The move by the EU’s smallest member state is expected to be followed by reform in the rest of the continent in 2022
Malta will this week become the first European country to legalize the cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal use, propelling Luxembourg into the post as the continent undergoes a wave of changes in its drug laws.
A limited amount
Possession of up to seven grams of the drug will be legal for people aged 18 and over, and it will be permissible to grow up to four cannabis plants at home, with up to 50g of the dried product available for storage.
A vote in favor of the legislation in Malta’s parliament on Tuesday will be followed by the president signing the law into law by the weekend, Owen Bonnici, the minister responsible, told the Guardian.
The decision in Malta, the EU’s smallest member state, is likely to be followed by a Europe-wide reform in 2022. Germany recently announced the creation of a legally regulated market, following announcements by the Swiss, Luxembourg and Dutch governments. A referendum in Italy is planned, while Canada, Mexico and 18 U.S. states have already passed similar legislation.
Boris Johnson’s British government, on the other hand, has been accused of adopting a Richard Nixon-style “war on drugs” approach after maintaining its hard-line approach to cannabis use and making criminal sanctions for class A drug users a central plank of its recently released 10-year strategy.
Promoting recreational drugs
Bonnici said his government did not want to encourage the use of recreational drugs, but that there was no evidence to support the argument that cannabis use was in itself a gateway to harder substances.
He said, “There is a groundswell of understanding now that the hard-line approach against cannabis users was disproportionate, unfair, and gave a lot of pain to people who lead exemplary lives. But the fact that they use cannabis as a personal matter puts them in the jaws of crime.
He added: “I am very happy that Malta is the first country to put words in a law in a comprehensive way with a regulatory authority.
The change in approach by a number of European governments follows a UN decision last December to remove cannabis from a list of drugs designated as potentially addictive and dangerous, with little or no therapeutic use.
The Maltese approach aims to avoid criminalizing all cannabis use while regulating to ensure risk reduction, Bonnici said.
Possession of up to 28 grams will result in a fine of €50 to €100 but no criminal record. Those under 18 who are found in possession will go before a justice commission for recommendation of a care plan rather than being arrested. Those who consume cannabis in front of a child will face fines of between €300 and €500.
No private cultivation allowed
Beyond allowing people to grow plants at home, albeit out of public view, it will be legal for non-profit cannabis clubs to grow the drug for distribution to their members, similar to the organizations tolerated in Spain and the Netherlands.
Club membership will be limited to 500 people and only up to 7 grams per day can be distributed to each person, with a maximum of 50 grams per month. The organizations, which cannot be located within 250 meters of a school, club or youth center, can also distribute up to 20 cannabis seeds to each member each month.
Bonnici said his government has had a long debate about whether to put controls on the strength of cannabis that can be grown and used, measured by the level of the key psychoactive, or mood-altering, ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (TCH).
He said, “We had a huge discussion internally about this. And we concluded that if a limit [can be set] on the strength of cannabis, the THC levels, you will create a new market for the black market. What we need to do is educate people and inform them day by day.”
The Netherlands is perhaps the European country most associated with a relaxed attitude toward cannabis use. However, possession and trade are technically illegal there. Instead, the government has a gedoogbeleid, a “tolerance policy,” under which use is widely accepted within limits. A trial is planned in which production of the drug will be regulated.