The Malta Independent 16 July 2020, Thursday

Discussion on making medical cannabis more accessible to start in November

Julian Bonnici Wednesday, 11 October 2017, 08:04 Last update: about 4 years ago

Discussions on changes to the laws on medical cannabis will start by the end of November, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has announced.

Muscat, who was speaking at a media briefing on Monday, said the legislation, which will be in the form of a protocol, will be the first stage leading up to a full national discussion on the legalisation of cannabis.

Medical marijuana was first regulated in the 2015 drug reform but, for various reasons, remains inaccessible. So far, it can only be prescribed by certain specialists, however no products have been made available on the market.

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Muscat said the protocol will be based on three main points; that medical marijuana can be prescribed by a GP; the market will be opened to a large number of products; and that products can be manufactured locally.

During the general election, the Labour Party and Nationalist Party both had pledges that they would support a national discussion on the legalisation of the recreational use of cannabis.

Following his resounding victory in June, PM Joseph Muscat confirmed in a parliamentary sitting that a national discussion on recreational marijuana was still firmly on the government’s agenda, insisting that it was time that the country held a mature debate on marijuana.

This was further emphasised by Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne, who revealed in an interview with The Times of Malta that he believed marijuana use is a personal choice, like smoking a cigarette, and should not be criminalised.

Newly-elected PN Leader Adrian Delia had said during his leadership campaign that he did not agree with recreational use, explaining that legalisation would have a ripple effect on families and society at large. 

Dr Andrew Agius, who advocates the right to prescribe CBD oil – a component of the cannabis plant - after seeing its effects on a patient who had been disabled for 10 years due to fibromyalgia, had told the newsroom that he could not understand why the discussion on the subject is now being included in the talks regarding recreational drug use.

Current legislation, which was passed in April 2015, has decriminalised the possession of small quantities of drugs (a maximum of 3.5g for cannabis, 2g of other drugs, and two pills of ecstasy) so that users will be subject to fines ranging between €50 and €100 for cannabis, and between €65 and €125 for other drugs.

Second-time offenders would also be required to attend a drugs counselling session.

Muscat, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, and Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Julia Farrugia Portelli, who is overseeing the debate, have all expressed in the past that the proper enforcement of the regulations by police officers remains an issue.

In comments given to the media, OASI director Fr Emmanuel Cordina and member Noel Xerri said that the legalisation of marijuana was an act of betrayal as it was the State’s duty to safeguard individual; and that it would be giving the go-ahead for young people and the population in general to abuse the substance. 

Anthony Gatt, a drug expert at Caritas, Malta’s NGO focused on drug rehabilitation, had told The Malta Independent that although the illegal selling of marijuana may indeed be controlled, the drug traffickers may seek to find businesses by selling other drugs, if the former goes off the black market.

Gatt was also insistent that while the country would generate revenue from such activity, it would come with a grave cost on the country’s community, families and youth.

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