Caritas director warns against dangers of cannabis legalisation

After the harm of cigarettes and alcohol, Malta must decide whether it should add cannabis to this menu of legal substances, Anthony Gatt says

Caritas Director Anthony Gatt
Caritas Director Anthony Gatt

Caritas is not convinced that legalising cannabis for recreational use will kill the black market for the drug, its director has warned.

Anthony Gatt spoke of his fear that the black market will adapt by offering cheaper or, “even worse”, a stronger variant of cannabis.

He acknowledged that not all adults who use cannabis develop a dependency and recognised the argument that legal access will remove the possibility of coming into contact with pushers.

But Gatt was not convinced that the criminal world would not find a way of clawing its way back in.

He sounded the warning on Wednesday evening during the graduation ceremony of 16 people who concluded a drug rehabilitation programme with Caritas.

Gatt used the occasion to reflect on government’s ongoing consultation process to propose some form of cannabis legalisation.

“We are convinced that access [to cannabis], in whatever way, will cause more harm than good. Primarily, the legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes sends the message to adolescents that cannabis is not a dangerous drug,” Gatt said.

Residents in rehabilitation programmes argued that such a law give them less of a reason to stop their dependence on cannabis, Gatt said, adding the drug could be harmful to individuals at risk of mental health problems.

He reiterated his hope that Malta will reject legal access to cannabis. “We know what harm cigarettes and alcohol have caused to society. The country must decide whether it should add cannabis to this menu of legal substances.”

Gatt said the cannabis legalisation market was lucrative but was convinced Malta’s economy could remain strong without tapping the recreational cannabis market.

Cocaine appears to have become the main drug of choice
Cocaine appears to have become the main drug of choice

Caritas saw more cocaine addicts

In 2018, Caritas had 738 people seeking help for drug addiction, the highest number in recent years.

Gatt said that for the first time in Caritas’s history, the number of people seeking help with a cocaine dependency (41%) surpassed those with a dependency on heroin (31%). Around 23% of patients sought help for cannabis dependence.

“These are indications of where the drug trends are going. We are seeing serious damage caused by synthetic drugs and clients sometimes are unsure of what substance they are consuming. We are concerned on cheaper drugs, and stronger substances. These factors strengthen dependence,” Gatt said.

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