On Tuesday, Malta’s MPs will sit down for a final vote on the country’s long-awaited reform of its oppressive cannabis laws after being steamrolled through the parliamentary process at quick-fire speed.
The reform lights up a clear pathway for cannabis users to legally grow and purchase buds and seeds for personal use and cultivation. However, it stops short from introducing full legalisation, which will likely be used a political tool in the next legislature.
While a no-nonsense approach to getting the bill approved in a matter of weeks should be praised as an efficient approach to law-making, many out there still do not understand what exactly our MPs are voting for.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of this year’s green Christmas:
1. Does the bill make smoking cannabis legal?
The bill does not create a fully-fledged cannabis market as it does in certain parts of the United States of America or the Netherlands. It looks to decriminalise the responsible use of the plant, hoping to combat illicit drug trafficking while also avoiding imposing criminal records on users.
Under new rules, adult consumers will be able to possess up to 7g without fear of breaking the law and will not be arrested. However, police will still have the discretion to take the person into cannabis if there is reasonable suspicion of trafficking or drug dealing.
It creates a clear distinction between using cannabis in a private residence, which will be for all intents and purposes legal, and using cannabis in public, which will be explicitly illegal for the first time ever.
Anyone under 18 found in possession of cannabis will be asked to appear before the Commissioner for Justice, who could impost a care or treatment plan.
Users carrying between anything over 7g and 28g will also be tried before the Commissioner for Justice. If found guilty, that person will be liable to a penalty of between fifty euro (€50) and one hundred euro (€100).
These caveats could create certain concerns. As evidenced in previous attempts to decriminalise cannabis use but avoid full legalisation, grey areas open up a can of worms for users, who could find themselves subject to arrest upon the opinion of a particular police officer.
2. Can you grow cannabis at home?
The law allows for the cultivation of up to four cannabis plants at home, irrespective of the number of residents or strains. However, growers will not be allowed to possess more than 50g of cannabis. Whether or not this will be enforced remains to be seen, but police will be allowed to seize cannabis if it is over the 50g limit.
Seeds can be purchased from licensed cannabis associations.
Persons growing cannabis at home will need to ensure that it’s cultivated within a space that is not visible to the public or to minors living inside your residence. That obviously will create certain difficulties for many across Malta, but you’ll still be allowed to purchase your cannabis elsewhere.
3. Where can I buy cannabis?
Cannabis associations will be created under the new law to distribute the drug or seeds to cultivate it, mirroring the system employed in Barcelona.
It will be allowed to sell up to seven grams of cannabis in a single day to a member, who will not be able to buy more than 50g over a calendar month. Meanwhile, it will only be allowed to distribute no more than 20 seeds per month to each member.
People will only be allowed to be a member of one association.
Each association will be registered with the Authority on the Responsible Use Of Cannabis, which will also oversee permits issued.
Associations will need to operate on a non-profit basis as according to the Voluntary Organisations Act. It will only be allowed to distribute cannabis to its members and shall not permit any non-member into its premises.
Cannabis will need to be correctly marked and easily identifiable to ensure effective quality control of the cannabis distributed.
An association be will not be allowed to have more than five hundred members and will be prohibited from promoting or advertising its activities. No signs, words, or designs will be allowed outside of the association. Premises will need to be at least 250m away from schools, clubs, or youth centres.
Owners will also be obliged to ensure that the association does not “cause a nuisance in the locality”. No alcoholic products will be allowed to be sold.
Inspections, the bill says, will be conducted from time to time. However, the organisation will need to submit a report every three months on the amount of cannabis distributed to its members.
If anyone under 18 is found in an association, the association will face a fine between €500 and 1000). However, the Minister has the discretion to amend regulations to allow for permits or licenses to be removed, and fines of up to € 10,000 be issued.
4. Can you smoke in public?
No. People will not be allowed to smoke in public unless they have been authorised for medical reasons. Public spaces include any place to which the public has access to, whether by payment or otherwise.
Smoking in public will land you a €235 fine, while smoking in front of a person under the age of 18 will be asked to pay a fine between €300 and €500. However, it remains to be seen whether police will effectively enforce the rules.
5. So where can you smoke?
While the law makes no specific reference as to where cannabis smoking is allowed, smokers will be allowed to consume the plant within private residences. You will not be allowed to smoke cannabis within cannabis associations.
It presents an incredibly challenging scenario to parents who smoke, who will be at a loss on where to smoke cannabis, especially with young children at home.
The law cleverly created cannabis associations to ensure people did not have to cultivate to smoke, why the same logic wasn’t applied to smoking will continue to baffle many and will undoubtedly see many smoke in public spaces.
6. What happens once the bill is approved by the parliament?
Despite the PN announcing that it was in opposition to the proposal, months after the government first launched the white paper, the law will likely come into force with Prime Minister Robert Abela ruling out granting a free vote to PL MPs.
Still, it won’t become law until it is approved by Malta’s President George Vella, who will need to give his official ascent for the reform to come into effect. However, despite calls for Vella to refuse to do so, his role is a simple formality and is customary as according to the constitution.
If he refuses to do so, it will kick off a constitutional crisis and will set a dangerous precedent for Malta’s already struggling democracy.
Many opposing the law will argue that parliamentarians are pushing through with an agenda that doesn’t have the backing of the majority of the country. However, the government’s intent has always been clear with cannabis reform clearly outlined in the 2017 electoral manifesto.
This will not be the last we hear about cannabis in Malta, with the government likely to milk that political cow until it’s dried up, as it did with LGTIQ+ rights in the country.
Meanwhile, the government’s fear to pursue full legalisation will continue to create major loopholes, which ultimately will keep the cannabis lobby firefighting incorrect enforcement of the regulations.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Do you agree with the legislation?