The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

More ‘potent’ marijuana on Malta's streets

Malta Independent Monday, 1 September 2014, 13:58 Last update: about 9 years ago

Cannabis found on Malta’s streets today is more potent than what was out there some years ago and the law should make no distinction between marijuana and other drugs, NGOs and government agencies warned today.

Their warning came at a consultation seminar on the drug reform White Paper 'Raise the Bar.' The drug reform was generally described as  a step in the right direction but the distinction between marijuana and other drugs is a major bone of contention.

Some speakers argued that cannabis cannot be treated as a less harmful drug since the version available on the streets today contains a higher level of psychotic agents. George Grech from Sedqa said cannabis used to contain around 3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) but that level has now gone up to 20 or 30%. Some countries, like the UK, moved cannabis back to a Class B drug after an increase in THC content.

Another major concern was on the proposal that first-time offenders will only receive a caution. Some speakers pointed out that someone who is caught for the first time could have been abusing the drug for ten or twenty years.

Madame Justice Edwina Grima, who used to preside over drug cases, said magistrates and judges lack the necessary tools to tackle such cases.

The judge complained of a lack of communication between members of the judiciary and professionals in the field of drug abuse, like probation officers and social workers. This sometimes meant that a judge would be forced to hand down a sentence without knowing whether the prescribed programme would be implemented or whether it would be succesful.

Madame Justice Grima also noted that there is no structure for minors who abuse drugs and referred to a case where a boy had to be placed in the mental health unit of the Gozo General Hospital before being taken in by his grandparents.

She also noted that the concept of trafficking by sharing should be broadened. The judge gave the example of a group of youths who decide to smoke cannabis and ask give money to one of their group to buy the drug. If that person is caught by police in the act of buying the drug he would be charged with trafficking and sentenced to jail.  Currently, only those sharing at the same time and in the same place are considered to be cases of trafficking by sharing.

She also noted that people caught smuggling drugs in jail were often to scared of the ones behind bars to say no.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said the aim of the seminar was to listen to all sides in a frank discussion. The public consulation period closes on 15 September, after which the government will have another month to go over the white paper once again. Dr Bonnici also announced that legal highs, which can many times be bought on the internet, will be made illegal.

On the other hand, Social Solidarity Minister Michael Farrugia said the government is drafting a policy paper on the handling of drug users and aftercare services. “There has to be bigger emphasis on prevention and education. Aftercare has to be more holistic and aggressive.” Dr Farrugia said the policy, which will be issued through the Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS), should encourage employers not to discriminate against employees enrolled in drug rehabilitation programmes. The policy will also assess the rehabilitation programmes currently offered and complement the drug law reform. The policy document will be up for public consultation. Dr Farrugia also said that Sedqa will become more oriented on alcohol abuse rather than on drug abuse.

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