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MALTATODAY 19 June 2022

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 19 JUNE 2022 NEWS No more 'war': reducing harm is the new language on drugs MAYA DIMITRIJEVIC A Harm Reduction information booth within the Healing Fields of Earth Garden festival opened its doors between the 3rd and 5th of June 2022. Addressing drug use through a non-judgmental, non-stigma- tised approach, Harm Reduc- tion Malta, in partnership with Dr Giulia Zampini and Dr Fa- bian Steinmetz, delivered three workshops addressing drug use in society, focusing on the re- lationship between drugs and crime, cannabis quality and transparency, and the People and Dancefloors project. Leaflets produced by the UK- based NGO Drugs and Me offered information on differ- ent drugs, with tips on how to minimise harm and maximise pleasure. Visitors had the op- portunity to scan a QR code and access detailed informa- tion on different substances' effects, building awareness of potentially dangerous drug combinations. The European Coalition for Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) supplied a leaflet addressed at parents and caregivers covering drug use, problematic drug use and health guidelines. Dialogue and respect for the views of people who use drugs are at the heart of the work of ENCOD and Drugs and Me. People visiting the booth were encouraged to practice safe sex and use protection against un- wanted consequences. Free condoms were received with jubilation by people who could not access this basic public health device elsewhere on the festival site. Some visitors spoke at length about the importance of offer- ing education to people who use drugs. Others asked if the booth provided a drug check- ing service, which would pro- vide information about sub- stances' contents and potency to prevent unnecessary harm. The team spoke with MEP Cyrus Engerer and Labour MP Randoph Debattista about the aims of harm reduction and the role of education to address drug use in society. Karen Ma- mo, of Harm Reduction Malta, explained that the legislative changes enacted in 2021 prom- ise a paradigm shift in the way society perceives and treats people who use cannabis: no longer criminals or patholo- gised patients, but human be- ings in need of evidence-based tools to make responsible deci- sions without fear of criminal and social repercussions. Mamo also spoke about the mutual relationship between public health and education, highlighting that dialogue and a non-coercive approach re- main a priority to promote the well-being of people who use drugs, and by extension that of society. During the drugs and crime workshop, Dr Zampini discussed some of the evidence around humans' perennial relationship with drugs, defining such rela- tionship as natural. Converse- ly, she defined the relationship between drugs and crime as socially constructed, highlight- ing some examples of the very real consequences that such a relationship has on people's lives and wellbeing. "The pro- hibition and criminalisation of drugs has grave social costs and is a significant financial burden to the state," she said. Drawing on the theme of healing as integral to the festi- val, Dr Zampini asked partici- pants to reflect on how we, as a society, can heal the prob- lematic relationship between drugs and crime. Among the solutions proposed by partic- ipants were decriminalisation of drug possession, better drug treatment provision, and even legal regulation of drug supply. Delivering a workshop on cannabis quality and transpar- ency, Dr Steinmetz congrat- ulated Malta for the recent legislative changes partially decriminalising cannabis in late 2021. "Criminalisation in- creases harms to the person and fuels a culture of stigma and discrimination. Further- more, criminalisation and pro- hibition directly impact levels of cannabis quality and hinder the exchange of greatly valua- ble information about cannabis cultivation." Addressing contamination of cannabis and bioburden (presence of microorganisms), Dr Steinmetz highlighted the importance of educating can- nabis home growers on how to properly dry and cure can- nabis flowers. "This is particu- larly important in humid and hot climates, such as that of Malta," Steinmetz said, calling for quality testing services to A harm reduction information booth at the Earth Garden Festival with academics addressing various themes surrounding responsible drug issue signals a new philosophy on how to treat drug usage Left to right: Karen Mamo, Giulia Zampini and Fabian Stienmetz

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