Maybe there’s ‘something psychologically missing’ from Maltese politics, too...

Maybe Dr Deguara had a point, after all. Maybe there is indeed something ‘psychologically missing’ from Maltese politics

OK, I was tempted to end that with… “A brain, perhaps”? But hey, that would be taking things slightly too far, even by my standards.

But in any case: many of you will recognise that headline as a nod towards a certain Maltese politician, who said a certain silly thing this week, that caused a certain minor stir on social media, and so on, and so forth and so fifth.

And yes: like many others, I too was disconcerted that someone like Dr Maria Deguara – a Nationalist MP, member of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, and also a medical professional – would suggest that “there is something that we call missing psychologically” in “a lot of cannabis users”… and that “perhaps they have a weak character, perhaps something went wrong in their lives…”

Leaving aside that both the words themselves, and the tone, come across as just slightly judgmental and patronising … the argument itself is not only illogical, but also politically unsound.

For even if Dr Deguara is right, and many cannabis users are indeed ‘psychologically-impaired weaklings’, who only use the drug to cope with their own social inadequacies…

Well, the first problem would be that: yes, in some cases, that may even be true. But then… it is just as true (arguably more so) of people who resort to alcohol to self-medicate their own psychological impairments. And it’s certainly true of the thousands who end up addicted to prescription drugs (with or without a prescription), for precisely the same reason.

But… those substances are not exactly ‘illegal’, are they? Even if some of them – alcohol in particular – are known to have much worse physical, psychological and even social ill-effects, than have ever been associated with cannabis…

More to the point, however: we certainly do not treat those people as ‘criminals’, do we? And that’s probably just as well, because… let’s face it: if it were suddenly a crime to ‘hit the bottle’ – or to pop anti-anxiety pills, or tranquilisers, or pain-killers, etc.  – with every psychological downturn we experience… why, we’d end up having to arrest around three-quarters of the entire population. (Probably, including most of our nannas and nannus…)

But that only brings up a second non-sequitur. For however you interpret her intention (more of this in a sec), Dr Deguara is still generous enough to frame cannabis users as ‘victims’ – or at least, ‘vulnerable people who need help’ – rather than as ‘criminals’.

And yet, the rest of her arguments don’t exactly add up to a policy on how either she herself (in her position as a Parliamentary Committee member), or the Nationalist Party she represents, intends to actually help those people.

What is clear is that Dr Deguara is personally dead-set against the proposed legalisation of recreational cannabis (as, naturally, is her right); but while she also claims to be ‘completely in favour of decriminalisation’, she argues that “those who used cannabis between the ages 12 and 18 are definitely on the line for heroin and morphine”; and that “any country that had legalised cannabis had since an increase in their black market”.

All without providing a jot of evidence to support those claims; and, in the latter case, only to be immediately contradicted by evidence supplied by Dr Fabian Steinmetz (a German toxicologist, also a guest on the same discussion).

And bearing in mind that the discussion itself was about “Malta’s approach to cannabis and how policymakers should legislate it”… what, in practical terms, does any of that really tell us, about how Nationalist policymakers would actually legislate themselves?

On the basis of the above soundbites – and that’s all we’ve got so far, really: because the PN didn’t even participate in the public consultation process leading to the White Paper; still less, come up with proposals of its own – the answer seems to be:

a) We will fight legalisation on the beaches!

b) We disagree that cannabis users should be treated as criminals, and;

c) Despite (b), above, we still generally favour retaining the current system – which regards cannabis use as a crime – because… um… it’s a ‘deterrent.’

Hmm. Surely, I cannot be the only seeing a small contradiction there. And not just the obvious one, either (i.e.., “If criminalisation is such an effective ‘deterrent’… why has the number of cannabis-users in Malta more than doubled in the last 10 years alone?’)

No, the real problem is that: well, how can I put it? This isn’t “Schroedinger’s Cannabis Regulation Policy” we’re talking about here. You cannot be ‘both pro-decriminalisation’, and ‘anti-decriminalisation’, at the same time.

Likewise, you cannot diagnose ‘many cannabis users’ as, to some degree or other, ‘sufferers of psychological disorders’; and then, in the same breath, also defend a situation where the same vulnerable people can legally be (at minimum) arrested, and interrogated.

