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GUEST POST: Scientist Who Chairs Malta’s Cannabis Working Group Says Reform Is The Next Step

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During the past years, Malta has taken various initiatives to tackle the realities of an ever-changing society.  A legislative proposal, which is in the advanced stage of the legislative process, seeks to regulate personal cannabis usage based on harm reduction.

Based on that principle, the Maltese Government has worked on a historic reform to regulate and establish a regularised source for an existing ever-growing group of recreational cannabis users without the fear of stigmatisation and pushing people into the illegal market.

This reform is for the first time making a clear-cut legal distinction between THC and CBD in line with juridical developments within the European Union.

In that aspect, one must understand the difference between THC and CBD.  CBD is not psychotropic, and therefore the free movement of CBD products is already permissible in the various EU member states. On the other hand, THC is the most common known psychotropic compound in cannabis.

Some critics of the harm reduction approach argue that THC results in high psychoactive and a higher risk of dependency on cannabis, an addiction that will progress to include other more harmful substances such as heroin and nicotine addiction.

Recent studies have however, disputed this “gateway drug theory.”

The general consensus is that while cannabis use may precede other substances in some cases, this may be due to multiple different factors such as social background, thus raising  the question of Nature vs. Nurture (Secades-Villa et al., 2015; Lynskey et al., 2018; Reddon et al., 2018).

The legislative proposal, which will soon become law after a lengthy consultation process that saw the publication of a white paper, will set important changes.

Firstly, up to 7g of cannabis possession (synthetic cannabis was and will remain illegal) will be decriminalised. There will be no set threshold for THC purity; the reason behind this is that as soon as this threshold is set, the illegal market will cater for that “forbidden fruit”.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, the reform caters for a regularised trustworthy source for the obtainment of cannabis for personal use to the users, by means of membership in specifically designated associations, as well as the personal cultivation of a maximum of 4 plants.

This reasoning resonates with the trust and responsibility this reform is putting in highlighting a realistic harm-reduction policy.

The maximum gram of dried cannabis permissible at a habitual resident is 50g. Although four plants and 50 grams may seem quite a high amount to the person in the street, this is another example of an effective harm-reduction policy.

Cannabis cultivation comes with a lot of uncertainty, as do most cultivations of other plants. It can take anywhere between four to nine months to grow a cannabis plant, depending on various factors such as humidity, temperature, type of soil and strain.

Therefore, this reform is establishing the limit of a maximum of four plants, in order to better cater the possibility of a rotation system in growing plants meaning that that individual who chooses personal cultivation will have his legal supply at the comfort of his/her house.

It is of utmost importance that one clarifies that the maximum four plants limit is per household rather than per person.

Another important notation championing harm-reduction policy is that such cultivation must not occur in spaces visible to the public and that people cannot smoke cannabis in public. Second-hand cannabis smoke contains most of the same toxins and carcinogenic compounds found in tobacco smoke (Moir et al.,2008).

Although one might argue that tobacco smoking may be more harmful than cannabis smoking, one must consider that although both work on the body differently, both of them are harmful.

Moreover, it is and will remain illegal to expose minors to cannabis cultivation, preparations, smoking, or any related practice involving cannabis, resulting in a fine of between €300 and €500 if breached.

Studies have widely reported that adolescent cannabis users show altered cognitive performance due to altered cerebral cortical development caused mainly by THC (Blest-Hopley et al., 2020; Albaugh et al., 2021).

Should a minor be caught smoking cannabis, that minor will be arraigned to a tribunal in order to be provided with a care plan. This in itself is a measure that seeks to protect our next generations, as this reform will further distance minors from the criminal justice and focus on rehabilitation and distancing them from substance abuse.

Those cannabis users who do not have the means and have minors at home and do not want to risk exposing their children, have the opportunity for the first time to obtain reliable and legal cannabis at an established, well-regulated specific non-profit association.

Another aspect of harm-reduction policy playing here is no advertisement in any way will be allowed. Moreover, such an association cannot be less than 250 metres away from the perimeter of not only schools but also clubs, or youth centres.

Through this reform, the Government is not encouraging drug use and we always urge adults to make healthier choices. The establishment of a distinct legal body, the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis, headed by interdisciplinary professionals, further solidifies the concept of harm-reduction.

This authority’s duties, apart from its role of regulator, include:

(i) monitoring the provision of Cannabis to members of the associations

(ii) promoting and organising effective and robust education campaigns in tandem with existing such campaigns from other entities

(iii) submit proposals and recommendations and reviews on educational campaigns based on Malta’s case scenario from time to time

(iv) keeping abreast with global developments

It is said that knowledge is expanded with time, science, and reason. It is crucial that one is equipped with impartial information and I humbly urge the public at large to read more about the harm-reduction approach and take a look at what happened elsewhere where this approach has been implemented.

Cannabis has long been the most seized substance globally and Malta. Ignoring the problem is counterproductive on every level, especially on the health of our peers and ourselves. Adults should be treated as adults and with the dignity they deserve. In a responsible and just society, it is better for an adult who chooses to make responsible use of cannabis and society itself to have a regulated harm-reduction approach.

This regulatory legal framework is a testament that Malta is maturing and ready to properly and attentively deal with personal cannabis use in the long term.

Maria Vella is the chairperson of the working committee appointed by the Government on cannabis reform.  She holds a Psychology Honors degree, a Masters degree in Early Years and Childhood Studies, and is currently reading for a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Neuroscience at the University of the Basque Country.

Lovin Malta is open to external contributions that are well written and thought-provoking. If you would like your commentary to be featured as a guest post, please write to [email protected], add Guest Post in the subject line and attach a profile photo for us to use near your byline. Contributions are subject to editing and do not necessarily represent Lovin Malta’s views.

Do you agree with the proposed cannabis reform? 

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