Ministry plays down risk of proposed legal cannabis clubs feeding the black market

Equality Ministry says anybody caught distributing cannabis outside the parameters of the proposed reform will still face serious trafficking charges • Bill reaches committee stage

A proposed cannabis reform will allow non-profit associations to grow plants and distribute the substance to members
A proposed cannabis reform will allow non-profit associations to grow plants and distribute the substance to members

Malta is set to regularise cannabis use but the Equality Ministry insists anyone caught distributing the drug outside the parameters of the proposed law will face serious consequences.

The cannabis reform Bill will start being debated at committee stage tomorrow as MPs trawl through the individual clauses but concerns have been raised whether regularisation will truly stymie the black market.

Government has stated that one of the aims of the new law is to cut out the dealers and ensure users get their cannabis from shops that will be regulated by a new authority.

But criminology lecturer Sandra Scicluna has told MaltaToday controlling supply limits will be of crucial importance to ensure the non-profit associations selling cannabis legally will not act as suppliers for the black market.

Malta could risk being used as an illicit production hub for cannabis to be sold in places where the substance is banned. “It could facilitate the black market,” Scicluna said.

READ ALSO: Legal cannabis could see surpluses diverted to dark web

But a spokesperson for the Equality Ministry that is piloting the reform, said the law will be creating a new authority tasked with regulating the operations of associations.

The authority will monitor the operations and ensure strict enforcement and compliance, the ministry said. “Anyone caught distributing cannabis outside the operation of the law will be guilty of the very serious crime of drug trafficking, which has not been removed from our laws, and not for profit associations can face serious consequences if found in breach of the law, including hefty fines and the revocation of the licence.”

Any person individually deemed to be involved in illicit activity will also be prosecuted accordingly in a court of law, the ministry added.

The new law will allow adults over 18 years of age to possess up to 7g of cannabis with no criminal sanction. Possession of any amount between 7g and 23g will be punishable by a fine. But crucially, the law will also allow individuals to grow up to four cannabis plants at home and non-profit associations will be able to sell cannabis to registered members.

Graffitti welcome cannabis reform

Meanwhile, Moviment Graffitti called on Equality Minister Owen Bonnici to set up a strong independent regulatory authority. “The cannabis reform will only be as good as the authority overseeing it, and this holds true for every other authority in every other sector.”

The group praised the proposed legislation because it ensures that cannabis users will no longer be arrested, searched or harassed for carrying minimal amounts of the substance.

“The proposed law’s main aim is to regulate an existing market of cannabis users, who will now be given the possibility to buy their product from safer sources, without fear of being hassled by the authorities, and without having to turn to the illicit market,” the group said in a statement. “We are completely in favour of the idea that drug users should no longer go to prison, especially considering the stories coming out of Corradino in the last two years.”

Moviment Graffitti also welcomed the provision allowing users to grow up to four plants in their homes, and regulations permitting the introduction of cannabis clubs.

“This means that users will have the choice to grow and consume their own product, without being forced to buy cannabis from retailers,” the group said.

Graffitti lashed out at the misinformation and scaremongering campaigns being carried out by a number of critics of the Bill, including the Malta Employers Association that asked for a “zero-tolerance” approach which would allow them to carry out drug tests on their staff.