We asked for a ‘cannabis legalisation timeframe’, Leonid... not a bloody lecture!

Well, what more can I say? Way to go, ARUC! All that remains is for David Casa to become its next chairman; and finally, it would get the acronym that it truly deserves...

Remember that time when nearly all European news outlets made history, by actually reporting something ‘positive’ about Malta for a change?  Namely, that – to quote both the BBC and Euronews - ‘Malta becomes the first EU country to legalise cannabis for personal use’ [15 December, 2021]?

No, of course you don’t. How silly of me to ask. After all, that was more than 18 months ago, now: and we don’t exactly need the BBC or Euronews to inform us that... nothing has really changed, in any detail whatsoever, since the days when cannabis was still fully illegal in this country.

Not only does it it remain utterly impossible to actually acquire any cannabis through any ‘legal channels’: which, by the way, also means that anyone caught in possession of that drug, today – even within the supposedly ‘legal’ 7-28g quantity range - will still be presumed, by the police, to have ‘broken the law’ (and therefore ‘arrested’, ‘interrogated’, ‘possibly charged in court’, etc. You know: just like the good old days...)

... but in the months that followed that international announcement, the Maltese police actually stepped up their efforts – got that, folks? UP, not down - to arrest people, for doing precisely what we had only just been told was now perfectly ‘legal’ in Malta: i.e., possessing up to 28g of cannabis, for ‘personal use’.

And this, by the way, did not go unnoticed by the world press, either. Under the headline: ‘In Malta, confusion over cannabis law [...]’, Euronews reported  (February 2022) that “there is a current problem with supply. The so-called ‘cannabis clubs,’ which the new law permits to grow and distribute limited amounts of cannabis among their members, have not yet been set up, nearly four months after the law came into force. This means that unless users are willing and able to grow their own cannabis from seeds using costly home setups, they will still need to resort to the black market for their cannabis...”

Signifcantly, the reports also adds that: “This has led to an increase in drug dealing, police say. One senior police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, observed that the police had seen a surge in demand for the drug since the introduction of the new law, even though there are currently no authorised sellers.”

Now: far be it from me to correct Euronews on a matter of syntax... but that last part should really read: ‘BECAUSE there are currently no authorised sellers’ (not ‘even though’).  But let’s overlook that little detail, because: a) that part is actually quoting the Malta Police Force; and b) in all other respects, the article hits the nail squarely on the head, in every last detail.

Despite having supposedly ‘legalised cannabis’ in 2021; and despite having been showered by international praise (among liberal circles, anyway), for becoming ‘the first EU country, to actually do so’... it is now abundantly evident that this supposed ‘legalisation’ process never really happened at all.

As things stand, the only part of the 2021 law that has actually been implemented was the establishment of an ‘Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis’ (ARUC). And it has since been through two different chairpersons: both hand-picked directly from the ‘anti-cannabis legalisation lobby’ (Mariella Dimech and Leonid McKay, both formerly of Caritas); and both (surprise, surprise!) viscerally opposed, on a personal level, to the reforms they themselves were actually entrusted to implement.

So it wasn’t exactly ‘unpredictable’, was it, that – almost two years after cannabis was officially ‘legalised’ – the circumstances described in that 2022 article still remain exactly as they were last year: unchanged in any detail?

So much so, that Leonid McKay himself has only just addressed a press conference – ostensibly, to outline ‘the progress achieved by ARUC, since it was founded’ [Note: on that basis, I can’t imagine it would have lasted very long] - and practically told us, to our faces, that: well, ‘he is actively trying to delay the implementation of this reform, for as long as he possibly can’.

Oh, OK. Not in those precise words, perhaps. But still: that is effectively the substance of what he actually said. At one point, for instance, a MaltaToday journalist asked him directly for a time-frame, concerning the licensing of the 26 prospective ‘cannabis clubs’ which have already applied.

And what did he get, instead of an answer?  Why, a ‘lecture about the harmful effects of cannabis’, of course! (Courtesy, if you please, of the man who is supposed to be in the process of ‘legalising’ the exact same drug, as we speak. Go figure!)

