Cannabis and common sense? That’ll be the day…

The Justice Reform Commission has strongly hinted that some form of decriminalisation may be in the offing; Sedqa (the national drug agency) has recommended at least discussing the idea; and the government has indicated that it is actively considering these suggestions.

It was all down to that big fattie Luis Suarez
It was all down to that big fattie Luis Suarez

In all this talk of the benefits of legalising marijuana, no one has mentioned the most obvious advantage of all – countries which legalise pot also get to beat England in the World Cup.

Oh, make no mistake. We all know how Uruguay – the latest in a series of countries to have legalised marijuana for recreational use - managed to put two past an otherwise competent England side last Thursday. Never mind training, tactics, psychological preparation, the ability to actually play football, or anything as outlandish as that. It was all down to that big fattie Luis Suarez sparked up with President Joe Mujica in the changing room right before kick-off.

Yes indeed. Pre-match statistics amply confirm that Uruguay registered a 100% accuracy rate in passing that spliff around the entire team – narrowly beating the record previously held by Italy’s Andre Pirlo (who turns out to have bogarted the joint at least 7% of the time). England, on the other hand, often played as though ‘possession’ were still illegal. You could almost feel the sudden moment of panic nearly every time an English player touched the ball. “Oh-my-god-I’m-gonna-get-busted… get rid of it, NOW!”

So honestly, how on earth could things have turned out any different? In the end it was Uruguay 2, England 1… and Rooney’s goal can itself be put down to accidentally inhaling too close to Suarez as they walked out onto the pitch.

All things told, it could just as easily be the final score of the War on Drugs. And this, of course, changes the ballgame entirely.

I now expect a mad global scramble for legalisation just in time for the quarter-finals. First on the list should be none other than the UK itself (who should ideally get their drug laws in order before the last qualifying encounter with Costa Rica next week).

Not only would the players benefit from the same winning formula that worked so well in the case of Uruguay; but if England supporters were permitted to legally get high before every game, they might not actually notice that their favourite team is... um… kind of crap, really. And let’s face it, this can only greatly enhance the allure of the beautiful (but oh! so goddamn frustrating) game for all concerned.

So instead of wasting precious time and energy on such trivialities as the possible imminent breakup of the Union itself – or whether Claude Juncker gets to mess up the European Commission in the same way as he messed up the eurozone – what Prime Minister David Cameron really should do is go back to basics and concentrate on things that his countrymen (and many more people beside) actually care about.

Like winning effing football games, for instance. Perhaps one of his advisors could roll him a few ideas…

Still, I know what you’re probably thinking. Hang on a sec: there’s no real logical correlation between Suarez’s spectacular brace against England last Thursday, and the fact that his country is one of only a handful of jurisdictions in the world to have legalised marijuana. That’s just a coincidence… as is the fact that those same jurisdictions also include one or two US states: and oh look! The USA has just beaten Ghana, where marijuana possession is a crime punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment...

And if the same Luis Suarez couldn’t stop giggling and getting all lovey-dovey with his team-mates on the bench after being substituted following a brief experience of the whiteys on the field… well, that doesn’t mean anything in itself. What might be clear evidence of the effects of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol to you or me, could in reality be nothing more than a simple display of typically exuberant South American temperament.

But in any case… since when, exactly, do arguments about the legal status of cannabis have to actually make sense? Since when has logic, consistency, or a clear unbroken process of sequential, rational thought ever been even remotely connected with the local debate about… horror of horrors… DROGI?

Since around never, I would say. Let’s stick with the marijuana example for the time being. Malta has for some time now been ruminating over whether to decriminalise this substance – not legalise it, like Uruguay did, but at least relax its current ‘zero tolerance’ (and zero effect) policy for cannabis - which has meanwhile been confirmed to have considerable medical uses outside its better known effects of providing a recreational high.

The Justice Reform Commission has strongly hinted that some form of decriminalisation may be in the offing; Sedqa (the national drug agency) has recommended at least discussing the idea; and the government has indicated that it is actively considering these suggestions.

Considering that we have never actually qualified for the World Cup finals at all – and that our past efforts in that direction have occasionally resulted in such clearly narcotic score-lines as 12-1 to Spain in 1982 – I think we can all safely agree that this would be a sound investment in the future of Maltese sport. There are of course additional benefits, including the small matter of a justice system that actually metes out justice, instead of eternally compounding situations that are themselves manifestly unjust.

Decriminalising cannabis would, in brief, be the sensimil… I mean, sensible thing to do. But of course, cannabis and common sense make spectacularly awkward bedfellows in this dear land of ours. And there are still some spoilsports (literally) who would happily condemn our proud nation to an eternity of footballing mediocrity and humiliation, just to preserve the absurd and ailing status quo.

