Did you think that Malta was going to be the tiny nation remembered forever in history as the first European country to legalise recreational cannabis?
Well, don’t look now, but Luxembourg is coming for its title.
The small, landlocked nation of nearly 600,000 people between France, Belgium and Germany has announced that it plans to legalise recreational cannabis within two years. The announcement came after the Luxembourg Health Minister Etienne Schneider and Justice Minister Félix Braz went to countries such like Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Uruguay on a ‘fact-finding’ mission.
“We can learn from other countries’ experiences and avoid mistakes from the outset,” the ministers said after doing their bit of research on weed.
The ministers continued on to say that, right now, young people were getting their cannabis from the black market, and, in doing so, were coming into contact with drug dealers with unknown items of unknown quality – as well as having stronger drugs constantly pushed on them.
With cannabis being illegal, cannabis users were being sent straight into the black market with their hands open, to face criminals on a regular basis.
The ministers insisted on legalisation instead of decriminalisation, saying that was the best way to remove consumers from the black market and fight crime at the supply level.
So, how did Malta suddenly fall behind Luxembourg?
Like many other Western countries, Luxembourg has been grappling with the problems that cannabis prohibition brings to a country.
In 2001 the country effectively decriminalised cannabis – that’s 14 years earlier than Malta, if you are counting – and in 2017 they began looking into legalising medical use of cannabis.
However, Malta soon caught up, partially decriminalising cannabis in 2013, and legalising medical cannabis in March, 2018.
However, just two months later in June, Luxembourg had also legalised medical cannabis. Now, they are looking at recreational as the logical next stop.
And it’s no surprise why – Canada and Uruguay both made international headlines when the countries announced they would be legalising cannabis, and have been raking in the tax money, gaining politically progressive respect internationally, as well as scoring points for having a fresh approach in not just point blank criminalising cannabis users.
And yet, no one has replicated this success in the European Union – or even tried to, yet
When Malta legalised medical cannabis in 2018, with a seemingly new faith in the plant spurring innovation and regulation, there was widespread hope that the spritely, quick-to-adapt Blockchain Island would become the first European nation to fully legalise recreational weed, allowing its citizens to finally do what they do every day anyway, but legally.
However, things have since slowed down. Two years on, and the Maltese government remains caught up in a stakeholder process speaking to a large number of ‘relevant’ people and groups.
Worse off, the Maltese government has yet to announce that it is actively working on a bill to legalise cannabis – they are still working on an educational campaign to be rolled out nationally before any legal changes are made.
Such an educational campaign, which is set to feature input from rigid conservative organisations like Caritas and OASI, can only slow down a process that needs to be multi-pronged and quick from the get-go, and can only lead to more of the same ‘abstain’ mentality that has failed our country so spectacularly in the past.
Luxembourg is taking a different approach – they understand that the primary urgency is to stop the black market and criminal gangs’ abuse of its citizens, and are heading towards a ‘comprehensive public health approach’ that will see legalisation happen in tandem with an emphasis on things like prevention, education and the management of addiction.
While weed smokers in Luxembourg will soon be able to access legal weed and also learn about it, over here in Malta, we will be allowed to learn about weed – but not access it.
Malta was nearly a pioneer – and it still could be
Considering how quickly the government was able to legalise medical cannabis – as well as give at least ten cannabis corporations licenses to do anything from grow weed on the island to produce medicine to exporting it for personal profit, something that used to be called trafficking not so long ago – it should be a no-brainer that this is the news the government needs to hear to get the show back on the road.
With tens of thousands of Maltese citizens having consumed weed in one way or another – thousands of whom are regular users hiding in the shadows – it would be both compassionate of the government to heed users’ cries and let them enter the white market, as well as be politically timely to legalise cannabis in the European Union.
The next decade seems certain to feature more and more countries opening up their markets to this incredibly popular substance that has not just recreational and medical properties, but also psychological, physical, sexual, textile, and so many more applications.
Malta was set to be at the forefront of that wave. Let’s not lose this incredible opportunity to make our green mark on European politics.
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