Is cannabis really legal in Malta?

Maltese legalization: The stark reality of government failures

Malta is the smallest member state of the European Union, with only half a million inhabitants. Last December 2021 it also became the first EU country to legalize cannabis in some of its forms for recreational use. How did this happen and what is the situation now, almost a year after this bold move?

Let’s start with the summary of exactly what happened in December last year. It legalized the cultivation and possession of marijuana for personal use and the possession of up to seven grams in public for those over 18 years of age. Up to four cannabis plants per household were allowed to be grown at home.

Legal cannabis clubs instead of a regulated market

Apart from allowing people to grow a few cannabis plants at home, another form of non-commercial activity was to be allowed: the existence of legal cannabis clubs where members could grow weed for their own use and also for other members. The same concept is underway in countries like Spain, and other countries have been experimenting with it as well (Belgium, the Netherlands), although in most places, these clubs still operate in the legal gray zone.

Club membership was to be limited to 500 people and only up to 7 grams per day would be allowed to be distributed to each person, with a maximum of 50 grams per month. The associations, which must not be located within 250 meters of a school, could also distribute up to 20 seeds per month to each member.

In the original bill, there was no mention of the creation of a regulated market with cannabis stores and licensed commercial growers like those we know in Canada, Colorado or California, possibly because the government did not want to provoke the European institutions too much.

The pitfalls of Malta’s cannabis legalization efforts

As we know, things on paper often look quite different once they are applied in real life, especially when it comes to cannabis. Unfortunately, Maltese legalization turned out to be one of those cases.

Reality hits hard

First, shortly after the cannabis legalization bill was passed, the Maltese government created the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC) and appointed Mariella Dimech as director. But just a few weeks ago, she was abruptly dismissed from her post because Prime Minister Robert Abela was frustrated by delays in creating the legal framework within which the aforementioned clubs could operate. This means that so far there are no cannabis clubs in Malta and there are no regulatory guidelines for them either.

But Dimech responded by saying that the government left it without resources and staff, so it was unable to prepare any of the necessary regulations. Following his dismissal, several Maltese NGOs criticized the government because“the structures cited in the law aimed at regulating its (cannabis) use are conspicuous by their total absence“. According to them, the government seemed more interested in legalizing cannabis as soon as possible than in first creating a strong agency that would create appropriate rules and regulations for the emerging sector.

New ARUC director and let’s see what happens next

The ARUC now has a new director – Leonid McKay – who oversaw the organizations opposing the cannabis reforms. As a result, local pro-cannabis groups like Releaf call his appointment a “direct insult” to legalization efforts and say they don’t trust him.

On November 14, the Malta Independent newspaper published a scathing editorial titled“The cannabis legalization fiasco.”in which he criticized government MPs for rushing through the legalization vote shortly before the parliamentary elections. “The promise to have a regulatory framework in place by April this year was quickly scuppered, and the latest promise is that it will all be in place by the end of this year,” complains from the Malta Independent newsroom. “As things stand, with no regulatory framework in place, it means that none of the associations that would have been authorized to sell cannabis legally can actually open.”

The situation on the ground is therefore quite absurd: adults in Malta can legally consume cannabis now, but have no way of legally obtaining it (unless they grow it themselves, which not everyone can or wants to do). The government’s original goal, which was to hit the black market and bring more people into legality, cannot be achieved and, in reality, the non-existence of regulations for clubs is driving more people into the black market.

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Future of cannabis legalization in Malta

Hopefully the government will admit its mistakes and correct them sooner rather than later, although with the new head of the Responsible Cannabis Use Authority many Maltese activists and drug experts doubt it. And there is also concern that the big cannabis companies and their lobbyists are pressuring the government to implement a regulated market even though the situation of clubs and personal consumption has not been resolved.

* Editorial note: Article adapted to Spanish from the original version by Cannactiva.

u003cstrongu003eWill I find any cannabis clubs if I travel to Malta?u003c/strongu003e

So far there are no cannabis clubs in Malta and there are no regulatory guidelines for them either. Therefore, if you are on tourism in Malta, do not expect to find, far from it, coffee shops like Amsterdam has.

 

Lukas Hurt
Cannabis activist : Journalist focusing on cannabis-related issues in Central Europe

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