The Malta Independent 10 July 2020, Friday

Updated: Cannabis NGO criticises PS’s aversion to the term 'recreational'

Jeremy Micallef Friday, 20 September 2019, 09:20 Last update: about 11 months ago

Whilst fully agreeing that prevention, especially for youths, is imperative, Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Julia Farrugia Portelli continues to portray cannabis users as reckless, irresponsible people that continue to use cannabis irrespective of its negative effects, Cannabis NGO ReLeaf said in a press statement on social media on Thursday.

The pressure group was reacting to a comment on television show Ras imb Ras by the Parliamentary Secretary where she said that she disagreed with the word recreational cannabis.


She said that, in her opinion, "it was a mistake in the wording of the Labour Party electoral programme".

"I disagree with it," she maintained.

She repeatedly maintained that drugs, including cannabis, should never be presented as a substance which is not harmful and can be consumed for pleasure.

"The minute we take this road, we are losing the argument in the fight against drugs and we lose the argument that our children will be achievers."

In their press statement, Releaf expressed its concern at the "well-intentioned yet conflicting messages delivered yesterday".

"Whilst agreeing that a regulated cannabis market would promote harm reduction as it would ensure users know the contents of their product, Hon. Farrugia continues to fail to understand why and how cannabis is used.

"Introducing a regulated market without proper education on methods of consumption and a better understanding of the benefits and harms of cannabis would, unfortunately, fall short from providing a comprehensive harm reduction approach as present and potential users would still be left in the dark."

"ReLead has on multiple times spoken about the use of cannabis for personal choice, thus including a strong personal right and responsibility of the user.

"We look forward to once more speak with Hon. Farrugia and together explore an approach which through holistic education promotes health without marginalising and stereotyping cannabis users as non-achievers. This is far from reality and has been frequently proven by research and statistics."


No timeframe for legalization

Questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister, under which Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms falls, garnered no timeframe for the legalization of cannabis.

With the liberalisation and regulation of the medicinal cannabis market coming through just recently, the next possible step for this administration could be the complete legalisation for recreational cannabis.

The spokesperson had explained that "legislating is the easiest part of all", and that they "prefer to take the longest route and ascertain that our society has all the necessary and adequate systems and structures in place in order to ascertain that we protect our society".

Indeed, last month a Memorandum of Understanding worth €405,000 was signed between the Parliamentary Secretariat for Reforms and the Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS) which covers a number of initiative and specifically addressing the needs of an educational campaign.  Through this agreement, it would be able to continue its work in schools against drug abuse.

Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Julia Farrugia Portelli had previously said that legalising marijuana for recreational use is to be preceded by an informative campaign highlighting the danger of drug use.

The spokesperson initially explained that the Maltese government is indeed taking a holistic approach towards the regulation of the use of cannabis to such extent that is preparing and the foundation based on education, alternative means of recreation and proactive support services.

Recently Luxembourg announced that it plans to legalise recreational cannabis within two years following a "fact-finding" mission by the country's Health Minister Etienne Schneider and Justice Minister Félix Braz, who went to countries where cannabis is legalised recreationally.


Production of Medical Cannabis

The movement to begin the production of medical cannabis is definitely at full steam ahead as just last week MGC Pharma signed an agreement with the government to set up a production base on the island.

Apart from serving as an access point for the European market, MGC Pharma founder Native Segev said that their new complex will not only work on medical cannabis production but also on biochemical and bio-scientific research.

Economy Minister Chris Cardona had noted that since the legislation to regulate the medical cannabis industry had been introduced last year, the niche sector had been growing "significantly and successfully".

He had also added that investment such as that of MGC Pharma affirms Malta's position as a European leader in the medical cannabis sector after it became the first European country to introduce legislation on this sector.

MGC Pharma received a 6,000 square metre multi-story facility in Hal-Far where they will produce medical cannabis and carry out research work.  The company will be investing €11 million and by its third year of operations will have created 27 full-time jobs.

Apart from movement in the medical sector, we also saw a crackdown on the synthetic drug known as "Chinese ecstasy", a new designer drug responsible for at least 125 deaths.

The United Nations (UN) had ordered a worldwide ban on the drug, N-ethylnorpentylone, in an attempt to shut down production in illegal Chinese 'factories', which have flooded the European market.

One of the primary arguments for legalization has been that regularizing a product puts it up for scrutiny by having to follow guidelines and regulations that ensure quality, virtually eliminating the market for synthetic drugs.


Reacting in a Facebook post, Farrugia Portelli said the electoral manifesto will be respected. The government, she said, had pledged to launch a national debate on the use of recreational cannabis. “I am bound by this manifesto and my duty is to implement it,” she said.

Farrugia Portelli said that at the start of this legislature she had appointed an inter-ministerial committee that had agreed that the first step should be to launch an educational campaign and then work on a model based on a harm reduction mechanism. This mechanism can be used by those adults who still want to use cannabis.

The Parliamentary Secretary said she has often declared publicly that she does not agree with the term ‘recreational’ when debating drugs. “Maybe we could have used a different word but, as I have already stated, my duty is to see that the government’s electoral mandate is implemented.”


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