Leonid McKay is comfortable heading cannabis authority despite Caritas past

Guidelines for cannabis associations to obtain licence will be out by end January

Leonid McKay heads the cannabis authority, which will be issuing guidelines for the licensing of cannabis associations in January
Leonid McKay heads the cannabis authority, which will be issuing guidelines for the licensing of cannabis associations in January

Leonid McKay heads the almost one-year-old cannabis authority but in his former incarnation, he ran Caritas, a church social organisation, opposed to drug legalisation of any sort. 

The apparent incongruence couldn’t be bigger but McKay insists he is comfortable running the new authority set up to regulate Malta’s semi-legalised cannabis market.

“I am comfortable being responsible for the cannabis authority because the law as it stands today, at no time or in any circumstance, is promoting this substance,” McKay told reporters on Wednesday when asked about his personal position. “The law recognises there are a number of people who are consuming cannabis from sources that are still illegal to this day and seeks to promote the responsible use of cannabis while protecting at-risk groups.”

McKay, who had in the past argued against making cannabis easily accessible, explained that the authority was not looking at the commercialisation of cannabis and this put his mind at ease.

Malta changed its cannabis legislation last year to allow individuals to grow up to four cannabis plants at home for personal use and decriminalising the possession of cannabis up to 7g and imposing a fine for possession of up to 15g.

The law also made provisions for the creation of non-profit clubs that would be able to supply registered members with cannabis.
McKay took over the reins at the authority last month after the former head, Mariella Dimech, was removed.

“The authority is only promoting responsible use of cannabis while protecting certain groups at risk and setting a regulatory framework for NGOs that are operating in this sector,” McKay said. “It is my responsibility to ensure a safe setup for adult users without encouraging cannabis use.”

Cannabis associations could apply for licencing by late February

McKay was addressing a press conference alongside Reforms Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg at the authority’s new offices in Marsa.

Buttigieg announced that cannabis associations would be able to apply for a licence by the end of February.

She said consultations with prospective NGOs about the guidelines they must follow will take place over the coming month.

“At a convention titled ‘Setting the Standard’ on 27 January, the authority will then provide prospective NGOs with a detailed explanation of the standards,” Buttigieg said.

She thanked former cannabis authority head Mariella Dimech and emphasised that no time was wasted over the past year. 

Buttigieg also noted the elimination of minor illegalities from police activity among other accomplishments of the reform.

“We don’t want cannabis users to be stigmatised and labelled as criminals. However, we don’t want cannabis to be commercialised either,” she said.

Asked about the timeframe for cannabis clubs to become a reality, McKay said the first thing he worked on was the authority structure itself but also the strengthening of the licensing department.

“The legal guidelines for cannabis associations will control cannabis from seed to sale,” he said, something which pro-cannabis activists have been clamouring for.

The guidelines will look into product quality, packaging, labelling, website sales security, due diligence, harm reduction and ensure the associations are non-profit, amongst other criteria.