'Dealers sell a dirty, synthetic and untested product' - McKay defends 'harm reduction' cannabis reform

Head of the Cannabis Authority Lenoid McKay says the cannabis reform will regulate a market that was completely in the hands of the dealers

Leonid McKay
Leonid McKay

Head of the Cannabis Authority Lenoid McKay defended the responsible use of cannabis legislation reform, saying it tasked with harm reduction and discouraged commercialisation of the substance.

McKay was interviewed by university dean and ardent cannabis use opposer Andrew Azzopardi on Radio 103 Malta’s Heart on Saturday morning.

Azzopardi did not mince his words and went guns blazing against McKay’s past opposition to cannabis legalisation, during his former days as Caritas Director.

Local NGO ReLeaf Malta had expressed concerns at McKay’s appointment as head of the cannabis authority, saying this went against the spirit of the law.

He had replaced Malta’s first chair of the newly-created Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis, Mariella Dimech, who was sacked after just 10 months in her role by the Home Affairs Ministry.

“I was very angry at you [when you were appointed],” Azzopardi told McKay at the start of the interview. “Even your title [head of the Cannabis Authority] makes my stomach turn.”

McKay defended the cannabis reform saying that “the law matured to a one that regulates a market that was completely in the hands of those that had no interest in harm reduction.”

“Before, cannabis users got a product that was dirty, synthetic, and untested […] if you legislate and promote the substance, you will have issues. We are, however, legislating and regulating a responsible market with a model that is not motivated by profits,” McKay said.

Presented with the argument that the harm reduction argument could be applied to other substances like cocaine and heroin, McKay said that the use of certain illegal substances increased despite no legislation ‘promoting’ it.

Malta's Drug Report for 2021 found that cocaine and synthetic cannabis (SCRA) were the main drugs for which individuals sought medical assistance because of intoxication. There were 513 drug-related emergencies, with five leading to death.

Azzopardi argued that Caritas and OASIS were responsible for drug harm reduction and not the Cannabis Authority.

McKay disagreed and emphasised that every cannabis club would be connected to a centralised system, and no individual would be able to be a member of multiple associations.

He also said that no ID card numbers would be used and therefore, the names of the cannabis users would not be disclosed to the authorities.

McKay also emphasised that the associations would be Non-Profit Organisations. He said that the authority would make sure that their CEOs would not be paid exorbitant wages through legislation that took into consideration the market wages at the time.