsible citizens, like many of them are? Why do we persist in forcing them to become part of criminality?”

Bonnici warned that criminals are benefiting from the current state of play, as cannabis users currently have no other option but to grow plants at home and risk getting sent imprisoned or resort to the black market.

“God alone knows what quality of drug is being sold on the black market and the damage that is being done by synthetic cannabis and the mixture of chemicals,” he added.

Bonnici dismissed criticism that the reform will harm children, countering that minors actually enjoy the least amount of protection in the current state of play.

“Would a criminal care if they sell cannabis to an 18-year-old or a 15-year-old? Do you think they will ask them for their ID card? The rules of crime don’t place the interests of children and vulnerable people first and foremost.”

Bonnici said the proposed reform will provide a regularised route for cannabis users, with several rules, dealing a blow to the black market in the process.

“We must treat adults like adults and give them a free choice by allowing legal and safe routes to purchase cannabis,” he said. “As [Canadian Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau said, we are going to take money out of criminals’ pockets and offer people a secure and controlled environment, all while taking care of our children.”

The cannabis reform bill proposes that people will be able to carry up to seven grams of cannabis on their person and grow up to four plants at home.

It also proposes the formation of “cannabis associations”, NGOs which will be licensed to grow cannabis on behalf of its signed-up members.

A new Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis will be set up and people convicted of cannabis-related crimes that are no longer criminal will be able to get these details expunged from their criminal record.

The Nationalist Party has pledged to oppose the law, while several Church organisations today insisted it should include far more restrictions, including a government register of cannabis home growers and an obligation for cannabis association members to pass a psychological test. 

Bonnici described the registration proposal as “overzealous”, warned it would go against human dignity and reiterated his call that cannabis users should be treated as adults.

As for the proposed psychological test, he warned this would only add to the stigmatisation of cannabis users.

“Let’s end this stigmatisation of a group of people once and for all.”

Do you agree with the proposed cannabis reform? 

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Tim is interested in the rapid evolution of human society brought about by technological advances. He’s passionate about justice, human rights and cutting-edge political debates. You can follow him on Twitter at @timdiacono or reach out to him at [email protected]

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