An open discussion about Malta’s approach to cannabis and how policymakers should legislate it has revealed some Maltese policymakers views on the topic, with one MP describing how she sees most cannabis users.
The Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs featured a number of Government members, PN MPs as well as local and foreign experts, including Dr Andrew Agius from the Pain Clinic, Dr Martin Balzan, ReLeaf president Andrew Bonello, and foreign experts Dr Fabian Pitter Steinmatz and Dr Constanza Sanchez.
The group met to discuss a number of ways Malta could regulate cannabis in Malta; the discussion comes after the government issued a white paper proposing the decriminalisation of cannabis.
During the discussion, the two foreign experts spoke about issues related to Cannabis Social Clubs as well as testing of cannabis in drivers and related topics. Following this, the table opened up to discussion, and PN MP Maria Deguara – a doctor – shared her thoughts on users.
“Don’t forget, a lot of these cannabis users, there is something that we call missing psychologically – perhaps they have a weak character, perhaps something went wrong in their lives,” she said.
“So we have a lot to do to invest and keep the youths active, happy and to solve problems they may be facing in their families, in society, in their peers – and you see it in the young ones,” she continued.
Responding to the social club ideas, she told experts: “I thank you very much for the information you’ve given, and I appreciate it as a scientist also, but we’ve spoken of a limited number of a utopia thing, that if it exists, and you are providing it for whoever is there – but if you want to prevent the problems of drugs, we have to start investing in minors from going for drugs at a young age.”
She went on to say that: “those who used cannabis between the ages 12 and 18 are definitely on the line for heroin and morphine” and that any country that had legalised cannabis had since an increase in their black market.
You can watch the full committee meeting by following this link – the above-quoted section begins at around 1.45.11.
ReLeaf president Andrew Bonello stepped in to counter Deguara’s comments, saying that each country that had legalised had actually seen a decrease in the black market.
“I can confirm this,” Steinmetz said, “In Canada, over a few years, over 50% of the market is now a regulated market, and with each year, more is regulated, and less and less goes to the black market.”
Bonello spoke of the ongoing stigma that surrounds cannabis users, urging people to stop acting like users had “needles” sticking out of their arm as it added to the stigma.
MP Rosianne Cutajar said that people in Malta faced criminal charges and even lose their jobs over their cannabis use, noting that there was a lot of misinformation on the island about cannabis.
However, Deguara didn’t agree. Saying that she fully agreed with decriminalisation, she said she believed the stigma over cannabis was “overinflated”.
“There is no stigma over cannabis – actually, people feel safe speaking to someone they trust who will give them good advice,” she said of patients who approached her as a doctor.
“There is no stigma. If someone tells me they use cannabis, so what?”
Cutajar responded by saying that though she believed Deguara may believe that, it wasn’t fair to say there was no stigma on the island at all.
Bonello said the reality was people used cannabis in Malta, and it wasn’t a matter of whether what they were good or bad, but that it’s happening and it needed to be regulated.
“These people have normal lives, with a family, a work-life, and the only difference is that instead of a drink at the end of the day, they have a smoke.”
“It’s the safer choice”
The heated discussion didn’t end there, with two Maltese doctors representing opposite ends of the cannabis spectrum butting heads over policy.
As Dr Andrew Agius, who runs a clinic that prescribes medical cannabis in Paola, shared a presentation about cannabis and regulation, Dr Martin Balzan spoke out.
Saying he didn’t understand what “responsible cannabis means”, he warned of pilots smoking joints in bathrooms before taking a flight, potentially putting people’s lives at risks.
He also reiterated his belief in the Gateway Theory – that cannabis users will eventually move on to harder drugs like heroin or cocaine.
The next sitting of the committee will be held on 2nd June.
However, listening to the strong feelings held by some members, as well as the lack of clarity and agreement among most people, let alone policymakers, on the issue, it seems like the discussion is far from over.
Deguara has since issued a public apology for the comments she made, stating that she understood how they may have been misinterpreted.
What did you make of the committee’s discussion?