A year may be a long time to some, but in the cannabis space, we are used to things moving slowly. It comes as no surprise that almost a year after signing into law the regulation of cannabis, Malta is yet to achieve any major advancement in this area.
Up to 7g permitted
Malta legislated to allow people to possess up to 7 Grams of cannabis per person, alongside permitting the cultivation of up to four plants per household and permitting people to secure cannabis from regulated associations. Anyone possessing more than seven grammes but less than 28 grammes might face a fine of up to €100 if no suspicion of trafficking under the new regulations. Criminal proceedings will be kickstarted if a person is caught for a second time. A €235 fine will be imposed for smoking cannabis in public, and up to a, €500 fine might be imposed for doing so in front of anyone under the age of 18. People can become members of regulated not-for-profit associations, where they can obtain access to cannabis or seeds, paving the way for a regulated framework. Also available is support for minors found in possession of cannabis being partially decriminalised by the law. Although still arrested by police and taken in for questioning they will not be charged with a crime, instead, a care plan or therapy will be recommended.
At the time Equality Minister, Owen Bonnici, said the "historic" move would stop small-time cannabis users from facing the criminal justice system, and would "curb drug trafficking by making sure that [users] now have a safe and regularised way from where they can obtain cannabis".
Weeks after this vote was passed, the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC) was established, with the task of setting out a path for implementing reforms. Mariella Dimech was appointed as the Executive Chairperson of ARUC which came as welcome news due to her background of over 21 years working as a psychotherapist addressing harm reduction and addiction issues. In an interview at the time, Dimech stated “The biggest question is the club’s timeline – I think people are truly excited to both set them up as well as join them. It will happen in 2022 – it has to happen in 2022. Which month, I cannot say yet, but that’s what we are aiming for,” These associations have yet to materialise in Malta.
A direct insult to the spirit of the law
In November this year, it was announced that Dimech was fired from her role at ARUC, with little to no notice of this decision. In a statement, she stated “Over the last 10 months I have worked with no functional office, no staff, no budget and a political strategy and decision strategy I disagreed with,” she said.
“I was personally approached by Prime Minister Robert Abela because of my vast experience and history addressing drug abuse and harm. I hope that any future policy implementation will recognise the great sensitivity of this initiative and ensure that the first priority is not financial gain of the few over the general interests and fabric of our national communities.” During her tenure, Dimech was praised for listening to the cannabis community and prioritising well-being over financial gain by the cannabis NGO Releaf Malta.
Upon Dimech’s departure, it was announced Housing Authority CEO Lenoid McKay was appointed as Executive Chairperson of ARUC. McKay was previously the Director of Caritas Malta a charity organisation anchored in “the Christian faith and Gospel values.” He also spent time as Chairman of the Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers, a service offered by Caritas Malta. This appointment was not welcomed by those who fought hard for reform as McKay and Caritas have campaigned against reform of Maltese cannabis laws in the past.
In a statement regarding the appointment of McKay, Releaf Malta expressed deep concern at this appointment. They stated, “ The appointment of the former Director of Caritas, Mr Leonid McKay, is a direct insult to the spirit of the law, and those that have worked so hard to re-write history and combat the use of dehumanising language, and policies promoting a culture of institutionalised stigma and discrimination…… Lest we forget, Caritas has been throughout the years, particularly between 2015 and 2022 one of the leading organisations raising a demonised crusade against any form of legislative changes empowering responsible cannabis use and shielding people from unnecessary criminal consequences….. The position of viewing cannabis within a strict addiction or commodity model, as proposed by Caritas, sadly reflects a very poor understanding of how cannabis is consumed in society, and the role of the cannabis community to impart educational tools and responsible practices”
Seed to Sale
It was announced in 2022 by Rebecca Buttigeg , Secretary for Reforms that licence applications for cannabis associations will open in February. This is the second timeline authorities have given for the establishment of associations since the reform was passed in 2021. More recently at a press conference at the new ARUC offices, Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Rebecca Buttigieg and Cannabis Authority head Leonid McKay confirmed non-profit organisations will be able to register for a license to grow and sell cannabis to the public as of February 28th, 2023. Associations will be responsible from “seed to sale” with harm reduction prioritised. ARUC is currently working on establishing standards with regard to packaging, labelling and product quality.
In order to make sure that the requirements of cannabis users on the island are reflected in the law, ARUC also promised to have monthly meetings with NGOs that represent them. For the same reason, a research department will be present in addition to a licence department, an enforcement department, and a compliance department to guarantee that associations are conducting their business in accordance with the law.
The fact that associations will not be commercialised was majorly stressed during the announcement of this development alongside the importance of engaging with stakeholders, NGOs, and consumers.
With access to cannabis on the horizon in Malta, this will further add pressure on Europe to reform its approach to cannabis.