Police were following orders when they arrested a young Maltese couple for smoking a joint in a hotel room by themselves, Malta’s Reforms Junior Minister has said while calling for the island’s cannabis users not to be treated as criminals.
There’s been major political backlash following the arrest, which happened over Valentine’s weekend, with many calling out the heavy-handedness used to deal with the young couple years after the island decriminalised being found with less than 3.5 grams of the plant.
People found with such a small amount of cannabis should face a drug tribunal under the decriminalisation law, which was passed back in 2015. However, individuals may still be arrested and kept in police lock-up for up to 48 hours if police deem it appropriate, leading many to call for a proper drug law reform on the island to protect legitimate personal users.
Following the couple’s arrest, Rosianne Cutajar said police could not be blamed for following orders.
“I cannot fault our police force: they were simply doing their job,” she told Lovin Malta. “Time and time again, I have argued in favour of a more liberal system, which acknowledges the reality that cannabis users are part of society, and should be treated as such, not as criminals.”
Several leading figures, from local politics to EU politics to the arts scene, have called out Malta’s harsh drug laws following this weekend’s arrest.
Labour Deputy Leader for Party Affairs Daniel Micallef did not mince his words, saying that while steps have been made in the right direction in recent years, Malta was still very much behind.
The president of FŻL, Labour’s youth wing, said he didn’t want to see anyone, youths or otherwise, arrested over the mere smoking of a joint.
“Let’s continue to fight the stigma and stop breaking people when there’s no need to,” Georvin Bugeja said.
Superstar Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja also called out the arrest alongside MEP Roberta Metsola, and brought up another recent drug case that was also roundly criticised for being so harsh.
Absolutely, same as the poor guy who was jailed recently with his parent’s name flouted about so disgracefully because of who they are…. https://t.co/vSFGhgPuDn
— Joseph Calleja (@MalteseTenor) February 14, 2021
Cannabis lobby group ReLeaf noted the arrest had “shocked” the island, but called out politicians who gave lip service to the continued issues cannabis users face while never pushing for any change themselves.
Work on a bill set to reform Malta’s drug laws, cannabis included, started months ago, with stakeholders, such as ReLeaf, being consulted by the government.
“My team and I are currently working on a concrete reform,” Cutajar said. “Of course, this reform is a team effort – legislative reform alone is not enough to make sure justice is done. We need to move forward in a sensitive and fair manner.”
However, with citizens continuing to face heavy-handedness by Maltese police officers, and no timeframe for change currently made public, Malta’s current laws may truly not have the best interests of the island at heart.