No Adrian Delia, you don’t attract Vote 16 by legalising ‘drugs’

 Adrian Delia should appreciate that the notion that only younger people smoke marijuana is a prehistoric understanding of the problem

James Franco and Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express
James Franco and Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express

Adrian Delia’s interview on the Granaries made for head-scratching listening. Particularly the part where he seemed to suggest that the Government is seeking to attract young voters by – in his own words – “legalising drugs”. Does the Opposition leader truly believe that youths can be so easily manipulated that one can buy their vote by legalising marijuana?

I was struck by a profound sense of disappointment that a politician, a Member of Parliament, and – to make matters worse – the leader of the Opposition, thinks so poorly of the younger generation as to consider them so easily manipulated. By declaring that youth would be willing to vote for anyone whom they consider, as he put it, to have legalised “drugs”, Adrian Delia has shown that he places no trust in our youths, that he considers them unable to contribute anything of value to society. He clearly dismisses the role that youths play as part of our collective future, and also the role they can play in our present.

By thinking that youths can be easily manipulated with the legalisation of marijuana, Adrian Delia clearly believes that young voters cannot consciously and responsibly exercise their democratic function, and in-so-doing, choose their representatives in the Maltese and European Parliament.

Those 8,500 youths who will vote for the first time in the upcoming MEP elections, thanks to the Vote 16 reform piloted by this Government, do not need accusations. What they need is to know what the visions of their representatives are, so that they can make an informed choice based on this vision, because yes, they are able to make an informed, responsible, and meaningful choice.

I trust our youths as I trust all the Maltese population, and whatever decision they choose to make as democratically empowered voters choosing their elected representatives, it needs to be respected, and not downplayed and dismissed. This is the true significance of democratic participation – and indirectly, adherence to the principle of rule of law. One broadens electoral participation as much as possible, and then one maturely accepts the result of that electoral process, whatever it is. These are the rules of the game to which we, as a fully-functioning democratic country, agree to abide by.

And yet this does not seem to be in synch with the nasty mentality that the Nationalist Party has developed. There always seems to be a ‘valid’ (in their eyes) excuse behind their electoral defeats.

For example, the reason why (they argue most vehemently) they lost the most recent election, and why the Labour Party consistently secures strong approvals in the surveys, is because the Maltese electorate is either materialistic, or because the people were somehow misled. It can’t be because the Nationalist Party failed to inspire them, to persuade them, or even to simply get their attention.

This gospel is preached down from the highest pulpit in the land, to the great unwashed masses of common mortals beneath, busy indulging in all sorts of sins. A self-righteous holier-than-thou attitude that stubbornly persists, despite Delia’s hollow promises of ‘a new way’.

And now, as insurance in case the Nationalist Party fails to attract younger voters in the upcoming MEP elections, they’ve already latched onto their excuse. It’s because Government legalised marijuana! It would be amusing, were it not such clear evidence of the Nationalist Party’s failure to recognise the value of the younger generation’s potential contribution to society.

Given how I am responsible for both the Vote 16 reform and also the legalisation of marijuana reforms, some basic facts are in order. First, Adrian Delia should understand that the younger generation is not enticed by “drugs”, but with a solid and inspiring vision for the future. Secondly, the Government has promised to carry out a consultation on the legalisation of Marijuana, and that is what we will do. For the past 12 months, we have been and still are, engaging with stakeholders.

But, according to Adrian Delia, the Government should even hold back from even consulting on this issue, and instead opt to sweep this problem under the carpet. This may be how Delia likes to do things within the Nationalist Party, but this is now how this Government tackles problems. Thirdly, Adrian Delia should appreciate that the notion that only younger people smoke marijuana is a prehistoric understanding of the problem. Figures show that persons of all ages smoke marijuana, and make use of vastly different types of drugs for vastly different reasons. What we know for sure is that consumption of drugs is not strictly age-related. Fourthly, in 2001, 62% of the 16-to-18-year-old cohort voted for the Local Council elections for the first time. The legislation of marijuana was not remotely on the table back then, but youths still actively participated in those elections. So much for Adrian Delia’s conspiracy theories, then.

Finally, in his rush to pre-empt the Nationalist Party’s impending failure to attract young voters, Adrian Delia forgets that the Vote 16 reform was supported by numerous stakeholders such as the President of Malta, the Commissioner for Children, KSU, KSJC, the Dean of the Faculty of Social Well-being , the Youth Agency, FZL, Pulse, SDM, and even MZPN. Are all these stakeholders so mistaken as to have backed such a reform when they think that youths are easily manipulated with a joint?

Unlike Adrian Delia we are paving the way for a brighter future and we intend to invest in a painful but rewarding and exciting process that will serve our Nation for years to come. We are taking a bottoms up approach by which we have engaged in discussions with everyone with a direct or indirect interest in Cannabis.

We identify these as our esteemed stakeholders and yes, we have met with youth organisations and to our surprise, they were ahead of us. They have taken the matter on board, made their agenda, discussed within their own peers and developed and presented to us very interesting position papers at par with many other stakeholders. At this exciting moment we cannot be disconnected from reality or from those who wish to participate in shaping our Nation. We welcome everyone on board. As a consequence of these meetings we are now wiser and we are shaping our own model, which so far has been received as an excellent example among international professionals. Some refer to our model as an example for other Nations to follow.

Perhaps it’s worth explaining why! Our model is based on a four-tier strategy based on a holistic approach. A bottoms up approach means that we are investing in our youths as a societal priority. We are inspired by the success of the Icelandic model and we have taken the concept on board. Obviously we need to customise things according to our requirements. We want to create champions and high achievers, give equal opportunities to excel in music, sports, arts, and any other discipline or skill, built around a high spirit and feeling of belonging to the pride of our Nation as we want to stand out from the crowd and say out loud, “We are Maltese”. Our four strategies focus on education, which entails having structurally designed programmes for primary, secondary, upper secondary, parents and teachers, all aimed at delaying the onset of experimenting with tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Research shows that this is one of the most successful factors. Our second strategy is to have a National strategy based on the concept of alternative means of recreation.

By facilitating access and creating more opportunities and incentives our children can explore their hidden talents and use their potential in a recreational way. This is how we create champions. Sad to say our support services fall short of addressing youth problems related to dependencies on tobacco, alcohol or drugs and are mostly reactive and focus on acute and critical situations.

We want to re-engineer and aggressively invest in our support services in order to able to provide a proactive approach by which we can identify dependencies at an early stage and act upon the problem when it presents itself rather than when it’s almost too late. Ultimately, we cannot turn a blind eye to reality.

Users of cannabis are not criminals and are exposed to high dangers related to the dangerous toxic additives and the perils of drug trafficking. We are looking into a mechanism, by which we regulate the use of cannabis in such a way that it provides all the adequate safeguards for the users.

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