Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addressed parliament this week following the second reading of the medical marijuana production bill.
In the speech, he outlined his vision of a global, secure, and reliable Maltese medical marijuana industry that not only allowed the use of medicinal cannabis locally, but that also was a trusted international player in producing and exporting the medicinal to global markets.
He reiterated his personal belief in legalisation, and attempted to allay fears and worries that had been brought up in previous discussions.
1. “There’s a race in Europe, and Europe is already behind. But we are talking to the global leaders now.”
With news just last week that the multi-national company Nuuvera wants to set up a cannabis laboratory in Malta, Dr. Muscat spoke about a fast-changing global market, where more and more countries are changing their cannabis laws.
Malta, as an exporter of the medicine, could take advantage of this change. “Right now, there are so many countries looking at this direction. The question is, who will get there first?” he asked.
He made reference to Italy as an example of country rapidly changing its cannabis laws, where just weeks ago the Italian government issued its first cannabis license to a private company.
2. “The trailblazers are those that have the natural advantage in the market.”
Placing Malta among the pioneers in the global medical marijuana market was part of the government’s vision, Dr Muscat said, partly due to some of the advantages Malta has.
He spoke about Malta’s “legislative agility – once we make a decision, we turn that into legislation so quickly and in such a short period that other democracies can only dream about it. They have so many levels of bureaucracy, locally, regional, nationally, that what we did in six months, they need two years to do.”
3. “Don’t underestimate the power of this country”
The legislative changes happening in Malta have wider effects in the world that one would first think, said Dr Muscat.
“We shouldn’t exclude the fact that the market is moving because they are seeing Malta move. When we make a signal towards the market, the market reacts,” he said.
As more countries begin to open up to medical marijuana, he asked: “Why shouldn’t we be among the first to be ready for this? Why shouldn’t we make the medicine in Malta, create jobs in Malta, and export and sell abroad?”
He also said that Malta should be focused on the international market, noting that the Maltese market is only half a million people.
4. “No doctor is going to prescribe that you need to go and take a joint”
Saying that this bill is not “a trojan horse”, he made it clear that the bill was only focused on medical use of marijuana, and not personal or recreational use.
Noting the debate on personal use would come soon, he said “this is a harm reduction debate we have a mandate to hold. In this area, the government is open to a whole debate.”
5. “Seed to sale”
Traceability of the cannabis is a major issue for the government.
Dr Muscat said the government wants to ensure imports are exactly what they say they are, are clearly labelled with all relevant information in line with good manufacturing practices and standards, and that the medicine can be traced from the seed it came from to point of sale.
6. “I understand that there might be a certain nervousness about this”
In response so some of the issues the Opposition brought up in the first and second readings, Dr Muscat said that “this is a new sector, and I believe there are a lot of misconceptions about it.”
He said that he personally saw a medical marijuana industry as “a window of opportunity in a globalised world that won’t be open forever. We will grow as this sectors grow.”
He referred to a previous Nationalist administration that had opened Malta up to the iGaming industry 18 years ago, and said if that decision wasn’t taken years ago, Malta wouldn’t be in such a good position in that industry today.
7. He is personally “quite in favour” of legalising recreational use
Dr Muscat reiterated his personal support of legalisation of cannabis in Malta.
“Let’s use the word recreational even though I don’t like that word,” he said. “The discussion on recreational cannabis hasn’t been started yet. Personally I am in quite in favour, but our mandate is to hold the discussion, and we’ll do that by being open to the opinions of everyone.”
8. Cultivation isn’t being forgotten
The new amendments to the law would not make it illegal to cultivate cannabis plants for medicinal use with a commercial license.
But Dr Muscat said “the idea isn’t that someone gets a seed and grows some cannabis near his cabbages in his garden,” but that it would allow companies to grow the plant inside a secure system.
This continues on from the “seed to sale” system he had previously touched upon, and also allows companies to undergo Research and Development with their own plants.
9. Malta’s “cutting edge” facilities
Saying that the country will be dealing with “multi-national companies,” he stressed the importance of the reputation of Malta’s facilities and institutions related to this sector.
“Our existing security system makes us attractive to these companies,” he said, and made reference to Malta’s currency printing systems that print “trillions” of euros worth of currency and are totally secure and trusted.
He also repeated that “every license will be issued by the Superintendent of Health,” before saying that “if we have something that’s cutting edge in this country, it’s the Medicines Authority. It receives glowing reviews, and is respected on a European and global level.”
10. “It’s a question of courage”
In his closing statements, Dr Muscat envisioned the decision to start a regional, and eventually, global medical marijuana industry as “a question of courage.”
“I understand that people might think, ‘this is too much’,” he said. “This is the future. In Italy, in just six days, the situation turned upside down. This is the future happening in front of our eyes.”
“Now we must choose whether we let it escape from our hands, so tomorrow we say ‘we had the chance and we lost it’, or instead we say we have the faculties, the experience, because we already regulate massive sectors,” he said.
“At the end of the day,” he ended, “we have all agreed that there is nothing wrong with buying products from abroad to distribute in Malta – so what could be wrong with producing in Malta to distribute internationally?”