The legalisation of cannabis would represent yet another blow to Malta’s international reputation, at a time when it desperately needs to undo the damage caused over the past few years, Nationalist Party MP Claudette Buttigieg has warned.
Buttigieg was speaking in Parliament, which this evening started to debate the government’s proposed reform of cannabis legislation, where she questioned whether Malta was now going to start selling itself as a cannabis destination.
“First we were the blockchain island and I wonder whether we’re now going to become some other type of island,” Buttigieg told the House this evening, insisting that the development was sure to reflect badly on the island.
Despite PN leader Bernard Grech having declared that he did not believe cannabis users should be criminalised and that there should be a legal avenue for smokers to buy cannabis, the PN has declared that it intends to vote against the law, which it says will normalise drugs within Maltese society.
Growing cannabis near a school
Buttigieg pointed to several issues which she said had either been ignored, or not given enough attention by the government in drawing up the proposed reform.
She noted that while the Bill being debated included a provision preventing cannabis associations from being set up in the vicinity of schools, she said no such precautions were included for the growth of the plant in private residences.
Buttigieg did not elaborate on what exactly she was suggesting could happen if a private individual were to grow a cannabis plant in a residence that was close to a school.
Youths younger than 25 should not be smoking
While the PN MP acknowledged that the minister had made it clear that the reform was not intended to encourage the use of drugs, Buttigieg expressed her disappointment at the fact that this was not explicitly stated in the text of the law.
She stressed that youths younger than 25 years of age should not be using drugs regularly, warning that the proposed legislation would normalise such habits. “It also limits their ability to develop problem-solving skills which they will need later on in life.”
She pointed to European surveys on drug use, which consistently find that drugs, including cannabis, are very easily accessible to the country’s youth, including school children.
While the government was claiming that the reform was intended primarily to ensure that smokers were not criminalised because of their choices, Buttigieg insisted that it was already the case that smokers could not be sent to prison.
Labour MP Jonathan Attard later pointed out that the reform went beyond simply ensuring the people did not go to prison, noting that smokers could still end up being detained and stigmatised.
What if people chew cannabis at work?
Yet another consideration, Buttigieg said, related to the use of cannabis at work. She said that the proposed law was legalising something but providing no guidance to employers on how they should be dealing with it.
“If an employee is sent home because they are under the influence of cannabis what will happen? Will this come out of their sick leave?” Buttigieg asked. “What will happen if workers chew cannabis during their work break?”
Employers, she said, had also raised concerns about the productivity of workers who grow cannabis and who work from home.
More local research needed
During his introduction of the debate, Reforms Minister Owen Bonnici pointed to a number of international studies about cannabis and the effects of its legalisation, particularly in the US.
Despite their findings, Buttigieg argued that it wasn’t enough to justify Malta’s decision to legalise, insisting that more research was required about the local context.
Buttigieg also asked how the regulatory authority that was being proposed would work given that it was intended to have both an educational and regulatory purpose.
“Will it fall under the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations or will it regulate itself?” she asked.
Another concern raised related to the fact that the permitted THC content of plants grown in private residences had not been specified. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that causes its recreational effects.
People using medicinal cannabis recreationally
Buttigieg noted that the World Health Organisation had recently raised concerns about medicinal cannabis being used for recreational purposes.
She said that she was informed that this was also the case in Malta, with cannabis buds intended to be vaporised or consumed for medicinal purposes being smoked recreationally.
Ultimately, Buttigieg said that while the government had said that its priority was bringing about change, the PN was driven by the common good and public health.
While the PN had no power to stop the law from being approved, she said that the PN felt duty-bound to reiterate the dangers posed by the law.
“I want you to commit to carrying out follow-ups and further research about its effects, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing our job as lawmakers,” she said to the minister.
Do you share these concerns?