Medicinal cannabis bill to go ahead – ‘from seed to patient’

Parliament will conclude the Second Reading of the medicinal cannabis Bill on Tuesday

After what the opposition claims to have been too short a process, Parliament is set to conclude the Second Reading of the Bill legalising the production of medicinal marijuana.

In a parliamentary sitting on Monday, Parliamentary Secretary for Consumer Protection Deo Debattista recalled concerns he overheard regarding the Bill, as he said some think that it will lead to ‘drug factories’ cropping up on the island.

“Connotation of ‘drug’ implies illegal use, whereas the companies which will produce medicinal cannabis will be legal and nothing to do with recreational use.”

The debate on the Second Reading will end today and a vote will be taken on 5 March.

“We will be responsible for medicinal cannabis, from seed to patient,” Debattista said. The production of the medicine will be undertaken under the auspices of the medicines authority for medicine – an authority which Debattista said was very serious and competent, as even the FDA had trusted Maltese Authorities with work in the past.

Debattista said that suggestions were taken from the superintendent of public health, who would provide the license for medicinal cannabis. He stressed that the sole aim was to produce medicine and not provide cannabis for recreational purposes. 

He insisted that cannabinoid derivatives had medicinal use today and that due diligence was done. 

But Nationalist MP David Stellini said he was concerned since the prime minister himself had claimed to be in favour of recreational cannabis use. “When I hear the prime minister make this declaration, I wonder if the law we are discussing today is a pretext for the eventual production of recreational cannabis,” he said, explaining that the supply chain for cultivating medicinal cannabis and recreational cannabis was the same one. 

The concern arose, Stellini said, since although Debattista assured the House that it was not the case, it was not clear that the bill would not lead to the legalisation of recreational cannabis. 

But Debattista confirmed that this detail would be included in the law, as it would be specified that the production of cannabis would be for medicine and research only. In order for it to be otherwise, another law would need to be introduced.

Opposition whip Robert Cutajar said that the opposition required a guarantee that the bill would not be of detriment to the public. The opposition was concerned since the bill was passed unusually quickly, he maintained. 

“We heard the prime minister endorse the medicinal use of cannabis even before we began discussing it in parliament,” he said, explaining that this rang alarm bells for the opposition and raised a few questions. 

Cutajar said that the Opposition would have concluded the discussion without any doubts had intensive consultations and an economic impact assessment for cannabis production taken place. Issues such as the use of land for cannabis production should be considered since available land was always decreasing, Cutajar said. 

Debattista explained that suggestions put forth by PN MP Claudio Grech were taken on board since they were positive ones, and the government agreed that the bill should be amended to include certain explanations. 

Stellini also expressed concern in regards to the security of cannabis production plants, as he said that if these were to be broken into, the drug could be trafficked. 

Debattista said that the aspect of security was discussed with the Assistant Commissioner, but added but that the government would be going even beyond that, and would instead adopt a security system similar to that in use at companies that printed currency for central banks. 
“I never heard of any currencies being stolen from these facilities,” he said. 

Deputy Speaker Claudette Buttigieg said she was concerned by Labour Deputy Leader Chris Cardona’s claims that Malta ought to be a ‘trailblazer’ when it comes to cannabis production. “In the past, the government made mistakes which it had to apologise for. So I hope that it does not make such mistakes for the sake of being a ‘trailblazer’,” she said.