- Island decriminalised possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use
- Will become legal for anyone 18 or over to possess up to seven grams of cannabis
- Also will become legal for adults to cultivate up to four plants
- But consuming cannabis in public or in presence of children remains illegal and subject to fines
Malta last night became the first European nation to legalise cannabis for recreational use.
The island decriminalized the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use by adults, and took steps to set up what could become Europe’s first cannabis regulatory authority.
It will become legal for anyone 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of cannabis and to cultivate up to four plants. Growers for personal use can store up to 50 grams of dried marijuana. However, consuming cannabis in public or in the presence of children remains illegal and subject to fines.
The new regulations will allow for the setting up of non-profit clubs that can distribute cannabis and cannabis plant seeds among their members. And it calls for the establishment of an authority that will work with the government on national policy governing cannabis use.
The passage of the package was not unanimous, with the opposition Nationalist Party arguing that the bill would normalise and increase drug abuse in Malta. It must be signed into law by the president, which is usually a formality.
Europe’s smallest member state is expected to be followed by similar moves in Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Italy also intends to hold a referendum on whether to legalise cannabis next year.
Local news website Lovin Malta said the reforms are intended to regulate personal cannabis use and to reduce the harm it can do.
It also aims to protect recreational users, and prevent them from using illegal markets, the site reported.
Speaking to Malta Today, minister for equality Owen Bonnici said: ‘We want to reduce the suffering, humiliation and deprivation of other rights that many cannabis users have experienced when they have been subjected to arrest and judicial proceedings on possession of small amounts.’
He also told The Guardian: ‘I’m very glad that Malta will be the first country which will put words in statute in a comprehensive manner with a regulatory authority.
‘There is a wave of understanding now that the hard-fist approach against cannabis users was disproportionate, unjust and it was rendering a lot of suffering to people who are leading exemplary lives.
‘But the fact that they make use on a personal basis of cannabis is putting them in the jaws of criminality.’
However, Malta’s opposition Nationalist Party was critical of the move.
Its leader Bernard Grech warning in October: ‘The relaxation of the laws will only lead to the strengthening of the illegal market, with organised crime taking advantage,’ according to The Times.
Bonnici told The Guardian that his country’s approach, while seeking to avoid criminalising any cannabis use, was also to ensure harm reduction.
If someone is found in posession of 28 grams, they will be handed a fine of 50-100 Euros.
Those who are under-18 and found in possession of the drug will go before a commission for justice to likely be recommended a care plan.
In addition, those who are found to have consumed cannabis in front of a child could be fined between 300 and 500 Euros.
In addition to allowing people to grow cannabis in their homes, it will also be legal for non-profit cannabis clubs to cultivate it for distribution among its members.
Similar organisations are also legal in Spain and the Netherlands.
However, membership to such clubs will be limited to 500 people, and only 7 grams a day can be distributed to each person, with a cap of 50 grams each month.
The organisations also cannot be located closer than 250 meters to a school, club or youth centre, The Guardian reported.
Last month, it was revealed that Germany is also set to legalise cannabis as the country’s new coalition government takes power.
The centre-left SPD, liberal Free Democrats and eco-friendly Greens have taken over from from Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party, two months after it was given a drubbing in national elections.
Outlining their agenda for government last month, the so-called ‘traffic light’ coalition said cannabis will be regulated and sold to adults for use in licenced shops.
Since legalising medical marijuana in 2017, Germany’s market has become the largest in Europe, selling £154million worth of high-THC products to patients last year, according to New Frontier Data.
If cannabis is legalised for recreational use, the country – which has a population of more than 83million – could become the biggest cannabis market in the world.
The change in direction of a number of European countries and their drug plicies comes after a decision by the UN last December to remove cannabis from a listing of drugs designated as potentially addictive and dangerous, or having little or no therapeutic use.