As Malta nears the historic threshold of becoming the first EU country to legalise and fully regulate cannabis after years of discussions, one academic is calling on President George Vella to ignore his democratic duty and refuse to sign the potentially soon-to-be-passed bill into law.
“An appeal to His Excellence President George Vella to refuse to sign the cannabis legal reform on these criteria,” Faculty of Social Wellbeing Dean Andrew Azzopardi said, sharing nine points of contention.
Though ceremonial, Malta’s President must give the final signature for a bill to become law, and it can often become the final battleground for critics to attack a progressive bill they disagree with.
George Abela, Malta’s 8th president, had refused to sign the Civil Union bill into law back in 27th March, 2014. Instead, he waited for his term to end, leaving it to incoming President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca to sign the historic bill into law.
The bill went on to give Malta world-leading protections for the LGBT community and has become a global reference point for countries trying to better their nation’s own rights and protections.
At the time, two former Presidents – Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Eddie Fenech Adami – said they agreed with Abela’s position, indicating they were okay with the country’s president ignoring legal procedures if they go against that one individual’s personal morals.
Now, Azzopardi – an outspoken critic of the government who also hosts a radio talk show on 103 FM – has called upon the current president to refuse to sign in the current bill.
Just last night, the proposed bill – which would see a Cannabis Authority set up alongside the allowance to carry up to 7g of cannabis for personal use as well as cultivate four plants at home – passed the second reading in Parliament, with the Opposition giving no amendments, allowing it to continue to the final reading – however, Azzopardi still believes there is “no national consensus” on this matter.
Among his nine points were that the facts that former addicts were against the reforms, that more local studies were needed and, more than anything, that this issued had struck a “moral nerve” – and, according to Azzopardi, couldn’t just be decided via legal reform.
As it stands, there are an estimated 40,000 cannabis users in Malta. Malta legalised medicinal cannabis a back in 2018, with patients able to medicate legally using the plant for the first time in Malta’s history.
Malta can be extremely punishing to cannabis users; Welshman Daniel Holmes was sentenced to 11 years in prison for growing cannabis in his home in Gozo. He served over eight of those years, and published a tell-all memoir exposing the trauma he suffered for being locked up for wanting to consume cannabis in his personal life.
As NGOs, politicians and citizens across the island are calling for this much-needed reform, and other European nations like Germany and Luxembourg discuss legalisation for their own nations, many were taken aback at Azzopardi’s calls for the president to continue to allow a black market to thrive instead of having government regulate it.
“Stop scaring people and start addressing reality,” said one online commentator in response to Azzopardi’s post.
“Keeping cannabis illegal has done nothing but fuel the black market with millions of euro. Moreover, cannabis users in Malta do not know what they are consuming. You’re the Dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing…. I respectfully suggest you stand up from your conservative throne and start addressing social reality.”
What did you make of Azzopardi’s call?