Parliament starts debating radical cannabis reform

Owen Bonnici says reform will give cannabis dealers ‘a massive blow’ and spare ‘responsible users contact with the criminal world’

Owen Bonnici introducing the Second Reading of the cannabis reform
Owen Bonnici introducing the Second Reading of the cannabis reform

A law allowing cannabis users to buy the substance from regulated shops and grow their own plants will deal “a massive blow” to drug dealers, Owen Bonnici said.

The Equality Minister was speaking in parliament on Tuesday at the start of the Second Reading on the cannabis reform that will usher in radical changes.

Bonnici said the proposed legislation will spare “responsible users contact with the criminal world”.

Choosing his words carefully, Bonnici said the reform was not legalisation since cannabis cannot be imported, exported or consumed in public and its sale will be regulated. “We opted for a harm reduction approach to stop criminalising cannabis users,” Bonnici said.

The people who are benefitting from the current system are the criminals, the drug pushers Equality Minister Owen Bonnici

Government’s proposal allows people to possess up to 7g of cannabis with no criminal sanction. It also allows people to grow up to four plants at home. Significantly, it caters for the creation of non-profit associations that will be able to sell cannabis to registered members. An authority will also be set up to regulate the sector.

READ ALSO: Cannabis legalisation will allow regulated associations and home growing of plants

“The people who are benefitting from the current system are the criminals, the drug pushers,” Bonnici said.

The minister said current users have no choice but to resort to illegal means to get their marijuana. “They have to either grow their own cannabis at home with all the legal risks, or buy from a drug dealer. God knows the quality of marijuana being sold, the synthetic cannabis that people have to consume,” he said.

Bonnici said the proposed legislation will protect children. “Do you think a drug dealer cares if the person he is selling to is 15 or 18-years-old? Do you think they ask for an ID card? This will stop.”

Bonnici said a number of other countries have gone down the road of legalisation, such as Canada, Uruguay, USA and a number of EU states.

“Research on the impact of legalisation has shown that the underlying fact is that regularisation is better than a situation where criminality dictates the situation,” he said. 

Speaking on the 2015 decriminalisation of cannabis, he said government had faced stiff resistance at the time.

“I remember the criticism that was levelled against us, and now the same NGOs agree it was a good step forward. To fight drugs and criminality, we had ended up fighting against the victims and vulnerable people,” he said. 

Bonnici said the White Paper published last March received more than 350 submissions. 

“The over-arching issue was that of the source from where people can buy cannabis,” he said, appealing for a mature discussion on the issue.

“We are giving drug dealers a massive blow,” he insisted.

The reform has been greeted with scepticism from several drug rehab and church organisations. Last week, the Nationalist Party formally came out against the law.

READ ALSO: MPs give Grech no support to attempt new tack on cannabis law

More to follow.