But that’s as far as I’ll go with this particular case, for the following reasons:

One, Dr Maria Degauara later issued a clarification, in which she apologised for her choice of words, and explained that the statement itself had been ‘misinterpreted’. In her own words, what she meant to say is that, “as in any other situation, some individuals are prone to address certain situations in life differently and this may lead from use to abuse. We therefore have an obligation to create the right social frameworks to assist them accordingly.”

And this does change the overall impact, in at least two ways: one, it addresses a small part of the missing Nationalist Party policy proposals (even though the same old questions still apply: what are the ‘right social frameworks’, anyway? And how would you implement if you had the chance…?).

Secondly, it clarifies that Dr Deguara’s intentions were, in fact, nowhere near as ‘insensitive’ (for want of a better word) as they originally came across. Yes, of course I can see what she meant, now. And yes, of course it would be utterly fantastic, if young people led such happy, fulfilled and emotionally balanced lives, that ‘doing drugs’ simply never even crossed their minds at all…

Small, problem, however: we’re not exactly living in that ‘Utopia’, are we? And it is highly debatable – to say the least – that it could ever be achieved at all, by doggedly sticking to the failed policies of the past…

But that’s all I say on the matter, for now; because there are other, much better examples of this paradox than the ‘cannabis conundrum’ alone.

Perhaps the clearest instance would be the Nationalist Party’s response to Marlene Farrugia’s infamous private member’s bill last month. Only this time, it resembles “Schroedinger’s Abortion policy” instead: where, once again, the PN has somehow managed to come out as both ‘pro-decriminalisation’, and anti-decriminalisation’, at the same time…

This, for instance, was PN leader Dr Bernard Grech’s Twitter reaction to Marlene Farrugia’s May 12 bombshell: “The Nationalist Party believes in the most absolute way in life from conception to death, and therefore can never be in favour of decriminalizing abortion…”

This, on the other hand, is the same Bernard Grech interviewed four days later, on May 16: “Do we want women to go to prison [for an abortion]? Don’t be ridiculous! [Ma tarax!] As if we would want women to go to prison… pfft!”

And yet, later on in the same interview, he also reiterated that Malta’s total ban on abortion should be retained, because… yes, you guessed it… ’it’s a deterrent’.

Now: never mind that the same earlier objection applies just as much here. If Malta’s abortion ban is such an excellent ‘deterrent’… why do statistics indicate that around 400 Maltese women terminate their pregnancies, here or abroad, each year? Why is this figure proportionally much higher, than in countries where abortion is legal? And why, for that matter, are we even discussing the issue at all… if not precisely because the same law has manifestly failed in its primary objective (i.e., to prevent abortions from happening)?

No, the problem is that… once again, it’s just another variant of the same old ‘two-headed mutant policy’ we’ve just dissected. You cannot be ‘against women going to imprison for abortion’… yet simultaneously, also in favour of a law which stipulates a possible three-year prison sentence, precisely for abortion.

Sorry, but it just… doesn’t… add up.

And of course, this one’s hardly the only other example, either. The Labour Party, for instance, displays the same self-contradictory tendencies all the time (indeed, you could almost argue that the entire party itself has recently morphed into just such a two-headed monster: a Socialist Party, that somehow also manages to also favour spectacularly right-wing economic policies…)

And I suspect that much the same warped logic is involved whenever its own supporters defend the Labour Party’s record on things like ‘the environment’, too.

Consider, for instance how the same keyboard warriors who had howled and railed against ‘ODZ development’ for decades under the Nationalists (not to mention high-rise development, dodgy land-transfers, etc., etc), suddenly flood online comments sections with a litany of ‘Prosit, Ministrus’… when it’s now their own party, and not the Nationalists, that presides over exactly the same sort of environmental rape and pillage they had all complained about earlier…

All of which gets me thinking: who knows? Maybe Dr Deguara had a point, after all. Maybe there is indeed something ‘psychologically missing’ from the picture here. But tell you what: I’ll close with a quote from an interview with Claudio Grech this week (as he seems to come close to nailing what, exactly, that ‘missing something’ might be…)

“The ‘us versus them mentality’ is something which has crippled the country for a number of years now and has stifled certain progress and nurtured a binary divide between Maltese citizens […] when you come to discuss what we call politics of policy, not partisan politics, unfortunately, the nature of the discourse ends up evolving on arguments of what is black and what is white, red and blue…”