The Malta Independent 16 May 2021, Sunday

Government will take no measures to ensure cannabis is not consumed in front of minors

Bettina Borg Sunday, 18 April 2021, 08:30 Last update: about 25 days ago

No measures will be taken to ensure that cannabis is not consumed in front of minors should the White Paper on Cannabis Reform be approved, with the government saying it has faith in parents and guardians to observe the law. 

According to the recent White Paper, “cannabis cannot be consumed before minors, and residents are to ensure that it is stored in places which are inaccessible to minors residing in the same habitation.”

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While the White Paper states that consuming cannabis in front of minors is illegal, it is unclear what measures will be taken to ensure that this does not happen behind closed doors and minors are safeguarded.

Asked what the government intends to do about this matter, a spokesperson said that “Government has faith in the responsibility of parents and guardians in observing the law and ensuring the best environment for their children.”

While the White Paper has marked an important step forward in the decriminalization of cannabis possession, the document itself has left many questions unanswered.

The Dean of the Faculty of Social Wellbeing Andrew Azzopardi most notably voiced his reservations about the White Paper in an interview with this newsroom, where he said that “There are a lot of inconsistencies in the way it is written, namely that from one side we are saying that it puts you in a position where it increases your wellbeing, and on the other side we are saying that it should not be promulgated.”

The Malta Independent on Sunday asked a government spokesperson for clarification on a number of topics in the White Paper to understand how cannabis laws will be put into practice should the proposals be given the green light in the near future.

Police intervention

The White Paper states that, “The cultivated cannabis cannot be sold, and can only be consumed in the same habitation.”

Asked what measures will be taken to ensure that cultivated cannabis will not be sold, the spokesperson responded that where the police have reasonable suspicion in relation to the sale of the substance, whether it be in private or in public, they will investigate the case and prosecute accordingly.

The government added that there are no plans to legalize the sale of cannabis, and the law will remain unchanged as it is found in Chapter 101 in the laws of Malta.

On this same point, this newsroom asked if police will have the deferred authority to enter private residences and ensure that cannabis is being consumed exclusively by members of the same household, similar to how it was recently confirmed that police have the deferred authority to enter private property to ensure that Covid-19 measures are not being breached.

To this, the spokesperson said that police can only enter a household if there is “reasonable suspicion of commission of a crime, after obtaining a magisterial warrant.” Therefore, should a cannabis-related crime be reported to the police, they are entitled to enter the property, so long as they are in possession of a magisterial warrant.

The spokesperson added, however, that “police do not have the authority to simply enter and search any habitation at will” and will only enter households if they suspect there is illegal activity.

Consuming cannabis discreetly

For those who wish to consume cannabis recreationally, the White Paper states: “It is being proposed that every residential habitation (household) can grow up to 4 plants, in a space which is not visible to the public, and which does not emit smells.”

This newsroom asked how those who live in close proximity of other households – for example those who live in an apartment complex – can mask the smell created by the smoking of cannabis and, should the smell not be concealed, if this will mean that one will be unable to smoke at all.

In response, the government spokesperson said that individuals must smoke indoors in order to contain the smell and ensure the policy of no visibility is safeguarded. This will also ensure that cannabis use is not actively promoted to the general public.

The government spokesperson also confirmed that individuals who live in apartment complexes cannot smoke or consume cannabis on their balcony, as this will breach the policy of no visibility and be classified as public consumption.

Educational campaigns

One point that the White Paper makes clear is that there is an amplified need for educational campaigns to give clear, factual information on cannabis to eradicate its stigma.

What is less clear, however, is the stance that these educational campaigns will take. Point VIII of the White Paper, titled ‘Education’, states that: “Educational campaigns should give clear information on the risks and benefits of cannabis use, by means of age appropriate content, and should aim to eradicate the stigma surrounding cannabis by instead promoting research and open dialogue on the cannabis plant.”

This creates the impression that education campaigns will take a neutral approach to cannabis; one that outlines both its benefits and risks.

In Point VI, titled ‘Administrative measures for minors’, the White Paper states that minors must be distanced from cannabis “and its potential effects at such a tender age, and discouraging its use.”

This begs the question: while education campaigns certainly won’t actively promote the consumption of cannabis, will they adopt a stance that actively discourages cannabis use or will they take a neutral, unbiased stance that seeks to simply provide facts on cannabis?

Asked this question, the spokesperson said that education campaigns on cannabis are “intended to discourage the recreational use of cannabis” not only for minors, but also for adults. The primary starting points of these campaigns shall be prohibition, negative side effects and consequences of its use, the spokesperson added.

The education campaign on cannabis will be similar to the government’s TobaccoFree campaign, which aimed to discourage the use of tobacco, outline its negative impacts on health and encouraged citizens to lead a tobacco-free lifestyle.

Alongside warnings of cannabis’ negative effects, the spokesperson also said that the campaigns shall include “education in relation to the substance from a wider perspective.” This will include how cannabis is used in the extract of textiles and medicinals.

Acquiring plants

Lastly, this newsroom asked how the public will be able to acquire plants of their own and if a government authority will be providing seeds to those who wish to grow up to four plants in their household.

The spokesperson responded that it will listen to the public’s suggestions before deciding on how the government will distribute seeds or plants.

“One of the aims of this public consultation is to listen to the general public’s feedback and suggestions concerning this point,” the spokesperson said.

While it is uncertain just yet how plants will be distributed, the spokesperson made it clear that the aim of the White Paper is to minimize the illegal sale of cannabis.

“The principle of the White Paper is that traffickers and the black market will not keep having the upper hand as is the reality today,” the spokesperson said. “While this reform aims at fighting the stigma against the users, it increases the fight against pushers.”

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