[WATCH] Chris Cardona's surprise declaration: Reforms on personal cannabis use not part of the government's current agenda

Government clarifies that harm reduction mechanism for cannabis users is being drafted, indirectly admitting that Chris Cardona slipped

Chris Cardona
Chris Cardona
Chris Cardona says recreational cannabis reforms not part of government agenda

Updated at 5.35pm with government statement

Reforming personal cannabis use “is not part of the government’s current agenda”, Economy Minister Chris Cardona said on Monday.

Cardona made the surprise declaration while visiting preparations for tomorrow's Medical Cannabis World Forum at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta.

He was answering a question put to him by MaltaToday on whether the time had come to liberalise the rules on personal use of cannabis after a woman was jailed for six months for cultivating one plant at home for personal use.

"It [personal cannabis use] doesn’t fall within my remit, it falls within another ministry's remit, I have my views on adult recreational drug use, however, until now it is not part of the government's agenda," Cardona said.

The declaration is surprising because the Labour Party manifesto promised to reform the laws dealing with recreational cannabis and Joseph Muscat even went on record saying personal cannabis use should be legalised. The reform is spearheaded by Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli, who has been meeting various stakeholders but has so far not presented concrete proposals.

Farrugia Portelli has insisted that before moving forward with the reform, the government will engage in an educational campaign among young people warning them of the dangers drugs posed.

The apparent lack of progress in the reform to legalise cannabis use jars with the speed with which government moved to regulate the medical cannabis sector, which has seen the first licences being issued to companies in the field.

Back in October, Marie Claire Camilleri was sentenced to six months in prison for being in possession of a cannabis sapling that had not yet produced any buds in what might well be one of the most egregious cases in which Malta’s supposed drug reform is failing.

“It has been a surreal experience that has thrown my life off-kilter,” Camilleri told MaltaToday. “I cannot understand how such a dreadful prison sentence is possible in a country which decriminalised personal cannabis and is now building a new industry infrastructure for medical cannabis businesses.”

Cardona however, insisted that he was present at the conference centre on Monday solely to discuss the medical cannabis summit. He added that the forum will address issues linked to medical marijuana for those who "desperately" need it for "physical and mental" illnesses. 

"I am here as a minister, I am not here as a citizen, so I have to reply in line with the government's agenda and strategy," Cardona said.

Cardona highlighted that Malta Enterprise had already approved 24 projects in the medical cannabis industry with a capital investment of €140.9 million. By the third year of operations, he said that it was estimated these companies would reach more than €1 billion in exports and create more than 900 jobs.

Government drafting ‘harm reduction mechanism’

Government has indirectly admitted that Chris Cardona’s surprise statement on the personal use of cannabis was a slip.

In a statement released on Monday evening by the Economy Ministry and the Reforms Parliamentary Secretariat, the government clarified that it was engaging with stakeholders to “draft a solid harm reduction mechanism for those adults who wish to buy cannabis for their own personal use, through a safer mechanism”.

The joint statement outlined that the government’s electoral manifesto had pledged a public consultation on the personal use of cannabis.

The discussions with stakeholders, spearheaded by Farrugia Portelli, are ongoing, the statement said.

Any change in Malta’s drug laws is being preceded by an educational campaign amongst primary and secondary students. The campaign started at the beginning of this scholastic year and intends to reach more than 9,000 students.

The statement said the law regulating cannabis use for medicinal purposes was introduced in 2018 and was followed by changes that allowed the domestic production of cannabis for medical purposes.