Last week’s police bust of around 136kg of weed from a garage in Burmarrad was likely the result of a tip-off from a black market competitor, the president of cannabis lobby NGO ReLeaf has warned.
“Usually when there’s a drug bust like this, we see it play into the hands of their competitors, who will will now have more territory and can make more money,” Andrew Bonello said when interviewed on Lovin Daily.
Last week, police arrested and prosecuted four men after finding them in possession of 136kg of cannabis, with an estimated street value of €2.5 million, making it the largest drug haul of the year so far.
The police said they received information about drug trafficking, after which they shadowed the suspects’ movements for a number of days, eventually following a van into a Burmarrad garage. They then surrounded and entered the garage, where they found the cannabis concealed in olive tins and arrested the four men.
A gun was also found on-site as well as a small amount of cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines and an undisclosed amount of money.
Bonello warned that this raid will likely spark violence in the underworld, with people wishing to take over the market share that the four men left behind.
“They were busted through a tip off, so who tipped the police off? 99% it was their competitors so we’re just going round in circles.”
He said the cannabis community doesn’t want to give their money to the black market, where it will ultimately be reinvested in cocaine, human trafficking, weapons and “blowing up journalists”.
“We aren’t happy to give our money to these people so something has to be done,” he said.
That something, in ReLeaf’s opinion, is a legally regulated model, and the NGO is hoping it will come to fruition through an upcoming cannabis reform bill which is set to be presented in Parliament in October.
However, Bonello has warned that new Reforms Minister Owen Bonnici is skeptical of the original proposal to decriminalise cannabis possession up to 7g and allow people to grow up to four plants at home.
“People shouldn’t be criminalised for sharing and cultivation,” he said. “When the White Paper came out, it was what it was – we hoped for something much stronger, moving towards a legally regulated model, but the Prime Minister said he didn’t want to go from one extreme to another.”
“Is the White Paper an in-between? I’d say it’s a bit less than that but we have to see what will come out in the bill. Will the government cave to the pressure of other NGOs or will they take human rights seriously?”
He issued a stinging rebuke to NGOs who work with drug addicts and who have strongly opposed cannabis legalisation on the grounds that it could spark a rise in addiction.
“A lot of people get in touch with us, losing their heads and going through a major mental health crisis because they’ve been charged in court and cannot cope with the situation; sometimes the case goes on for decades,” he said.
“We never hear other NGOs except us talking about it; they might say they’re in favour of decriminalisation but they’re happy for these people to end up on their doorsteps so they can then ask the government for money to look after them.”
The White Paper notes that Malta has ratified three UN conventions, in 1961, 1971 and 1988, which make it mandatory for states to criminalise the production, sale and possession of cannabis for personal use.
It also includes this paragraph, which may come of concern to advocates of legalisation.
“By means of its Council Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA of 25th October 2004, and the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14th June 1985, the EU also adopted the abovementioned Conventions in respect of the minimum criteria in the area of illicit drug trafficking. It follows therefore that Malta, as a member state, is doubly obliged to follow suit.”
However, Bonello played down suggestions that Malta should fear rattling the international community by going against these treaties, particularly in light of its FATF grey listing.
“We’re seeing more Western countries challenge these ancient treaties,” he noted. “The Misuse of Drugs Act [a UK law] of 1970 is 50 years old; it was written when women couldn’t vote and when asbestos was used daily in construction.”
“A lot of countries challenged it and decriminalised cananbis like Portugal did 20 years ago. Some countries like the US, Canada and Uruguay went ahead and said that they don’t want to leave this market in the hands of criminals and that they want a legally regulated system.”
“If it’s not done in a commercial way, like Canada and the US are doing, and instead go for social clubs and home growing, I don’t think the UN will have much to attack you on.”
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