[WATCH] No mandatory prison sentence for personal cannabis cultivation under new rules

Justice minister Owen Bonnici presents amendments to drug dependency laws

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici
No mandatory prison sentence for personal cannabis cultivation under new rules

The prison sentence for a woman who was cultivating cannabis for her personal use, has led to the proposal of legal amendments that will give the Maltese courts discretion on how to sentence such cases.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici presented a package of legal amendments that will give the courts discretion on whether to sentence to jail people who can show that the cultivation of cannabis was for their strict personal use.

Cultivation of cannabis will remain illegal under the new rules.

The draconian, six-month prison sentence for Marie Claire Camilleri, whose cannabis sapling had not yet produced any buds, was one of the most egregious cases in which Malta’s supposed drug reform was failing. Camilleri is appealing the six-month prison sentence but has been shocked by the severity of the court’s decision, which she says is “totally out of synch” with the spirit of the drugs reform heralded by the Labour government.

Camilleri, in fact, is insisting that her sole sapling was still in its infancy and was clearly intended for personal use. “The total mass of the plant, that is stem and leaves, were just 6.83 grammes. It had not produced any buds – that is, the actual cannabis that can be consumed – and it was not being cultivated with the use of artificial light or hydroponics. This was a sapling inside a 10-litre margarine container… not an industrial cultivation,” Camilleri said. “They were just shoots. And you have to consider that they had yet to produce their first flowers, which is when you start seeing whether they are either male, or female. It’s the female that produced THC, the psychoactive constituent in cannabis. At that point, the female flowers have to be separated from the males or it will produce just seeds, and not the bud that can be consumed.”

Under its recent Drug Dependency (Treatment) Act, Malta removed a previous mandatory term of imprisonment of six months for people found cultivating cannabis “in a small quantity not exceeding one plant, in circumstances where the Court is satisfied that such cultivation was for personal use.”

Camilleri insists this is exactly her case. “I know that the courts have given suspended sentences for countless others who have cultivated cannabis plants in more advanced stages than mine. That is why I cannot understand the harshness of the sentence.”

Camilleri also says that it was evident that the way the plant was being cultivated was expressly for her personal use. “This was just one plant being cultivated on my roof, still in its juvenile stages. It was months away from flowering, and there were no artificial aids assisting it. You cannot say that it was anything but personal use.”

Camilleri had told the court she used cannabis to personally deal with anxiety, and that she smoked around six joints per day.

But as the magistrate who decided on the sentence said, the law surrounding the cultivation of cannabis “fails to suitably distinguish who truly deserves effective imprisonment.”

Malta’s reformed drug laws

  • Police can prosecute on small quantities of drugs – 3.5g of cannabis, 2g of other drugs, two pills of ecstasy – but users will be subjected to fines ranging between €65 and €125, or between €50 and €100 in the case of cannabis.
  • Police can still detain people caught with small quantities of drugs for up to 48 hours, to extract information related to drug trafficking.
  • Second-time offenders, except cannabis, are referred to Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board. Repeat cannabis offenders are exempt from appearing in front of the board, irrespective of how many times caught in possession of the drug.
  • Cultivation of a cannabis plant for personal use is no longer punishable by a mandatory prison sentence or suspended sentence, and doctors can prescribe cannabis in medicinal form if no other viable alternative exists.