A woman sentenced to six months in prison for possessing 6.5 grams because of a cultivation loophole will be appealing her decision, her lawyer Dr Joe Giglio has told Lovin Malta.
“People should not go to prison on account of a bad law which, as drafted, defeats the very scope for which it was intended.”
“The situation has caused a lot of anxiety and stress to my client and is a potential threat to people who opt to grow their own cannabis rather than purchase it,” he said.
Marie Claire Camilleri was sentenced at the end of October, despite confirming that she used cannabis to deal with anxiety and that she smoked around six joints per day.
The Magistrate overseeing the case, Natasha Galea Sciberras, even agreed Marie Claire was cultivating for personal use but insisted her hands were tied because of the wording of the law.
“The law fails to distinguish between who truly deserves effective imprisonment suitably,” her judgement read.
Galea Sciberras, it should be noted, is the go-to Magistrate when it comes to drug cases, an expert in the field.
According to law, any person who is found guilty of growing more than one plant of cannabis is liable to a minimum six-month sentence regardless of the yield.
In Marie Claire’s case, she would have been better served with one massive plant, rather than the six small ones she had at her home.
“It makes no sense to have a situation where a Court has to send a person to prison when it does not want to do so. It makes no sense that, on account of flawed drafting, people’s lives are trampled upon in this way.”
“The amount of cannabis found in this case was of 6.83 grams, all contained in one small pot. According to this new law, being in possession of not more than 3.5 grams means you are not even taken to Court.”
“Yet, if you decide to grow your own cannabis rather than buy it from a drug trafficker and your plant sprouts out to more than one plant then you face a mandatory prison term of at least 6 months minimum,” Giglio told Lovin Malta.
The issue has inspired public outrage at the harsh sentence, especially after a driver who killed a pedestrian received the same time behind bars.
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has said he is looking into the case. However, having overseen the reform that left this gaping hole, it remains to be seen if, when and how effective changes will be.
The issue is not even new, having been raised by the same Magistrate in the past. Meanwhile, top criminal lawyer Franco Debono – who headed an attempted justice reform – has flagged this several times, especially the ‘one plant’ rule, among other anomalies.
David Caruana, a leading Maltese cannabis activist, had even attempted to explain the issue to the government back in 2015. He warned that the new decriminalisation law was full of questionable policies, some of which simply made no sense.
However, despite Bonnici saying he would read Caruana’s email outlining the issues before replying to it, he never got back to him.
Cannabis is one of the most popular recreational substances in the world, with over 158 million people using it around the world. In Malta, it is estimated that around 3.5% of the population – about 17,500 people – are cannabis users.