Opposition building up strong critique of medical cannabis bill

Delia struck a cautious note on the medical cannabis bill the Labour government is pushing, saying the bill was being passed too quickly and that it lacked detail

Opposition leader Adrian Delia is demanding transparency from the government
Opposition leader Adrian Delia is demanding transparency from the government

Opposition leader Adrian Delia is demanding transparency from the government on three letters of intent issued to producers of medicinal cannabis seeking to set up shop in Malta.

Delia struck a cautious note on the medical cannabis bill the Labour government is pushing, saying the bill was being passed too quickly and that it lacked detail.

The fact that a second piece of legislation – which is separate from that of the one on medical cannabis – is being proposed by government, raises concerns, a spokesperson for the Nationalist party told MaltaToday. During the Parliamentary debate, the Opposition put forward a series of proposals on how this legislation could be drastically improved and mitigate the gaping loopholes it has in its present form, he said.

“It’s as if an investment was already made, and a law is being created to accommodate the investment,” Delia said in Parliament on Tuesday, adding that the bill did not provide certain reassurances. He demanded that the public be made privy to information on who the companies issued with letters of intent from the ministry of the economy are, where they hail from, and what are the measures that will be implemented by the government in order to guarantee rigour and security in the industry.

While both sides of the House appear to be in favour of a new law to regulate the production of medical cannabis as a pharmaceutical product, the Opposition is expected to request a number of amendments before the law is passed.

“The Opposition is in favour of investment in the pharmaceutical sector. It was the Nationalist Party in government which created this sector,” Delia said. “But the bill is being presented by economy minister Chris Cardona, which means it is a law on investment, not health. And the bill is unclear about whether the law is about production of medicine, or about permitting the cultivation of cannabis: they are two separate things.”

Delia also expressed concern about the lack of clarity on which authority will be regulating the sector. “Factually the law lacks the competences which permit a competent authority. There is no reassurance that there will be an appropriate regulator who will be overseeing the entire process.”

Shadow economy minister Kristy Debono said the bill was only eight pages long, suggesting it was inadequate for such a sensitive issue.

“People need more information,” she said, pointing at the Canadian law on cannabis cited as an example by economy minister Chris Cardona being 350 pages long. “With a law like this, the devil is in the detail… there should have been an open consultation process not only with Opposition but also with other stakeholders before furthering the bill.”

Debono also said the law must be accompanied by a serious economic model, and one which will not create unnecessary monopolies. “The cannabis production market needs to be an open and competitive one, and the bill requires details on what exactly constitutes due diligence in this regard.”

“The law lacks detail, the necessary information is not there and the Opposition is not convinced the government will regulate traceability and manage the process from seed to sale on an international basis so as to ensure that Malta will not become a hub for drug trafficking and unregulated growers,” Debono said.

The MP also claimed that in the majority of countries which started off producing cannabis, the law allowing this was a gateway to the eventual legalisation of recreational cannabis.

Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia also said that the bill needs to be accompanied by a campaign of information which informs of the benefits and risks of medicinal cannabis use.

While noting that Malta stands to benefit from being a prime leader in the production of medicinal cannabis, Farrugia said the sector cannot be regulated by the minister.

“The regulator needs to be someone who is capable of guaranteeing good value for money in an open market,” he said, calling for the standard licensing processes to be more stringent than that of production of any other synthetic medicine. “The law as it is needs to be strengthened by a number of legal notices,” Farrugia added.

Nationalist party MP Edwin Vassallo also suggested that land in Bulebel earmarked for the extension of the industrial zone was being earmarked for the production of cannabis.  Vassallo said the government was not categorically stating that the bill will not lead to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes. “I want to hear a declaration because this will provide reassurance.”

He even suggested that the bill was, in itself, illegal by lacking the necessary legal notices. “The legislation on its own will not regulate the market. Reassurance cannot be provided until then. What will come first – the letter of intent from Malta Enterprise or the medicinal licence?”

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