New drugs law to allow use of cannabis for medical purposes

Commissioner for Justice expected to be a woman 'working with victims of drug abuse'

A draft bill on Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) is set to allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The draft bill will be presented tonight for the first reading in parliament and published in full tomorrow, as per parliamentary procedure.

The bill allows for the prescription of medicinal preparations of the cannabis plant by a specialist physician if no viable alternative exists. The use of the plant may also be prescribed by a specialist physician with the approval of the Superintendent of Public Health, who may also impose conditions on its use.

Cultivation of one plant of cannabis yielding a small quantity for personal use will no longer be subject to a mandatory period of imprisonment or to the exclusion of application of probation order or a suspended sentence.

Addressing a press briefing, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici also revealed his intentions to appoint a Commissioner for Justice who, rather than being a lawyer, works directly with victims of drug abuse. Without revealing any names, Bonnici said the Commissioner is set to be a woman.

According to the draft bill, prosecutions for the possession of small quantities for personal use - maximum of two grammes or of two ecstasy pills or equivalent - will be carried out by the Police in accordance with the Commissioners for Justice Act and will be subject to penalties ranging from €75 to €125.

Possession for personal use of cannabis or cannabis resin will be subject to a lesser range of penalties, from €50 to €150.

Upon the second conviction or voluntary payment of the penalty before the Commissioner for Justice, a person will be referred to a Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board (DORB). The proposed board will be assisting the rehabilitation of the offenders.

An offender will be referred to the board by the Commissioner for Justice if the offender is likely to abuse of other drugs or for refusing to appear before the Commisisoner, even if the penalty has been paid.

The draft law allows for certain cases to be heard before a drugs court, rather than a criminal court. The Court of Magistrates will be allowed to act as a drugs court and refer the accused for treatment to the DORB. Such cases would be ones where, according to recently published guidelines, weapons or violence against other persons is not involved.

If the accused fails to cooperate with the board, he or she will be referred back to the court.

For offenders who successfully undergo rehabilitation within 18 months, confirmed by the DORB, the court can recall all pending criminal prosecutions within its competence and deliver a judgement with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

During the time when the accused is referred to the DORB, the case shall continue to be heard before the Court of Magistrates but no decision can be given.