[WATCH] President signs cannabis law after calls to block Bill

President George Vella says his constitutional role precludes him from refusing to sign laws approved by parliament: ‘Head of state cannot capriciously create a crisis’

President George Vella speaking in Gozo: 'President cannot impose his decisions on MPs'
President George Vella speaking in Gozo: 'President cannot impose his decisions on MPs'

Updated at 12:50 with Presidential sign to bill

The Cannabis Bill officially became law on Saturday, after President George Vella signed it. All the provisions of the act came into force.

Vella shut down calls for him not to sign the cannabis law approved by parliament, insisting the Constitution precludes him from taking such decisions.

In a short but hard-hitting speech in Gozo on Friday during a commemorative event to mark Republic Day, Vella dwelt on the president’s role in a parliamentary democracy.

“We hear calls that the president should do this and that but we need to be informed of what is possible… The head of state cannot capriciously create a constitutional crisis and cause instability… there is nothing in our Constitution that gives the president the final say on a law, otherwise we will create a dictator who decides what becomes law at a whim,” Vella said.

He did not specifically mention cannabis legalisation but the message was directed towards the different voices opposed to the law, calling on him not to sign the legislation.

On Tuesday, Malta’s parliament approved cannabis legalisation that allows adults to possess up to 7g, cultivate four plants at home and buy the product from regulated clubs.

The Opposition voted against the law and more than 50 church-led organisations and individuals in a last-ditch effort petitioned MPs to make the law more restrictive. Former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi also called for a commitment by his party for the law to be repealed.

The president’s signature is all that requires for the Bill approved in parliament to formally become law and Vella has been faced with calls for him to block the legislation and refuse to sign.

But the President insisted that he cannot ignore parliamentary democracy and decide not to sign a law.

“Laws passed in parliament according to the Constitution, have to be signed by the President almost immediately… otherwise, they will be taking on all the power and until now, the president has no power to ignore a law passed by parliament irrespective if he agrees with it or not… unless he has a serious moral objection in which case the president will have to call it a day and resign,” Vella said.

The mention of ‘serious moral objection’ was a reference to abortion, which he has spoken about in the past.

Referring to comments that the president’s duty is to listen to the popular outcry, Vella said the only way to measure it was through a referendum.

“The popular voice can be heard but how do you measure it… by who has the biggest microphone and loudspeaker, or who has the strength to gather most people… in our democracy this measure can be done through a referendum… the president can hear the popular voice but what he can do with it is advise the executive… the president cannot impose his decisions on MPs,” Vella insisted.

The President’s words indicate he has no serious moral reservations about the cannabis Bill approved this week and will put pen to paper so that it becomes law in the coming days.