Releaf pushes new cannabis chief to work on regulatory regime for associations

In its first meeting with newly appointed cannabis authority head Leonid McKay, Releaf pushed for a human-centered approach in establishing not-for-profit cannabis associations

Cannabis associations have not yet been set up because the authority has not created the regulatory regime to make this possible
Cannabis associations have not yet been set up because the authority has not created the regulatory regime to make this possible

Releaf, an advocacy group, has invited cannabis authority head Leonid McKay to endorse a human rights and human-centered approach in establishing not-for-profit cannabis associations.

ReLeaf President Andrew Bonello presented McKay with a declaration titled, 'Human Rights and Harm Reduction Commitments for the Chairperson and the Board of the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis, Malta', during a meeting on Wednesday.

Malta partially legalised cannabis for recreational use last year, allowing people to grow up to four cannabis plants in their private residences while introducing the concept of ‘cannabis clubs’, or non-profit associations to distribute it among its members.

The law also set up the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis, which is tasked to regulate the associations. There has been criticism over the authority's inertia in providing a regulatory framework for the cannabis clubs, which has prevented these from opening.

Recently, Reforms Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg said the cannabis authority will be in a position to start accepting applications for cannabis club licenses by next February.

Releaf was not too keen with the appointment of McKay, a former Caritas director, when former chair Mariella Dimech was removed from her post. The organisation had described McKay's appointment as a direct insult to the spirit of the law, and those that worked so hard to re-write history and combat the use of dehumanising language, and policies promoting a culture of institutionalised stigma and discrimination.  

In the document presented by Bonello, the declaration recognised the injustices, dehumanising environment, stigma, discrimination, and abuses levied by a criminalised legislative framework addressing drug use in society, particularly the hundreds of arrests and tainted criminal records related to the non-violent possession, small-scale trafficking and cultivation of cannabis. 

Whilst welcoming the latest legislative changes to establish authority and amending various laws relating to certain cannabis activities, the declaration explains how people who use cannabis are not criminals, sick patients or posing a threat to society by their recreational and continued cannabis consumption. 

Instead, it recognises the validity of ensuring human rights and public health approach pertaining to the establishment cannabis associations which would follow Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector principles and empower cannabis users to be part of a safe space for the collective cultivation and consumption of cannabis. 

Through this declaration, Releaf pressed on the inclusion of education in promoting responsible use, particularly the establishment of non-coercive dialogue across the cannabis community in Malta.

The declaration also addressed the potential commercial niche created by the ongoing misinterpretation of what are the main goals of a harm reduction approach and what constitutes a not-for-profit cannabis association.

Moreover, Releaf proposed the centrality of advancing permanent representative tools for meaningful participation of civil society organisations representing the voice of people who use cannabis. 

Pertaining to international commitments taken by Malta in 2019 to effectively address and counter the world drug problem in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in reaching the long-term goals of promoting a more just and inclusive society, the Declaration calls on the Chairperson and the Board of ARUC to recognise the validity of establishing trust, transparency, and respectful dialogue with the cannabis community in Malta.