Cover photo: Left: ReLeaf activists during a recent meeting with parliamentary secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli, Right: University dean Andrew Azzopardi
Maltese pro-cannabis lobby group ReLeaf has hit out at University dean Andrew Azzopardi after he warned that legalising cannabis for personal use will only push more people towards harder drugs.
“It is truly concerning that in 2019 a Maltese academic would risk tarnishing the name of an entire Faculty of the University of Malta just to promote his personal anti-cannabis stance,” ReLeaf said. “As Malta’s authorities engage – for the first time in our country’s history – in an open discussion on how this nation should treat law-abiding cannabis users with dignity, this professor would attempt to resort to the antiquated and unrealistic terming of cannabis users as uncontrolled addicts.”
Azzopardi, who is the dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, claimed yesterday that legalising cannabis will remove the “mystique” around the plant.
“I foresee a situation where once the drug becomes more readily available, the whole mystique of using cannabis as a form of etching distinctive identities will die a natural death and somewhat may lead to a gravitational pull towards the harder drugs,” he said. “Another issue that is of serious concern is the increased use of synthetic marijuana which seems to be even more hazardous.”
He also warned there are a number of potential dangers of cannabis use, from dizziness and slower reaction times to unsafe sex, fertility problems and psychosis.
However, ReLeaf warned that Azzopardi’s comments are “holier-than-thou rhetoric” which only perpetuate the stigma against cannabis users.
“ReLeaf will continue to condemn any and all harmful comments that can only result in the perpetuation of a stigma that forces Maltese cannabis users to remain hidden out of fear of being judged, fired from their jobs, and being kicked out of their families,” the lobby group said. “We also strongly condemn misuse of the name of a University Faculty that, we believe, is meant to help push society forwards, and not take Malta backwards into darker, more judgemental times.”
“As countries all over the world legalise cannabis for both medical use and personal use, successfully in regards to social benefits, criminal reform, and economic growth, shows that regressive comments like these are based on outdated literature and disproved arguments based on fear.”
“ReLeaf reiterates its call for a strong educational campaign to combat exactly this type of harmful, ‘holier-than-thou’ rhetoric that Profs. Andrew Azzopardi is brandishing, intent to interrupt the incredible efforts being undertaken by numerous individuals who hope of a better future where cannabis users can live their lives in peace, recognised as the non-harmful and equal citizens that they are.”
Azzopardi then hit back through a comment on ReLeaf’s page, accusing the pro-cannabis lobby group of adopting an intolerant tone and of trying to silence him.
“Where did my press release condemn or point fingers towards Cannabis users? Where in my press release did I lack dignity?” he questioned. “So you want an ‘open discussion’ but on the other hand you are expecting to silence me. Probably you would be the same people who point their fingers to academics and accuse them that they are comfortably in their ivory tower.”
“When we talk, let’s focus our energy on creating a debate – true, we might not agree and that would be perfectly fine but that shouldn’t preclude the conversation. Keep this in mind, I will not be silenced no matter how many abusive emails and messages come this way.”