Last Updated on Wednesday, 6 October, 2021 at 2:51 pm by Andre Camilleri
Malta’s cannabis reform was revealed by Minister Owen Bonnici, which will allow the cultivation of cannabis as well as the forming of non-profit associations.
The bill’s first reading had occurred on Monday in Parliament.
Through the reform, the possession of up to 7 grammes of cannabis for personal use by people over the age of 18 will no longer be a crime, and will not give rise to any proceedings before the court or the Commissioner for Justice. Aside from this, possession within the limits of what is permitted at law will not give rise to arrests or confiscation of cannabis, as long as there is no reasonable suspicion of trafficking.
Possession of less than 7 grammes of cannabis by people under the age of 18 for personal use will see such a youth called to appear before the Commissioner for Justice for a care plan to be recommended.
Possession of cannabis for personal use of more than 7 grammes up to 28 grammes will lead to proceedings before the Commissioner for Justice and penalties of between €50 and €100 as well as the confiscation of the cannabis. This also does not give rise to an arrest as long as there is no reasonable suspicion of trafficking.
The consumption of cannabis in public or in private in front of a person under the age of 18 will give rise to procedures before the Commissioner for Justice and result in a penalty between €300 and €500. Asked about the enforcement of smoking cannabis inside the home in the presence of minors, reforms Minister Owen Bonnici said that it is enforceable. “Normally when that happens there will be a report and the police will intervene. This is like when there are other crimes where minors are involved. In those cases, whoever it is asks for help and there would be consequences like there are in other circumstances.”
Consumption in public, unless for authorised medical purposes, will not be allowed and will give rise to procedures before the Commissioner for Justice and a €235 fine.
Through the reform, the cultivation inside a residence of up to four plants will be allowed, irrespective of the number of residents. The plants will not be able to be visible from the outside.
When plants are cultivated, one can keep up to 50 grammes of dried cannabis in their residence. If the amount of dried cannabis goes above this amount, the police can take steps.
Non-profit associations of not more than 500 members will be able to be set up to cultivate cannabis to distribute among its members. Nobody under the age of 18 can form part of such an organisation or be present in a place it operates. Nobody can be a member of more than one such organisation.
Such associations will be subject to a number of limitations, including that no more than 7 grammes of cannabis can be given to each member per day (up to a maximum of 50 grammes a month). The organisation can also distribute up to 20 cannabis plant seeds to each member each month.
No such organisation can have more than 500 grammes of dried cannabis at any one time.
The sites run by these organisations cannot be closer than 250m from a school, club or youth centre, and cannot have any signs, words or designs that indicate cannabis related activities or cannabis culture.
The owners and the leadership of the organisations must be individuals and not judicial persons or legal entities.
The organisations must also be registered with a new authority that will be created, which will be the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis. The organisations must also be permitted to operate by said authority. The authority will act as a regulator for the sector.
The organisations must follow the authority’s orders regarding the amount of cannabis they cultivate, how it is transported, dried etc. The authority will also issue controls over the quantity and quality of cannabis divided to members.
Every three months, the organisations would need to give an account of their activities, as well as their number of members (without revealing names) to the authority.
It is also proposed that the definition of cannabis would change, to mean the flowering and leaves of any plant within the Cannabis genus, and include any resin and any preparation derived from the same plant, but not include seeds or cannaboid products that would not have more than 0.2% THC.
Those found guilty of a crime in court that will be depenalised will be able to remove the decision from their conduct sheet through a written request.
Minister for Reforms Owen Bonnici said that the government’s aim was harm reduction. “We wanted to reduce the suffering and humiliation that many people who use cannabis pass through. They were submitted to arrests and the judicial process for small amounts.”
He said that there are provisions to protect minors and that the government wants to stop the illegal trafficking and the black market. He said that when the police suspect cannabis trafficking, it will have the right to intervene.
The government will also continue with education campaigns against drug abuse.
The importation of cannabis will not be allowed, the minister said. The organisations would be the ones to import the seeds, since seeds do not contain more than 0.2% THC levels he said.
In a reaction on Facebook, PN leader Bernard Grech cautiously welcomed the proposed law and said that the government had amended its proposal to include something which the PN had proposed.
“Two months ago I said the cannabis law promised by Labour for years should first and foremost have tackled how cannabis can be purchased. Otherwise, the relaxation of laws will simply strengthen the black market and still benefit organised crime,” he said.
“Today, the government amended its proposal in line with what I said, through the introduction of associations by membership. This is yet another instance of how the Opposition is making change happen. I look forward to the publication of the actual Bill so that we can have a serious discussion about this in Parliament and submit the amendments necessary,” he said.
The Nationalist Party had attracted criticism over its handling over the proposed regulations, after it failed to submit any feedback during the White Paper process for the reform.