By Roland Sebestyén
Malta’s cannabis reform bill is expected to be approved by the country’s parliament in its third reading and could be made law within two weeks.
According to the Times of Malta, the final vote on the “controversial” bill will go ahead without any major amendments following the government’s decision to dismiss the recommendations proposed by, among others, the Nationalist Party.
The bill will eventually legalise cannabis for personal use and possession up to seven grams.
Those opposing – such as the above-mentioned Nationalist Party, a number of NGOs, and the Secretariat for Catholic Education – argued for a somewhat tougher reform, including a cap on the percentage of THC in cannabis products and reducing the limit of legal possession to below seven grams.
The proposed reforms were designed to comply with the government’s election manifesto from 2017 – the bill will now be tabled for a third, and final vote and could become law by the end of this year.
Reforms Minister Owen Bonnici said: “We’re not actively encouraging anyone to smoke cannabis, in many ways we want to encourage people to make better choices.
We agree that people should seek pleasure from other things like sports, culture and volunteering.
“But if a person makes the decision to take cannabis, then we have to treat them like adults and provide a safe way to obtain it. We believe this is the best route to take rather than criminalising these people.”
What more is in the bill?
The basis of the future law is clear: cannabis use and possession, to a limited amount, will no longer be prohibited.
The bill, however, is carefully crafted in order to protect the public. For example, cannabis consumption in public will still be forbidden unless the person is authorised to use cannabis for medical purposes.
Also, while personal cultivation will also be permitted, the plants shouldn’t be visible from the street or other places. Those who choose to grow their own cannabis will be able to keep only 50 grams of dried cannabis in their household.
In a progressive move, which was widely praised by opposition MPs and NGOs, Malta will expunge the criminal records of those who were found guilty of possession of cannabis for their personal use.
Mr Bonnici added: “As a lawyer, I’ve encountered people whose lives were destroyed because they were growing two plants at home.
“I think this will be a fair measure that gives people the opportunity to move on with their lives after facing disproportionate punishment and do justice with those who have been suffering in silence.”
While Luxembourg is still drafting a bill to legalise recreational use; Germany’s future government is in talks to liberate cannabis, and Italy is planning a referendum on the topic, Malta is now only one step from being the first in Europe to officially legalise cannabis.
If everything goes accordingly, Malta will make history in two weeks and could serve as a first domino in the busy European market.