The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

A robust and courageous reform

Owen Bonnici Friday, 8 October 2021, 09:50 Last update: about 7 days ago

This week we announced the details of the new legislative framework which will lead to a robust and courageous reform for responsible cannabis use.  

This reform, which is based on 20 points, will see, among other things, that people who use cannabis in small amounts will no longer go through the suffering and humiliation that arrests and judicial proceedings bring. It will also enable the cultivation of four plants in households for personal use, and will create a regularized source from where one can procure cannabis and its seeds.

The reform will act as an effective harm reduction measure and the Government will be clearly and effectively attacking the cannabis trafficking rings, the low quality, the black market and the crimes they are associated with.  At the same time, we will be taking the legal precautions and safeguards to protect minors and the general public. We will also enhance our educational efforts against drug use in schools, communities and other places, particularly targeting young people.

With this reform, the Government has no intention and will not be incentivizing a cannabis culture or encouraging cannabis consumption. Instead, this reform is meant to be a very powerful harm reduction measure intended to reduce the damage that keeps being caused if we choose not to do anything, and leave things as they are.

This reform is following a consultation process initiated last March, with the launch of a White Paper and meetings with various stakeholders. The consultation process attracted 350 submissions, clearly showing the importance and relevance of this reform, for many sections of the Maltese people.

Once the bill proposing this reform on responsible cannabis use is approved by Parliament, 20 changes will come into force, some of which will be the following:

·         Possession of cannabis in an amount of up to seven grams for personal use by a person aged 18 or over will not be an offence, will not give rise to proceedings (either in court or before the Commissioner for Justice) and will not give rise to arrest or confiscation of cannabis held within the limit permitted by law.  This is unless there are circumstances which raise a reasonable suspicion of trafficking.

·         Possession of up to seven grams of cannabis by a person under the age of 18 for personal use, leads to that person being summed up to appear before the Commissioner for Justice, in order to recommend a treatment plan to him/her;

·         Possession for the personal use of cannabis in a quantity of more than seven grams up to twenty-eight grams, will give rise only to proceedings before the Commissioner for Justice, penalties of between fifty (50) and one hundred (100) euro and the confiscation of cannabis. This is unless there are circumstances which raise a reasonable suspicion of trafficking.  

·         Consumption of cannabis in front of a person under the age of 18 (whether in public or in private) gives rise to proceedings before the Commissioner for Justice and penalties of between 300 and 500 euros. 

·         Cultivation at the place of residence of a maximum of four cannabis plants (irrespective of the number of residents) will be allowed. This must be done in such a way that the plants are not visible from other places;

·         Associations will be formed, which are organisations whose members can only be individuals and whose purpose is to cultivate cannabis to distribute among members. These associations must work as non-profit organisations and no one under 18 years of age may be a member of them or be present at any place managed by them;

·         There will be a limitation of the number of members of an organisation (500) and the amount of cannabis that can be distributed to each member (not more than 7 grams per day to a maximum of 50 grams per month). The organisation will also be able to distribute up to 20 seeds of the cannabis plant to each member per month;

·         The premises run by these organisations may not be less than 250 metres from a school, club or youth centre and no indication of signs, words or drawings or otherwise of activities related to cannabis or cannabis culture can be displayed by them;

·         Organisations must be registered and permitted by the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis which is an authority to be set up by the same Act, and which will act as regulator of the sector;

·         There will also be changes to the definition of 'cannabis' (which the law currently refers to as 'Indian Hemp') in such a way that 'Cannabis' no longer includes cannabinoid products containing no more than zero point two (0.2) per cent tetrahydrocannabinoil (THC) and its seeds;

·         The bill will also provide the possibility for those who have been convicted in the past by a Court, of an offence that will be decriminalized, to remove the sentence from their conduct by a simple written request, without the need for an application.

I have to thank the whole team of experts in law, sciences and other topics who helped prepare this new legislative framework so efficiently.

I have only been appointed Minister in charge of Equality 95 days ago and when I told the media that the reform will be presented to Parliament during the first days of October, some people raised their eyebrows.  My experience in previous legislative reforms helped to be very efficient and yet precise in our work and it was clear from the word go that I had the full support of Prime Minister Abela, whom I thank, and the whole of Cabinet, which was very enthusiastic on these proposals, to push forward a strong reform.

I am proud to form part of a Government that takes decisions, implements unprecedented reforms when there is the need and acts in the best interest of society as a whole.

I am genuinely optimistic about the legislative process we launched on Monday, which will lead to a new legal framework for responsible cannabis use.

We are change makers.

 

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