The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

TMIS Editorial - Cannabis: when laws encourage harm

Sunday, 22 May 2022, 11:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Six months have not even passed since the recreational cannabis law was enacted and a reputable organisation such as Caritas is already sounding the alarm.

Children as young as nine are being exposed to the drug, the NGO’s director Anthony Gatt said in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday last week.

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This was probably happening even before the legislation came to be, but now it is taking place with the full blessing of the authorities.

This makes the situation worse.

Children are now also using the argument that the drug is now legal when Caritas, and other organisations, speak out against its use. If it is legal, it cannot be bad, they’re saying. This is inevitably making it harder for children to understand the harm that is caused by dependency on cannabis.

A few years ago, Malta enacted a law permitting cannabis for medicinal use. This was understandable as it helps with certain medical conditions.

But the use of cannabis as a recreational drug is altogether a different issue. Last December, Malta moved a step further by enacting the law on what the government described – and continues to describe – as the responsible use of cannabis. How something, which is inherently harmful, can be described as “responsible” continues to boggle minds.

Before this happened, Caritas was one of many organisations that spoke out against the idea. But government pressed on, to the cheers of the liberal section of our society and the Bill was passed in Parliament. Caritas is now once again highlighting the issue, saying that the collective mentality has shifted – whereas, in the past, the general attitude was that use of cannabis should be discouraged, the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use has meant that people, in particular the younger generations, see nothing wrong. They see the law as encouraging the use of drugs.

During the interview, Gatt said that schools, especially Church schools, are asking for more sessions on the prevention of cannabis use. There is a greater demand on Caritas to provide this service. But Caritas and other NGOs who work with youths are finding it harder to explain that recreational cannabis use is harmful and that, possibly, it could also lead to other, harder drugs.

Both government and the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis have not reacted to the interview. What Gatt said has not been contradicted. Over the past years, government and its entities have always responded when they have a counter-argument to make or to deny something that is said, if this something is not true, at least according to them. This silence on their part can only be interpreted as a tacit acceptance that what Gatt has said is totally true.

Before the law was passed, one of the arguments that had been put forward was that it would be impossible for the authorities to monitor what was going on in private homes. One provision in the law is that minors should not be exposed to the drug. According to Caritas, this part of the law is being flouted big time. But how can we expect the authorities to have the resources to check what is going on in the privacy of homes?

With this happening, it is easy to believe that other sections of the law are being broken too. For example, there is a limit of four plants that could be grown in a single household. How sure are we that there aren’t five or more? And how are we sure that users are carrying 7g of cannabis, which is the limit, and not eight?

But the issue goes beyond numbers; it is far more serious than that.

As Gatt said, the legalisation of the recreational use of cannabis has made it easier for adults to consume the drug in the presence of minors.

Just as much as, today, children and teens are used to growing up with mobile phones – they cannot imagine a life without them – they will also be growing up in a world which makes cannabis “normal”, when there is nothing normal about it.

Just as much as, in the past, it was easier for a child to become a smoker because cigarettes were readily available in the house, today it will be easier for a child to try cannabis because an adult is using it and it’s legal for adults to do so.

Today the world has recognised the harm caused by cigarettes and it is doing its best to encourage people not to smoke. Even here in Malta we have enacted laws to make it harder for smokers. And yet, conversely, we have now made it easier for cannabis users, when cannabis use is just as bad or worse.

Who knows, maybe in a few years’ time a reverse exercise will start and campaigns will be held to help people stop using cannabis.

But, by that time, it will be too late.

 

 

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