The vast majority of cannabis users in Malta do not have a dependency problem, one of the lawyers behind a recent cannabis white paper said today in a heated discussion on the plant.
On TVM’s L-Erbgħa Fost Il-Ġimgħa hosted by Mark Laurence Zammit, lawyer Desiree Attard responded to questions and concerns over the white paper’s proposals, which propose decriminalising the possession of up to seven grams of cannabis and the right to grow four plants in one’s home, proposals that have been welcomed by many within the cannabis community.
“What we are doing with this white paper is addressing a problem thats been swept under the rug for years,” Attard said on a panel that included the Director of national rehab group Caritas Anthony Gatt, the President of pro-cannabis lobby group ReLeaf Andrew Bonello and the Dean for the Faculty of Social Wellbeing Andrew Azzopardi.
“The fact is that thousands of people use cannabis in Malta every day, the vast majority of which don’t have a dependency problem – yet, in the state’s eyes, they are all criminals,” Attard continued.
“There’s no other way to see it.”
Attard argued that though Malta has depenalised possession of 3.5g of the plant, people are still being “dragged by the hair to the police depot and scared into giving some names to find some dealer. And does this work? No.”
“The system criminalises people like me and you, just for using cannabis.”
Attard continued by comparing cannabis with another popular substance: coffee.
“I love drinking coffee, I drink it in the morning – now you might say are you seriously comparing cannabis to coffee, but it is still a substance; if I take eight of them in a row, my heart will start pumping and it won’t be good, so you’d want to throw me in prison for drinking coffee?” she asked.
She noted how Malta’s laws were “colonial” leftovers, with weak laws that do not even have the detail or knowledge to appropriately discriminate between even cannabis bud, hemp leaves and the stalk of the plant.
Attard urged for a better, more clear law that would truly decriminalise the use of cannabis, along with proper education on the issue.
“We want it to be like when you find a parking fine on your car, and that’s it.”
She also noted that while it’s often the youth that are mentioned as cannabis users, Attard asked why critics were ignoring the older “Woodstock” generation that have been using cannabis in their private lives for decades in Malta.
Caritas head Anthony Gatt noted that, according to research he’s seen, one in 10 adult users and one in six youth users will become dependent on cannabis.
He also spoke about the residents and addicts he’s met in his work, some of which were “very heavy cannabis users”. Some of these addicts said that they disagreed with the decriminalisation of cannabis, saying it may risk the progress they had personally done so far.
While he agreed with some parts of what the white paper proposed, Gatt said that he was still concerned over the allowance of seven grams, which he saw as too high.
ReLeaf president Andrew Bonello said that while it was clear that there will always be a segment of the population that may become dependent, he didn’t understand why the entire population needed to be criminalised.
Saying the white paper’s proposals look at the wider picture, he also noted that currently, cannabis users were hauled in front of a drugs tribunal, instead of facing court, following Malta’s 2015 reform.
“56% of the tribunal cases are for cannabis users, 90% of which didn’t have problem,” he said.
Andrew Azzopardi, the Dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing, said that he believed in decriminalisation, saying practically no one should be sent to prison as it stands, but that the governments’ overall message wasn’t clear.
He called for more research into cannabis before any laws are changed, and urged the government to listen to rehab organisations like Caritas, OASI, and SEDQA.
Azzopardi also asked what would happen to people who live in flats or with children and may not be able to grow those four plants.
The show had previously asked people how they’d react if their son or daughter wanted to grow cannabis at home ahead of the episode.
What do you make of the white paper’s proposals – should make decriminalise the use of cannabis?