Malta can use the local cannabis industry to provide jobs and a much-needed economic boost as one of the ways for the island to beat a COVID-19 economic downturn.
In today’s 4/20 edition of Covid Calls, Lovin Malta’s discussion programme looking into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the island, Reforms Junior Minister Rosianne Cutajar, ReLeaf President Andrew Bonello and government policy advisor/former forensics officer John Ellul spoke about how cannabis can benefit the nation moving forward.
Both Cutajar and Ellul saw the Maltese cannabis industry – Malta legalised medical cannabis manufacturing back in 2018 – as a potential boon to Malta’s economy in light of a COVID-19 crash.
“The pharmaceutical industry will be able to absorb workers who lose their jobs in sectors that become redundant and they’ll become supportive in the industry – and this industry is going to be a great contribution to the economy,” Ellul said.
“We need to understand how to profit fully from the medical cannabis industry and be at the forefront of it so that the country can benefit from the medicine and not just the users,” Cutajar said. “The country has a lot to benefit.”
The discussion comes on 4/20, the international day dedicated to cannabis, hours after the government released its first-ever 4/20 message.
Bonello welcomed the video as a “massive breathe of fresh air”, saying “never have we had the government come out so positively with these types of comments”.
Cutajar spoke about “pilots, doctors and teachers” who were looking to her with hope to remove the stigma around using cannabis.
“They’ve reached out to me privately to say thank you for speaking about us,” Cutajar pointed out.
She also gave more details on the a scientific survey she’s commissioned into the cannabis habits of the Maltese, which found that over 40,000 Maltese people have used cannabis.
“11.7% of Malta has used cannabis before – and this could be a conservative number,” Cutajar said, noting that men use it more than women and that 14% of people with a tertiary education used cannabis.
“This means that you can be an achiever and a cannabis user.”
She also noted that the majority of people who voted for the Labour Party in 2017 were in favour of cannabis, while a minority of PN voters were.
Cutajar called for a “more precise” law that was detailed and understood what the cannabis plant was, and where the psychoactive substance THC is found, to remove any “anomalies” in the law.
She also said she wanted people who were found with cannabis before 2015 to have their police conduct cleaned and their crimes expunged.
Cutajar said that the quantity that Malta decriminalised for personal use – 3.5 grammes – needed to be increased in light of the pandemic.
“This way, Maltese users can meet dealers less and less, both for social distancing reasons as well as to avoid being pushed onto harder drugs,” she said.
Cutajar noted that COVID-19 had made the situation more “dangerous for certain groups, like domestic violence victims” and said: “you know what I stand for and what my vision is”.
“Like everybody else, we have rights” – Andrew Bonello, ReLeaf President
Bonello reiterated what Cutajar said, saying that now was the right time to be allowed to cultivate a limited number of cannabis plants at home instead of having to go out and deal with dealers.
“The situation was already dangerous but with COVID-19 it’s even more so,” he said.
Ellul, a former forensic police officer, said that it was time for government policy and police efforts to be “socially aligned” and he urged more training for police to ensure they “enforce the law in the way that policymakers intended”.
Saying that smoking of any type isn’t the best idea during a pandemic from a health perspective, Ellul noted that it didn’t make sense to call cannabis users “criminals”, especially in light of a new approach to cannabis on the island.