[WATCH] Owen Bonnici says cannabis reform goes beyond tolerance: ‘It’s honest’

Xtra on TVM News Plus | Equality Minister Owen Bonnici says the cannabis reform was needed to pull users away from the black market and criminality

Equality Minister Owen Bonnici is piloting the cannabis reform
Equality Minister Owen Bonnici is piloting the cannabis reform

Malta’s cannabis reform is not simply based on tolerance for users, Owen Bonnici said, adding upright individuals should not end up with criminal records.

“Our reform is honest… we are not simply basing a model on tolerance that allows people to use cannabis with legal lacuna from where it can be procured,” the Equality Minister said as he drew a distinction with other countries in Europe where cannabis use was merely tolerated.

Bonnici said the proposed legal framework will ensure cannabis users have access to a good product and will face no criminal liability for possessing up to 7g.

“Until now, the only alternative for cannabis consumers is to either grow the plant at home with all the legal consequences or buy it from a dealer thus putting them in touch with the world of criminality. We are creating a system that gives people access to cannabis without being in touch with criminality and ensuring they obtain a clean product,” Bonnici said.

He added that government could not allow young people or upright individuals to have their police conduct tainted because of using cannabis.

Bonnici was speaking on Xtra on TVM News Plus on Monday.

He said government wanted to go for a harm reduction approach with adequate safeguards to protect children and the general public. He said even the UN had placed cannabis on a different classification from other illicit drugs.

Under the proposed legislation, which is currently before parliament, people can grow up to four plants at home as long as these are not visible to the public.

Non-profit associations could be set up to supply cannabis and seeds to users. The possession of up to 7g of cannabis will be allowed but no smoking in public can be done. Smoking cannabis in front of children, even if at home, will be a criminal offence.

During the programme, Caritas Director Anthony Gatt said his organisation was concerned because the manner in which the law is drafted could send out the message that cannabis is not a dangerous drug.

“We are concerned about this message because cannabis does have consequences for people who use it but as an organisation we will remain committed to accompany people who require help,” Gatt said.

Bonnici said government was in no way encouraging cannabis use but reacting to a reality that could not be ignored any longer. “The question I keep asking is: ‘Do we want the sector to depend on criminality and the black market?’ Government’s reply is ‘no’.”