The controversial case of a Maltese woman who was sent to prison for 6.5 grammes of cannabis has shone a light on how Malta’s decriminalisation of cannabis is truly in name only.
Now, a leading cannabis activist has opened up about how he warned the government that this law would force cannabis users into prison even when they were obviously not traffickers… nearly five years ago.
Under Maltese law, it is not illegal to have one cannabis plant – even if it gives a massive yield.
But as soon as you have two or more plants, you might very well be sentenced to a minimum sentence of six months in prison – even if they are two tiny seedlings.
David Caruana, a leading Maltese cannabis activist, had attempted to explain this to the government back in 2015. He warned that the new decriminalisation law was full of questionable policies, some of which simply made no sense.
He had sent an email to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on 27th January 2015, pointing out the glaring flaws in the law’s design.
You can read parts of the email below.
“After this reform, if a person is found growing two plants and the police themselves testify that all the evidence shows they were for personal use, the judge will still have their hands tied and will be forced to sentence the person as a drug trafficker since the law states:
‘(1B) For the purposes of this article the word ‘dealing’ (with its grammatical variations and cognate expressions) with reference to dealing in a drug, includes cultivation, importation in such circumstances that the Court is satisfied that such importation was not for the exclusive use of the offender.’
The unjust assumption that cultivation is being undertaken for trafficking reasons is still being applied.
The UK, which is considered to be conservative in drug laws as well as a country we have often used as a model for our laws, described clear guidelines to be used. They say that in the circumstance that someone is accused of the cultivation of up to nine plants for personal use, that person is fined not more than 125% of his weekly salary, and is either discharged or sentenced to community work.”
“When you see this,” Caruana had asked Joseph Muscat, “don’t you think it is still draconian, and even unjust, that the cultivation of two plants automatically results in a prison sentence?”
Muscat replied to Caruana, who said he would be sending the email to Justice Minister Owen Bonnici.
Bonnici, who oversaw the decriminalisation law, confirmed receipt of the email, saying he would read the email before replying to it.
He never got back to Caruana.
Caruana, himself having been wrung through the Maltese justice system, is disappointed that though he pointed out this glaring flaw in the law nearly half a decade ago, it is still being used to send Maltese people to jail.
“My message is that this fake-liberal government was fully aware of the situation but forged ahead even when experts strongly opposed this half-baked reform. Now we have magistrates telling us the exact same thing,” Caruana ended.
Cannabis is one of the most popular recreational substances in the world, with over 158 million people using it around the world. In Malta, it is estimated that around 3.5% of the population – about 17,500 people – are cannabis users.