By Roland Sebestyén
Despite a number of Church organisations calling for a free vote on the proposed cannabis bill, the Maltese prime minister Robert Abela has announced that he will deny the request and wants unity behind the reform
Times of Malta reports that MPs for the governing Labour party will vote along party lines on the bill, which would legalise recreational cannabis use in Malta.
The bill has already passed through the committee stage in parliament and is ready for its third and final reading.
Church organisations, however, called on the PM to provide a so-called “free vote” on the matter to allow MPs to vote “according to their conscience”, instead of along party lines.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “Cabinet and the government parliamentary group followed the consultation process attentively and held an internal discussion process.
“This reform will pass with the vote of the government’s united parliamentary group.”
According to the proposal, the use and possession of a limited amount of cannabis will no longer be prohibited in Malta.
However, cannabis use in public will still be forbidden, except for medical purposes.
While personal cultivation will also be permitted, the plants shouldn’t be visible from the street or other public places. Those who choose to grow their own cannabis will be able to keep only 50 grams of dried cannabis in their household.
However, some claim this is just not enough. Opposition MPs, Church organisations and NGOs want the government to introduce a tougher bill – starting with raising the legal age for cannabis use from 18 to 25.
The University of Malta’s Department of Public Policy within the Faculty of Economics, Management and Accountancy, for example, not only wants the government to offer their MPs a free vote on the matter but it requires more details and evidence that supports such drug reform in the country.
In a statement, the faculty said: “In the case of cannabis, the state cannot afford to go wrong in regard to the ‘recreational’ use of cannabis because, like any narcotic, it can have a corrosive effect on the health of individual users and, in the long term, on the collective health of our communities.
“In this context, there needs to be a more detailed exposition of the functions of the new regulatory authority to be set up in order to regulate this activity.
“The questions and dilemmas posed by the legal recreational use of cannabis cannot be left to personal opinions and emotions, nor to the lobbying of interested parties or to party discipline that puts our MPs in a straightjacket when taking a vote in parliament.
“The public outcry by constituted bodies and NGOs for more research on the implications of cannabis use on individuals, families, the economy and society should be respected and acted upon.”
The opposition party has revealed that they will vote against the bill, claiming that the reforms laid out go against the safety of children and the common good.