Will Malta be the first nation to legalise recreational cannabis in Europe? Will Malta even legalise recreational cannabis?
As Malta’s Prime Minister forecasts €1 billion in sales for Maltese medical cannabis products over the next three years – and with the future of Maltese weed smokers in her hands – Lovin Malta sat down with Julia Farrugia Portelli, the Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, to get a closer glimpse at what the future of recreational cannabis in Malta may look like.
1. Have you noticed a shift in opinions over the past decade when it comes to recreational cannabis?
JFP: Indeed, there is a shift in opinions across the globe. Malta is not in isolation, to the contrary, we are at the forefront of change and we are looked upon as the forerunners in this matter.
2. Have you ever consumed cannabis yourself? If not, do you think you can convince people who are genuinely passionate about legalisation that you will prioritise this reform?
JFP: I personally do not use any psychoactive substances and have never felt the need to do so, however, I have surrounded myself with experts, and based on their advice, I make informed decisions in the best interest of the nation.
3. Do you believe cannabis users can be high achievers?
JFP: What I believe is based on facts and not opinions. Cannabis use in the young is proven to be detrimental to physical and mental development, so at a young age, it definitely hinders achievement. However, responsible users, like anyone who uses tobacco and alcohol, with emphasis on responsible use, yes can be achievers, and this is also a proven fact.
4. Without naming them, do you personally know any cannabis users who are also high achievers?
JFP: I know people from all walks of life and irrespective of their background if they fall within the responsible cohort, yes, they have succeeded in life. I must state that I also know people who did not use responsibly and unfortunately did not have the same fate.
5. Do you believe a person can use cannabis and not be addicted?
JFP: As already stated responsible usage is key to this matter. If one cannot do without the substance, tobacco, alcohol or cannabis, yes then we have an addiction.
6. Do you believe all recreational cannabis use is a vice?
JFP: Vice can have many meanings so I prefer to base my statements on facts. The usage of cannabis can be interpreted as a vice (habit) like in smoking, but it can also be therapeutic, which means that one can self medicate and find the right levels or potency, like one does with alcohol and tobacco. Therefore responsible use plays a very important part in our harm reduction approach.
Delighted to address ECAD meeting in #Malta. Was good to share best practices & common ethos based on the Icelandic model with @heidabjorg. Our #cannabisreform will also hammer on 3️⃣ pillars: education, unprecedented investment in sports & other key areas + parents involvement. pic.twitter.com/PI6qKX0vqL
— Julia Farrugia Portelli (@JuliaFarrugia) September 25, 2019
7. You have spoken for years about an educational campaign that will target students. Do you have any plans for the adults of the country, of whom the majority of cannabis users fall into it?
JFP: In actual fact, we only have spoken about the need for a new educational campaign for the past few months and not years. Our foundation is of utmost importance and this is why this scholastic year we are focusing on almost 9,000 students for the future.
We are taking a bottom-up approach so we lay the foundations in the right way. Yes, we will be dealing with adult education and also provide all the necessary support educational channels in place. As we speak we are in the process of capacity building and providing professional training to those who will be hands-on in this project.
So to answer your question yes, we are committed to reaching out to everyone at the right time and in the right way.
8. You have regularly spoken about a harm reduction model that will also allow cannabis users to access cannabis if they so wish. This model was mentioned over a year ago. Can you elaborate on some of the features of this model?
JFP: This is works in progress and at this stage, I prefer to have all the groundwork in place before we go out to the public.
What I can reiterate with certainty is that we are looking at models which remove accessibility or visibility as much as possible for youths under 21 years of age, absolute prohibition in public places, qualified products which will be up to the equivalence of GMP requirements with full information about the product, work away from smoking and look into less harmful ways of using such as oils, edibles or vapour, control high level potency products with particular reference to isolates and distillates.
9. Since your election in 2017, countless thousands of euros, if not millions, have been spent by the Maltese public purchasing cannabis from the black market. All of this money is going right back to drug cartels. Do you feel a sense of urgency in truly combatting the black market?
JFP: We have the courage and the mandate to look into this matter and we are doing so in the most professional manner. Speed might be of the essence for users but responsibly we cannot regulate until we have the building blocks in place.
Once again what is worth doing is worth doing well and our intention is to finalise as fast as we can. As you can see all around you we are aggressively investing in alternative means of recreation such as arts, music and sports.
“Our aim is at providing space for our children and youths to stay away from all substances.”
JFP: There are many other measures which although not visible have a direct relation to our strategy one of which is addressing the equal opportunities among our children.
10. Halfway through the legislature, the government has yet to propose a single policy, proposal, or piece of legislation in regards to recreational cannabis. Though your electoral manifesto only promised a discussion, do you think we will we be seeing any proposals in regards to recreational cannabis during this legislature?
JFP: We promised a discussion and that is what we are doing. We will definitely have a working document for public consultation and this will address this matter head-on.
11. Recently, segments of the public, as well as members of your own party, criticised the pace of discussion as well as some of the comments you said in a recent interview. Do you feel like this criticism was unfair?
JFP: These comments were provoked by misinterpretations. Some of the persons who commented on the matter, after clarifications made, clearly acknowledged my commitment to the electoral manifesto.
12. Halfway through this legislature, do we have a timeline of any sort when it comes to the education campaign, the implementation of the harm reduction model, and the reform in general?
JFP: The educational campaign was launched this year. A pilot project was successfully conducted in church and private schools among 600 children.
This scholastic year (which started this week) we will be rolling out the programme among approximately 9,000 children covering almost all schools. This required the identification of experts, capacity building (where we increased the number of professionals in this field), professional training, designing of new training programmes, and numerous meetings with various ministries and experts within this field.
A Memorandum Of Understanding between the Office of the Prime Minister and our National Agency SEDQA, endorsed a financial package of more than €400,000, all of which aimed at implementing the educational campaign. Doing the groundwork and doing it right is crucial.
The implementation of the harm reduction model and the reform, in general, are moving in tandem, and these require full alignment with our National Alcohol and Drug Policies, international obligations and re-engineering our support services in order to be proactive and have the adequate mechanisms to meet the requirements of modern societies.