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MALTATODAY 4 April 2021

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2 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella Letters to the Editor, MaltaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 E-mail: Letters must be concise, no pen names accepted, include full name and address maltatoday | SUNDAY • 4 APRIL 2021 A belated admission that cannabis users are not 'criminals' Editorial A point that is often overlooked, in the debate on cannabis regulation, is that the current legislation on drugs has so far only succeeded in criminalising an entire subsection of the population: without, it seems, having any discernible impact on either the availability, or consumption, of the drug itself. Indeed, it appears to have had the opposite effect. A survey, carried out by this newspaper last year, indicates that no less than 9.3% of the population – estimated at 32,000, of whom 17,000+ are aged between 18 and 35 – admitting having used canna- bis in their lifetimes. This number more than tri- pled when people were asked whether they knew someone who used cannabis: which equates to some 100,000 potential cannabis-users, in a pop- ulation of 500,000. This suggests considerably widespread use of the drug in Malta: especially considering that these figures may even be understated (given that can- nabis is illegal, it is very plausible that people may – not unreasonably – be fearful of incriminating themselves.) But even if the taboo is still enough to discourage many people from openly admitting to its use, it is nonetheless clear that cannabis is, in fact, widely used by a vast cross-section of society: including professionals, successful entrepreneurs, and oth- erwise respected individuals. From this perspective – and coupled with ex- haustive evidence that the drug is in itself not as 'harmful' as it is so often portrayed – one can only question a legal system that transforms those re- spectable, productive members of society into 'in- stant criminals'. And such questions can only multiply, when one considers that – even within the narrow sphere of the legislation's declared aims – Malta's drug poli- cies have not exactly been a great success. If the purpose of our draconian drug laws was to discourage cannabis-use, or prohibit it altogeth- er… it has very clearly failed. And it is this fact – more than any amount of lobbying by proponents of decriminalisation – that ultimately led the gov- ernment to consider changing tack: as evidenced by a new White Paper, that aims to create a more realistic, sustainable legal framework to regulate cannabis. Ironically, this much appears to be acknowl- edged even by opponents of decriminalisation. In a joint statement issued this week, Caritas, the Oa- si Foundation and the Association of Psychiatrists warned that "the proposed law is a reflection of the lost battle against the cannabis culture". And they are right. The 'war on cannabis' has in- deed been 'lost'. In fact, this has been the specific position of the United Nations' International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC): whose seminal 2018 report was described as "another nail in the coffin for the war on drugs." With this in mind, government is now propos- ing that the possession of more than 7 grams, but less than 28 grams, for one's exclusive personal use should be subject to proceedings before the Com- missioner for Justice (as currently contemplated for the possession of less than 3.5 grams.) It is also being proposed that every household can grow up to four plants. The cultivated can- nabis cannot be sold, and can only be consumed in the same habitation. Cannabis cannot be con- sumed before minors, and residents are to ensure that it is stored in places which are inaccessible to minors residing in the same habitation. Admittedly, this still leaves room for many ques- tions regarding how the new legal regime will ac- tually work in practice. Government's proposals stop short of introduc- ing a safe, legal way to acquire cannabis seeds for the purpose of cultivation. Nor do they regulate the dispensation of home-grown cannabis: possi- bly through the introduction of licensed cannabis clubs, a legal way of allowing experienced growers to pool resources and sell cannabis, within limits, to registered users. Perhaps the most important aspect of the pro- posed changes, however, concern the reversal of the current 'criminalisation' policies. Not on- ly does the proposed law do away with punitive measures for cannabis-users; but it is also being proposed that people found guilty of previous can- nabis-related offences, may have their criminal re- cord expunged. All in all, the proposed reform may still fall short of a fully liberalised regime; but – to be fair – per- haps Malta is not yet ready for that, either. Nonetheless, the new White Paper does address the main causes of complaint regarding canna- bis usage in Malta. It has widened the amounts that one safely possesses, without fear of criminal reprisals; and this brings peace of mind to ordi- nary people, who make responsible use of a most- ly-harmless medicinal product… and who do not, by rights, deserve to be treated as criminals. 3 April 2011 Commission insists: no agreement on spring hunting ALTERNATTIVA Demokratika and Birdlife Malta yesterday revealed communication from The European Commission that said there is no 'agreement' as claimed by the Prime Minster in parliament over the bag limits for the two- week spring hunting season. A spokesperson for the EC's environment commission told Alternattiva Demokratika and BirdLife Malta, which revealed the details of the communication today, that although the EC had welcomed the new legal notice on bag limits, this did not mean the Commission has to reach an agreement or reached a deal with the government over the application of the derogation from the spring hunting ban. The EU bans spring hunting but member states can derogate from this ban if they satisfy criteria under Article 9 of the Birds Directive. This week the prime minister announced it had brokered a deal with the EC by allowing a limited catch in spring according to how many birds are caught in the preceding autumn. In their first reaction to the news, BirdLife instantly claimed the government was misin- forming the public when it said it had reached an agreement with the EC. "The Commission does not make agreements with member states on derogations... it is Malta's responsibility to ensure derogations are applied according to EU law." The EC spokesperson however told AD that the Commission discussions were intended at re- solving shortcomings it had identified in Maltese law which were not in line with the judgement of the European Court of Justice. "It is simply a recognition, at this stage, of the important legislative changes which were adopted to ensure that Malta's Framework Regulations may comply with the Courts judgment and the strict conditions laid down in the Birds Directive," Joe Hennon, spokesperson for environment com- missioner Janez Potocnik, said. He added that the Commission's positive opin- ion on the framework law "cannot be taken as a 'carte blanche' to open spring hunting deroga- tions in Malta every year on an indefinite basis. It will still remain for Malta, before opening any particular spring hunting derogation, to deter- mine whether all the conditions, laid down in Article 9.1. c of the Birds Directive, for opening a season are met." Quote of the Week "While health is important and essential, the right to worship God is also essential… It is not on the same level as the lotto booth or the supermarket." Archbishop Charles Scicluna in his Maundy Thursday homily MaltaToday 10 years ago

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