We were told, for instance, that ‘people should not smoke cannabis before the age of 25’. And – even better, if you ask me – ‘it would be preferable if they didn’t smoke cannabis, at all!’ (Honestly, though. That reminds me of an old Beach Boys tune, that was used as an ad for ‘New Persil Automatic’ in the 1970s. All together now! ‘WOULDN’T IT BE NICE...?’)

And OK,  granted: all that might even constitute ‘good advice’, at the end of the day. But... sorry, what the bleeding hell does it have to do with the question Leonid McKay was actually asked? How does it contribute, exactly to our collective knowledge of what this (tax-funded, please note) ‘Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis’ has actually been DOING, all this time, with all the applications it is currently supposed to be ‘vetting’?

Meanwhile, the closest Leonid McKay came to actually answering was: “Asked [by the Malta Independent, this time] for a timeframe for the issuing of the first licenses to associations, McKay said that the process takes long, and it is better to do it right than to do it quickly.”

Erm... really, Leonid? ‘The process takes long’, does it? Sorry once again, but... how can I even put this? That is PRECISELY the information you were being asked to provide, right there! HOW long is this blasted process supposed to even take, anyway? (Because it’s already been 18 months since the law was passed; and Euronews was already asking the same question, after only ‘four months’...).

But the REAL reason people in this country are entitled to an answer, is that... actually, there are two (and they’re both equally important, so I’ll just throw them out there at random):

1) As I recall, the proposal to ‘legalise cannabis’ was a campaign promise, unequivocally made by the Labour Party back in May 2021; and included (somewhat weirdly, to be honest: seeing as the law actually passed in December that year) in its manifesto for the March 2022 election.

Effectively, that means it enjoys the backing of the single largest electoral majority, that this country has arguably ever seen. And ‘even though’ (please note correct usage, folks!) not everyone who voted Labour, would have done so specifically because of that promise... well, an electoral promise it remains, all the same.

Meanwhile (and this still counts as ‘Reason 1’, by the way): the resulting law has also already been discussed, debated, ratified and approved, by the Maltese House of Representatives.

And last I looked: there is no institution in the entire country – unless you include Parliament itself, and maybe the Constitutional Court (and even then: both only under extreme conditions) – which wields the authority to overturn either the result of a democratic election; or any Law that has already been passed by the House.

I stand to be corrected, of course: but I think that applies to both Leonid McKay, and the ‘Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis’.

2) While McKay is fully entitled to his (once again, personal) opinion that “it is better to do it right than to do it quickly’... there is nonetheless an urgent ‘need for speed’, in this particular matter.

Simply put: the longer the ARUC takes to assess those applications, and issue the first licenses for ‘cannabis clubs’ to actually operate in Malta... the more people will end up being forced to (and, ironically, the whole point of this law was to provide them with an alternative) ‘buy their cannabis illegally, from the black market’.

And apart from resulting in a situation which is IDENTICAL, to the one we were all along supposed to be ‘reforming’... this sordid state of affairs also:

a) places all those people in manifest DANGER of - among many other things - being exposed to drugs other than cannabis (including, paradoxically, the same ‘synthetic cannabis’ that Leonid McKay himself also warned us about, in that ‘lecture’ of his); not to menton, of course, the kind of danger that inevitably arises, when people are left with no option but to ‘rub shoulders with the criminal underworld’. (You know: getting robbed, mugged... that sort of thing).

b) It provides the Malta Police Force with an excuse to simply carry on clamping down on cannabis-smokers, in open defiance of the law: as they are, in fact, still doing to this day; and (lastly but not ‘leastly’);

c) It spectacularly undermines the entire intention behind this whole ‘cannabis legalisation bill’, in the first place: which – in Leonid McKay’s own words, if you don’t mind! -  was to “shift current users from the illicit market, to the regulated one [!]”, and “to ensure that users have a safe supply of cannabis, either by growing their own or buying it from non-profit ‘cannabis harm reduction associations.’ [!!!]

Well, what more can I say? Way to go, ARUC! All that remains is for David Casa to become its next chairman; and finally, it would get the acronym that it truly deserves...