[WATCH] Legalising cannabis could make black market more dangerous, Caritas says

Caritas director says normalising cannabis could make black markets more dangerous with stronger substances on sale

Caritas director Anthony Gatt
Caritas director Anthony Gatt
Legalising cannabis could make black market more dangerous, Caritas says

Caritas Malta has once again appealed against the legalisation of marijuana, claiming that the regularisation of the drug might make black markets more dangerous.

“This is not a black-and-white debate and is not an easy topic,” Caritas director Anthony Gatt told MaltaToday. “But the normalisation of cannabis might make black markets sell stronger substances to compete with the state-sanctioned substance and might lower prices for the same reason.” 

Gatt said that the dangers of cannabis legalisation far outweigh the advantages. “The normalisation of the drug is worrying us immensely. People don’t want to make use of the black market and say they want to socially enjoy cannabis as others enjoy a glass of wine on the weekend. But the black market has its own mentality. It will not ask adolescents for an ID card,” he insisted.

Speaking at a conference in Valletta, Gatt added that legalising the drug would also undo the talks about prevention being carried out in schools.

Joined by the Oasi Foundation, the Foundation for Social Welfare Services, the Sedqa Foundation and the Association of Psychiatry, Caritas announced that it would be organising a national conference on the dangers of cannabis under the patronage of President George Vella on 24 March of this year.

Among the speakers are Judge Emeritus Giovanni Bonello, academic Andrew Azzopardi, and ex-users and parents. 

Gatt appealed for judges and magistrates to be handed more powers to help rehabilitate users of cannabis as opposed to sentencing them to prison.

“There was an improvement in 2015 but there’s more that needs to be done. Users need rehabilitation. If one is dependent on a substance, we don’t feel that imprisonment is just,” Gatt said.

In her address, psychiatrist Alosia Camilleri said that she provided aid and counselling to several patients who have serious problems with substance abuse and that she failed to see how the advantages of legalisation could outweigh the potential dangers. 

“I speak in the name of people who already have serious problems in this regard. People who are struggling with substance abuse and who want to change their lifestyles will fail to see the advantages of the legislation,” she said.

Both Camilleri and Gatt insisted that while certain substances were used on a social basis, drugs like cannabis had the potential to catch up with the individual. On average, they said, cocaine users spend nine years abusing the drug before they seek help. 

Sedqa director Charles Scerri said that associations like Sedqa preferred a preventive approach to dealing with drug use. 

“Our message is that there are positive avenues for recreation. There are healthier alternatives, what we call natural highs, like sports, for example. This prepares adolescents for future decisions so that they can respond positively when they are faced with a scenario where they can start using dangerous substances,” he said.