The Malta Independent 12 August 2020, Wednesday

Drug law amendments proposed for no mandatory prison sentence for personal cannabis cultivation

Giulia Magri Thursday, 12 December 2019, 13:11 Last update: about 9 months ago

On Thursday morning Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici published a set of amendments to existing drug laws, proposing court discretion on whether to sentence to jail a person who can show that the cultivation of cannabis was for their strict personal use.

Bonnici said that the draft law will be published as soon as Parliament reconvenes after the Christmas recess, and will give the courts more leeway when sentencing people found growing cannabis.

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The legal amendments come about after the prison sentence of Marie Clair Camilleri, who was found with six small cannabis plants in one pot, and was sentenced to a six months jail term for cultivating cannabis. Bonnici explained that due to the law, the court had "their hands tied" and had no choice but to jail the accused for six months, "but now this law will change with the new draft bill."

"Under the present legal regime, in the cases where a person is found guilty of the cultivation of cannabis for personal use - which exceeds one plant - the Court is duty bound to impose an effective prison sentence," explained Bonnici.

He said that with the proposed amendments the Courts would have more discretion in the punishment they see fit to impose. "The Courts would be able to impose a sentence other than imprisonment wherever it is convinced that the cultivation is for personal use."

The amendments to the drug laws means that the Court will not be bound any more to impose mandatory imprisonment in cases where the individual is found to be in possession of more than one plant, when the circumstances show that the mentioned plants are for the exclusive use of that person.

Bonnici stressed that the change in drug laws is for those individuals who are found in possession of more than one plant for their own personal use and not for the sale of cannabis. Therefore this does not change the law for when cultivation is not for the exclusive use of the possessor, and the punishment in those circumstances remains that of the mandatory imprisonment.

He explained that through past reforms, those caught with a small amount of drugs (simple possession) are brought in front of a Commissioner of Justice, rather than the Law Courts. "Between April 2015 and 1 December 2019, 3,064 people appeared in front of the Commissioner, instead of the Law Courts," said Bonnici. He said that 108 of these were referred to rehabilitation under the aegis of the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board.

He pointed out that the reform also provides a second chance for those who are arraigned to Court accused of more serious drug offences if it is proven that the people concerned are victims of drug abuse and that they intend to stop the habit. 


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