Within the space of mere months, Malta has made leaps and bounds forward in cannabis legislation. Medical cannabis has been legalised – though its critics say it could be too restricted – and the industrial manufacturing of medicinal cannabis products has been legalised and regulated, with multinational companies already in talks with the government to expand their operations to Malta.
These crucial steps forward have been welcomed by many in society, with the new legislations showing a government that can be compassionate, as well as having the foresight to lay the groundwork for a highly profitable medical cannabis industry to begin taking root on the island.
Now, talks have begun on the legalisation on the personal use of cannabis
A recently held President’s Roundtable organised by The President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society on the topic of personal cannabis revealed where the main stakeholders in Malta stood on legalisation.
While some voices, notably the pro-cannabis group ReLeaf, tried to impart a sense of urgency on legalisation in the face of a constantly expanding black market that profits from cannabis remaining illegal, most stakeholders ostensibly felt that Malta was rushing towards legalisation.
Lovin Malta spoke to the Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Julia Farrugia Portelli following the Roundtable to see what the government has in mind at this early stage.
“We all agree that we have a problem” – Julia Farrugia Portelli
Saying that she had intervened repeatedly throughout the roundtable, her focus was now on addressing all stakeholder issues ahead of any upcoming legalisation.
“We are taking a holistic approach by which we need to address the matter and its problems at its core,” she said. “In doing so, we intend to have the adequate building blocks in place, those being structurally designed educational programmes, a national strategy on alternative means of recreation such as sport art, music and more, and re-engineering our existing support services and changing them into a proactive support mechanism rather than a reactive one.”
“At the same time we want to regulate the use of cannabis around a harm reduction mechanism by which we address the actual problems and dangers of the underground illicit drug trafficking in order to protect users,” she continued.
“Our feel from the majority of the stakeholders is that we all agree that we have a problem and we need to do something about it,” she said. “Obviously we cannot agree on all counts and we respect and do take note of adverse positions. However, it is worth mentioning that we are developing a model that will make us proud and will definitely be of benefit to future generations.”
Malta’s approach to legalisation is more akin to Canada’s than California’s
While there are jobs to be created, businesses to be founded, and an incredible financial advantage to legalising cannabis, Farrugia Portelli says the government is first and foremost focused on reducing harm for society.
“Our policy-making is taking a bottom up approach by which we meet on a regular basis with all stakeholders and interested parties, discuss on a professional level, conduct our own research and collaborate with experts in this field of expertise,” she said. “What is worth doing is worth doing well, and we have no intention to take shortcuts.”
Pictured: A legal, regulated cannabis dispensary in the USA
Indeed, she is the first to say her office has learnt a lot about the subject matter over the last few months
“We have now reached a level where we have a clearer picture and are much wiser on the matter, and have managed to design a conceptual framework that will be the basis of our model, and we can initiate with drafting the granular aspects of our model,” she said.
One of the most controversial things to come out of the President’s Roundtable was the suggestion of swabbing 10-year-old students mouths to test them for cannabis use.
Parents, as well as the general cannabis community, hit back on this suggestion – but Farrugia Portelli clarified that it was nothing more than a suggestion to address the lack of information on cannabis use in Maltese students under 16 years of age.
“That was only asked as a question to elicit a discussion aimed at raising awareness of the actual problem and also to emphasise the fact that we lack data and information on this matter since the only available data emanates from the ESPAD which collects data every four years from a self-reporting study among 16-year-old youths,” she said.
“It is definitely not a policy,” she clarified. “Unfortunately, it has been pinned in the wrong way and by no means do we wish to impose such measures. However it is worth noting that we are looking at how we can develop new support services to address the problem at its core.”
Going forward, Farrugia Portelli plans on collecting more data to help the government in forming the best legalisation policy for the country.
“We need to have accurate data obtained through a professional scientific method which can be used to build a better future for our youths. Our strategy is to create champions and achievers, we want to invest in the most expensive national resource which is our people rather than having our future generations dependent on alcohol, tobacco and drugs.”