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Malta Should Be Celebrating 4/20 But Pot Smokers Are Still Waiting To Buy Cannabis Legally Months After Reform

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This 4/20 was meant to be a day of celebration for Malta’s pot-smoking community with the government effectively legalising cannabis for personal use a few months ago. But the truth is, we’re still living in a legally grey area that’s dependent on the black market.

Malta’s reform to cannabis legislation was well-needed following years of dubious arrests, charges and police practices.

However, it was rushed through the parliamentary system with the government now playing catch-up to build a regulatory framework for people to purchase cannabis buds and seeds legally. 

The proposed reform went from its first reading to becoming law within two months, leaving little wiggle room for the government and authorities to bring a formerly illegal substance into a legal sphere.

Unfortunately, the Cannabis Authority has been left playing catch up and while it has said everything will be up and running by the end of the year, it has refused to commit to an exact date.

Abroad, countries that legalised cannabis provided users with access to the plant immediately after legalisation. In Malta, we’re still waiting and maybe more time should have been spent on building the framework rather than rushing it through parliament just in time for a general election.

Since the law, which allows people to carry up to 7g and grow four plants at home and not face criminal action, passed many users still turn to the black market and drug dealers to buy cannabis.

Rather than cripple the black market, it has thrived since the reform and has left many looking to operate legally in the sector completely in the dark over its future. 

Over four months since the reform was approved by parliament, and so-called “cannabis clubs,” which the new law permits to grow and distribute limited amounts of cannabis among their members, have not yet been set up.

This means that unless users are willing and able to grow their own cannabis from seeds using costly home setups, they will still need to resort to the black market for their cannabis. And while home growing is taking place all over the country, the seeds people are buying are still technically illegal.

Rather Malta’s Cannabis Authority has been focused on laying down the law on smokers and would-be operators and cannabis associations.

Despite being effectively legal, people and prospective operators are being forced to keep quiet or be kept out of the market altogether. 

It has created a chilling effect with countless cannabis-related businesses choosing to completely forgo 4/20 out of fear of major reprisals from the newly-formed authority. Cannabis users are also terrified to complain, fearing that the government could rescind the reform just as quickly as it enacted it. 

Once again, Maltese users are being punished because of government inefficiencies.

In a bid to get the reform approved right before the general election, the government has already started on the wrong foot and is failing to inspire confidence that it could effectively implement the long-awaited reform in the long term. 

Rather than get excited about a shift in handling drug use on the island, the biggest piece of cannabis-related news since the reform has been a doctor that prescribes medical cannabis being charged with drug trafficking after police intercepted a batch of dried cannabis flowers that contained 9% CBD and 0.2% THC.

Police remain overzealous and are yet to understand the spirit of the new law. It’s something even Prime Minister Robert Abela has admitted.

It must be made clear that the government was certainly brave and forward-thinking when it came to enacting the reform despite widespread opposition among voters. However, it should not be an excuse for the failure to deliver since then.

The government has refused time and time again to give a concrete timeline on when the cannabis associations will open or when people will actually be able to purchase seeds and cannabis buds legally and safely.

Instead, the black market, which includes unsavoury figures like the Tal-Maksar brothers at its helm, has been allowed to sell off its remaining stock ahead of the legal operations. 

Rather than buckle down and ensure that everything was up and running within a few months, cannabis users have been left waiting. 

Cannabis Authority Mariella Dimech, who is on a handsome 82,000 a year contract, was once an activist against the legalisation of cannabis use. She has a mandate to deliver the reform and there are concerns that her past beliefs might be leading to hesitancy.

Of course, a general election meant that politicians were more focused on votes rather than building a complex framework. However, with yet another person taking over the reforms portfolio, it remains to be seen whether the issue will be given the priority it deserves in 2022.

4/20 should have been a celebration for both government and users. Let’s hope next year will be different.

How do you think the reform is being handled?

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Julian is the former editor of Lovin Malta and has a particular interest in politics, the environment, social issues, and human interest stories.

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