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MaltaToday 17 November 2021 MIDWEEK

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2 NEWS maltatoday | WEDNESDAY • 17 NOVEMBER 2021 2 NEWS CANNABIS REFORM KARL AZZOPARDI 22 Catholic organisations expressed "serious concerns" on a number of aspects in the proposed regulation of recreational cannabis. The House will debate the second read- ing of the bill on Tuesday evening. In a position paper, 22 church entities said they are critical of "the rush with which, at the tail end of this legislature and on the eve of a general election, Par- liament is being asked to pass this new law proposing radical and risky changes." The position paper will be tabled in the House on Tuesday. They called on government to "press the pause button" and put the draft on hold until a serious, independent, and researched study is carried out about the social impact of the proposals listed in the bill. They expressed serious concern about a number of aspects proposed in the law including the "very limited regulation" of cannabis grown in households, as well as the "weak regulation of the opening of cannabis growing associations in all towns and villages." "Another serious concern is the possi- bility of using loopholes in the proposed law to allow the use of cannabis in pub- lic, despite declarations to the contrary made in the law." The 22 entities said the bill "will have a negative effect in normalising drug use while failing to protect both society and drug users." The 22 signatories of the position pa- per are: Caritas Malta, Church Homes for the Elderly, Church Schools' Associ- ation, Dar Merħba Bik Foundation, Dar tal-Providenza, Fondazzjoni Sebħ, Jus- tice and Peace Commission, Kummiss- joni Djoċesana Djakonija, Malta Catho- lic Youth Network (MCYN), Mater Dei and Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Cen- tre Chaplains, Millenium Chapel, Oasi Foundation, Paulo Freire Institute Foun- dation, Peace and Good Foundation, Secretariat for Catholic Education, So- cial Assistance Secretariat (SAS), Society St Vincent de Paul, SOS Malta, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, the Conference of Religious Major Superiors (KSMR), Uffiċċju Ħidma Pastorali mal-Persuni Separati and YMCA Malta. LAURA CALLEJA THE social work NGO Richmond Foundation has come out against the home-growing of cannabis, claiming legalisation could increase cases of ac- cidental poisoning of children. "We disagree with the growth of plants within homes. In view of the draft bill which leaves a number of concerns un- addressed we would like to reiterate our recommendations for reconsideration even at this advanced stage." The NGO cited a study in the USA which documented increased emer- gency room attendances for accidental poisoning of children. A review of pae- diatric cases from 1975 to 2015 found more unintentional cannabis ingestion by children, which led to changes for child-proof packaging of legal cannabis products retailed from stories. While accepting that cannabis use was already widespread and used in a con- trolled manner, Richmond said it sup- ported decriminalisation of possession for personal use, but wanted a social im- pact assessment on the long-term effects of legalisation. The proposed cannabis legalisation was unveiled back in October, proposing the dispensation of cannabis from non-prof- it associations to members, as well as the home-growing "If the use of cannabis becomes part of children's upbringing, then we can expect more people to integrate the use of substances into their life at a younger age. The negative impact of cannabis use on young people is well documented," the NGO. Richmond called for both a social as- sessment as well as longitudinal studies about the use of drugs and their impact upon Maltese society, to enable evi- dence-based policy development. It also requested a "good solid struc- ture" based on scientific evidence to regulate the cannabis law, together with educational and assertive outreach to in- form the public of the risks of cannabis use, and to ensure health and social ser- vices infrastructures are well equipped to cater for the consequences of tolerance for cannabis use, "If the possession of cannabis is to be legalised, licensed outlets where canna- bis can be bought are to be introduced. Professionals in the field are to be held accountable that the cannabis being sold is made up of safe components, and the buyer will know that the chemicals used were controlled to be as safe as possible. The age of buyers and allowed quantities can be closely regulated." Press 'pause button' on cannabis bill, say Catholic organisations Cannabis: Richmond wary of accidental poisoning of children with home-growing Opposition MP highlights lack of research in run up to Bill CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 The Equality Minister was speaking in parliament on Tuesday at the start of the Second Reading on the cannabis reform that will usher in radical changes. Bonnici said the proposed legislation will spare "responsible users contact with the criminal world". Choosing his words carefully, Bonnici said the reform was not legalisation since cannabis cannot be imported, exported or consumed in public and its sale will be regulated. "We opted for a harm reduction approach to stop criminalising cannabis us- ers," Bonnici said. Government's proposal allows people to possess up to 7g of cannabis with no crim- inal sanction. It also allows people to grow up to four plants at home. Significantly, it caters for the creation of non-profit asso- ciations that will be able to sell cannabis to registered members. An authority will also be set up to regulate the sector. "The people who are benefitting from the current system are the criminals, the drug pushers," Bonnici said. The minister said current users have no choice but to resort to illegal means to get their marijuana. "They have to either grow their own cannabis at home with all the legal risks, or buy from a drug dealer. God knows the quality of marijuana being sold, the synthetic cannabis that people have to consume," he said. Bonnici said the proposed legislation will protect children. "Do you think a drug deal- er cares if the person he is selling to is 15 or 18-years-old? Do you think they ask for an ID card? This will stop." Bonnici said a number of other countries have gone down the road of legalisation, such as Canada, Uruguay, USA and a num- ber of EU states. "Research on the impact of legalisation has shown that the underlying fact is that regularisation is better than a situation where criminality dictates the situation," he said. Speaking on the 2015 decriminalisation of cannabis, he said government had faced stiff resistance at the time. "I remember the criticism that was lev- elled against us, and now the same NGOs agree it was a good step forward. To fight drugs and criminality, we had ended up fighting against the victims and vulnerable people," he said. Bonnici said the White Paper published last March received more than 350 submis- sions. "The over-arching issue was that of the source from where people can buy canna- bis," he said, appealing for a mature discus- sion on the issue. "We are giving drug dealers a massive blow," he insisted. The reform has been greeted with scep- ticism from several drug rehab and church organisations. Last week, the Nationalist Party formally came out against the law. Cannabis reform will give dealers 'a massive blow' minister says REACTING to the speech, Opposition MP Claudette Buttigieg criticised gov- ernment on the lack of research when drawing up the bill. "You mentioned a number of interna- tional studies, but failed to mention a single local study," she said. She said research has shown Malta has a serious problem with alcohol and drug abuse. So why are we not looking at ways of helping people? Why are we not involving the University of Malta?" "Has a social assessment on the bill been carried out?" she questioned. Buttigieg questioned government on workplace regulation when it comes to the consumption of cannabis. "What mechanisms will government intro- duce to ensure people go intoxicated to work?" The MP also called on government to carry out a follow up should the law be introduced. "We need to understand its effects on society."

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