Starting with the law courts, which interpret and apply the law.

A while back, yet another judge stepped forward with a personal contribution to the decriminalisation debate. Newly appointed Justice Edwina Grima took the opportunity of her maiden speech in the courtroom to make the point that “decriminalisation is not the answer”. (Note: I am told she sides with Italy, but I might be mistaken.)

In any case, this is how her words were reported: “Madam Justice Grima said that in her seven years as magistrate, she had seen the desperation of people of all ages who would have fallen victim to drugs. In most cases, she said, the accused would be a victim and not a criminal…”

Got that, folks? A victim and NOT A CRIMINAL.

So how does Madam Justice Grima propose to deal with such non-criminals? “The way forward in fighting drug trafficking and abuse is not by decriminalising the offence but amending the law whereby first-time offenders and victims of drug abuse are helped to rehabilitate themselves.”

Erm. Excuse, me, Madam Justice, but didn’t you just say that these people are not criminals? So how can you go on, with your very next breath, to argue in favour of a system which would continue to treat the same people precisely as criminals… i.e., the one thing you yourself separately argue they are not?

By the same token: if the people who come before the court on drug possession charges are ‘victims’… why do you refer to them as ‘offenders’? Wherein consists the ‘offence’, in an act which you yourself describe as non-criminal?

While I’m at it I have a couple of other questions. If non-criminals can find themselves facing criminal charges in court – can anyone be surprised that the sheer bulk of cases before the criminal court is so totally unwieldy and unmanageable, that it now threatens the credibility, functionality and sustainability of the entire justice system? What sense does it make to retain a system that is, by your own definition, so utterly incoherent, inconsistent and flawed?

Meanwhile, Grima is not the only judge or magistrate to have chipped into this debate. Previously, former Justice Joe Galea Debono had also mounted a similar challenge… though he later insisted he was misquoted in the press. (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this score. He probably sides with England…)

His argument (or at least, the one he was quoted as making) was that there was no need to decriminalise cannabis, because the law courts already had enough discretion in such cases and never doled out prison sentences for possession cases anyway.

Well, the former judge must certainly have been misquoted all right, because just this week a 42-year-old man from Mgarr was sentenced to 15 months and a 1,200 euro fine for possession of cannabis. A large amount, to be fair… but no larger than the habit it was clearly intended to sustain.

Again, this is how the case was reported: “The court also took into consideration that Mr Borg was a heavy cannabis user and consumed a large number of joints every day, sometimes up to 25, which he considered to be his cigarettes. He told the court that he has been dependent on cannabis for the past 20 years…”

And, more importantly: “Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras recommended to the prison authorities to help Mr Borg kick the habit…”

Ah, yes, of course. I had forgotten that prison warders at the Corradino Correctional Facility are also certified consultant psychiatrists in their own right, who have spent years and years specialising in the highly technical field of drug rehabilitation. And in 15 months, they have all the time in the world to successfully run a rehabilitation programme that will wean a man off a 20-year, 25-joint-a-day habit.Are there any other conjuring tricks the same prison warders can perform, I wonder? If so, they should seriously consider providing entertainment for children’s parties. Nothing like a good old fashioned magic show to keep the little nippers quiet…

In the real world, however, imprisonment as a means of ‘rehabilitation’ for drug addicts has for years been identified as an archaic and monumentally counter-productive practice. Not just in Uruguay, or those jurisdictions which have legalised or decriminalised any form of drugs in the recent past. Even here in Malta… at least, among people who (unlike, it would seem, the judiciary) actually understand a thing or two about this issue.

Sedqa’s clinical director, George Grech made this point abundantly clear way back in 2010: “Prison is not giving results – it’s no secret there are drugs in prison, and we have come to learn that incarceration does not work with people who are purely drug addicts.”

The Josette Bickle case likewise illustrated the precise success rate of prison as a means of ‘rehabilitating’ drug users.

So let’s recap, shall we? Prison is by common consent the worst place to possibly send a drug addict… so of course, the law courts ensure that drug users in this country continue to be sent to prison, which also has a long and depressing history of actually compounding existing drug addiction problems (while also creating new ones).

Meanwhile, the judges themselves argue that drug users are ‘not criminals’... yet they simultaneously defend a system that insists on regarding these same people as criminals anyway, and enforce a policy that even Malta’s drug experts argue has manifestly failed.

And let me guess: I’m the only one being illogical and irrational here, when I argue that legalising marijuana can also help countries win the World Cup…