The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Protecting his future, destroying ours

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 12 December 2021, 10:15 Last update: about 6 months ago

“Those making use of cannabis have no choice but to resort to criminality”. This was Minister Owen Bonnici justifying changes to cannabis use legislation. To call his statement daft would be kind. It is recklessly irresponsible.

We all have choices and are responsible for making them. When we choose to break the law we should face consequences.  For the minister, those breaking the dangerous drugs act have no choice - they simply have to break the law. Bonnici insists there is “a real and great spread of cannabis use across Maltese society”.  His solution is not to help those individuals tame their habit and comply with the law, but simply to change the law.

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“The government is not encouraging cannabis use, but if someone wants to use, the best way to do so is in the context of harm reduction,” Bonnici waffles. “Harm reduction” is his latest hollow buzzword. “We are embarking on a strong, robust and effective holistic effort of harm reduction,” he pompously declared.

I pored over 48 pages of Owen Bonnici’s new law, desperately trying to identify how it reduces harm from drug use. There is absolutely nothing that can remotely be construed as harm reduction. There are, however, huge benefits for the minister’s chosen ones. Which might explain why Bonnici has been so desperate to push the law through parliament, steamrolling over all dissenting expert voices.

The Orwellian title of his Act is “The Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis Act 2021”. Buried deep in the text is an intentionally vague addition:  “an act to amend various laws relating to certain cannabis activities”.

With much fanfare, the Act declares “there shall be established a body to be known as the Authority on the Responsible use of Cannabis”. What is this authority’s task? Well, nothing much really.  It will submit recommendations to government, participate in planning processes, organise educational campaigns, give advice, set up databases and professional networks, organise training of officials and other roles which are all perfectly fulfilled by existing organisations. Its most ridiculous role is “to carry out any other function related to cannabis as may be delegated to it by The Minister”. In short the Authority will be another excuse for Owen Bonnici to load more of his friends onto the national payroll to do what he tells them. Hopefully this time it won’t include clearing memorials on a daily basis and breaking human rights.

To ensure Bonnici can reward as many of his friends as possible, the Authority will consist of a Board and a Directorate. The Board will be made up of a Chairperson and up to 8 members. All nine will be appointed directly by The Minister.  They don’t need any expertise.  The Minister can choose anybody he likes as long as “in the opinion of the Minister” they have experience and knowledge in the field. We all know what the Minister’s opinion is like.  As Minister of Justice his opinion was that his partner, One reporter Janice Bartolo, was experienced enough to be placed on the National Philharmonic orchestra board. Of course nobody who could distinguish a treble from a base clef agreed - but that didn’t matter. Neither will all the cannabis experts’ opinions matter when it comes to the Cannabis Board. The only opinion that matters, according to his law, is his.

To rub salt into that wound, the remuneration for those members, paid out of our taxes will be determined by The Minister. The secretary to that board will also be appointed by The Minister.

There will also be a Directorate headed by a CEO.  That CEO will be appointed by The Minister.  His “terms” will be determined by the same Minister. The Minister’s CEO will then be able to engage his Deputy, and “such other officers and employees”. How many of these is not stated in the law.  To make sure that Owen’s Authority can live up to his friends’ expectations it “may act through such contractors as it may from time to time engage”. The Minister will not only directly appoint 9 people on the Board and decide their remuneration, but also appoint the Authority Directorate CEO who will then engage as many “officers and employees” he (or the Minister) desires and issue tenders, or more likely direct orders, to contractors.

Buried in the last few pages of the Act is the real meat.   Possessing 7g of cannabis is no longer an offence. Even 28g will only get you fined between 50 and 100 euro, the fine for driving with a phone in your hand, which you can also pay online. Cultivation of four cannabis plants and possession of 50g of dried cannabis at home is legal. If you’ve got nowhere to cultivate, simply join a private organisation which cultivates and distributes cannabis. You’ll get 7g per day.

The real victims of Bonnici’s recklessness are Malta’s future generations. In pregnant women, THC, the active cannabis ingredient, crosses the placenta into the fetus. In the USA up to 34% of pregnancies are impacted by cannabinoid use. It is associated with stillbirth (more than twelve times increased risk), fetal growth retardation and neurodevelopmental abnormalities.  Preterm birth rates are significantly higher with increased need for intensive care facilities. Congenital anomalies such as anencephaly (undeveloped brain), esophageal atresia (absent gullet) and diaphragmatic hernia are also increased. The impact affects them even in later life. They have difficulty with problem solving, diminished memory, increased risk of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, and decreased response inhibition right up to the age of 22 years as the Joint Statement by the Malta College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Maltese Paediatric Assocation stated.

Owen Bonnici is not remotely interested in harm reduction or protecting our future. His only interest is protecting his own. His irresponsible law will increase cannabis abuse and damage our future generations. It now falls on the President, a doctor of medicine, to do the right thing and protect our future generations from Owen’s law.

 

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