The Malta Independent 20 May 2022, Friday

Government aims to be ‘expeditious’ in setting up cannabis regulator – Owen Bonnici

Albert Galea Sunday, 2 January 2022, 08:30 Last update: about 6 months ago

The government aims to be “expeditious” in its approach to establish a new authority that will act as a regulator for the cannabis sector, but will at the same time respect the principles of good governance, reforms minister Owen Bonnici has told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

A Bill that decriminalised the personal possession of cannabis came into force earlier this month, but the government has been criticised by some quarters for ushering in the reform before the actual establishment of the regulator. Some have said that this will lead to a vacuum in enforcement and other aspects until the authority is set up. Others have argued that the reform was rushed so as to be passed before the upcoming general election. The government was also criticised by the Opposition and several NGOs, who say that amendments put forward by experts, particularly those related to the safeguarding of minors, were ignored.

Besides acting as a regulator, the authority will also be tasked with the registration of cannabis associations and to promote and organise educational campaigns and training on the responsible use of cannabis.

This newsroom reached out to Bonnici over this apparent quandary.

The Malta Independent on Sunday asked when the authority will be established, and whether, in the absence of such an authority, cannabis social clubs can be established and whether individuals grow their own cannabis plants as per the provisions in the law.

We also asked which authority will be tasked with monitoring the use of cannabis in Malta until such time, and who will be organising the educational campaigns until then.

Replying, Bonnici said the law entered into force earlier this month after a formal period of consultation and meetings with various stakeholders.

“The new legislative framework attracted considerable attention, both in Malta and elsewhere and other jurisdictions have declared to be adopting similar approaches to responsible cannabis use.”

 Bonnici said that, once the Act entered into force, a number of changes occurred immediately on the ground. Others will occur at a later stage, without undue delay.

Seven changes occurred with immediate effect.

Possession of cannabis up to 7 grams has been rendered permissible. Cultivation of up to four plants per household has been rendered permissible. Possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis per household has been rendered permissible. The crime of possession of cannabis of an amount of any amount between 7 grams and 28 grams has been depenalised and thus turned into an administrative offence, punishable with a fine.

A new expungement procedure has been introduced and people who in the past were found guilty of a crime which now has been decriminalised or depenalised can write to the responsible authority (currently the Commissioner of Police) to clear their criminal record.

New fines have been introduced and existing fines increased, particularly those relating to the smoking of cannabis in public and the permitting of cannabis or ancillary products in the vicinity of minors.  

A new procedure has been introduced with regards to minors who are caught in possession of cannabis.  In those cases the minors are brought in front of the Commissioner of Justice to be provided with a care plan.

The minister said the next step is the establishment of the new Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis.

“Work is already under way and the public will be regularly informed of the developments.  Our aim is to be expeditious in our approach, but at the same time be in respect of the principles of good governance,” he said.

“At the same time, we will keep educating the public to make the healthier choices for one's wellness.”

Bonnici said that, earlier this year, the Ministry concluded an agreement, worth the global sum of €1 million with Sedqa to embark on a three-year program to strengthen preventive campaigns against substance abuses.  

At the same time, it has launched campaigns on the various news outlets urging people to make healthier and better choices.

The educational work which the new Authority, focused specifically on cannabis use, will complement the sterling work being done with the various agencies, Bonnici said.

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