[WATCH] President expresses 'major reservations' on legalisation of recreational marijuana

George Vella says research on marijuana's effects and consequences has to be given importance when considering the legalisation of the drug for recreational purposes

President George Vella was speaking at a conference on drugs and mental health organised by the OASI Foundation
President George Vella was speaking at a conference on drugs and mental health organised by the OASI Foundation

George Vella has made known his serious doubts about whether marijuana for recreational use should be legalised.

The President said that, while the drug was of benefit if used in a medical scenario, extending the legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes had to be treated with caution.

In this regard, he stressed that discussions on any possible recreational marijuana legalisation should take into account the research of experts in the field, and best practice in this area in other countries.

Vella was speaking on Tuesday at a conference on drugs and mental health, organised by the OASI Foundation.

Noting that cannabis is the most frequently used drug in Malta after alcohol, he said that its long-term effects had been well documented.

"Both as a doctor and a father I have major reservations on how wise it is to extend the legalisation of cannabis to go beyond its medical usage," he said, "When it comes to medical marijuana, [one has to consider] that morphine [for instance] has been in use for hundreds of years, and it has both its good and bad aspects.

"If it is proved in the future that cannabinoids have a specific medical utility, then there is nothing wrong with using the drug for this purpose. But we should be cautious when it comes to extending this to recreational use and heed the research on issues such as whether marijuana can act as a gateway drug and whether it can result in psychological dependence on the drug."

'Don't label people with drug addicition problems'

Vella underlined the importance of avoiding labelling people who have substance abuse problems with terms such as "druggie" or "junkie", saying these only served to portray the persons involved as not being normal.

"These labels affect those involved by making them seen different or not normal, and they cause harm while hindering our aims of promoting public health and developing ways of lessening the damage such individuals incur," he said.

Vella also reiterated his commitment towards making mental health in Malta one of the priorities of his presidency, highlighting that a conference is being organised which aims to start removing the stigma surround mental health issues.

"We have for many years not given mental health the importance it deserves. This matter is not only tied to drug use [...] but to the circumstances people find themselves going through in life," he said.

"We will be launching an awareness campaign [...] we need to talk about the issue so those affected do not feel excluded."

He also underscored that drug use does not always lead to mental health problems, and at the same time, mental health problems do not always result in drug use. "There exist all shades of grey here."

Vella added that people suffering from drug abuse or mental health problems had to be given the treatment and support they required.

"It is a mistake to look at those who have substance abuse problems or mental health issues negatively," he said, "...They need our sympathy and love... and we have to understand that we need to give them the help they need."