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MALTATODAY 20 November 2022

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4 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 20 NOVEMBER 2022 NEWS CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 Mariella Dimech was sacked after 10 months in the job, with not one single licence for the non-profit cannabis 'clubs' having yet been issued. Dimech complained that she had been left without a functional office, staff, budget or political strategy with which to carry out her job. MaltaToday understands that a medical cannabis company has already reached out to the government over its intention to "know the way forward" on recreational cannabis, with sources claiming this could be a sign of business interest in the 'non-profit' regime of rec- reational cannabis. "Why else would they reach out to govern- ment? They are already estab- lished in the medical cannabis industry, and would have no other intention then to make profits," the sources said. The sacking of Mariella Di- mech, a proponent of the not- for-profit model for canna- bis-growing associations, has raised eyebrows within the pro-legalisation community over government preparedness in enacting the law. Andrew Bonello, a spokesper- son for ReLeaf, pointed out a number of shortcomings yet to be dealt with by government. "There are good things – such as allowing people to grow their own cannabis at home and al- lowing private consumption," he said. "Also positive is the ex- pungement of criminal records, even though government has yet to issue a single figure." But he believes one of the first red flags of the law's implemen- tation is to establish the canna- bis-growing clubs Non-Profit Organisations (NPO) rather than Non-Governmental Or- ganisations (NGOs). "As ARUC head, Dimech told us that the associations were being turned from an NGO into an NPO. How are they going to be regulated then? How are they going to be registered? Why the change?" Bonello pointed out. "We don't want the associations to be turned into commercial spaces, because a communi- ty-based approach provides a safe-space for users." Critics believe a NPO would leave much room for com- mercialisation and large reve- nues. Bonello says it would be a "messy" situation that runs counter to the spirit of a com- munity-based approach where associations "understand the needs and wants of the users... but unfortunately we are seeing none of this." Even criminal defence lawyer Franco Debono believes the government has placed the cart before the horse on recreation- al cannabis. "You cannot make possession of the substance le- gal, when there is no legal out- fit from where to buy it from. If the State decides on legalising possession of the substance, it should have catered for this." Debono pointed out the re- ality that while home-grow- ing is legal, not everybody who consumes cannabis will grow their own product. "We're in a situation where the authorities have to close their eye to an il- legality, where people are still buying their cannabis illegally. Whichever way you look at it, it's wrong, and it is unfair." Debono said the government's legal framework had now cre- ated a demand for a product whose supply was still illegal. "If you legalise, it should provide a source from where to buy it from." In 2021, Malta officially legal- ised recreational cannabis and home-growing – the first coun- try in the EU to do so. The law allows the individual possession of up to 7g of can- nabis, and the growing of four plants at home. It also provides for regulated clubs from where cannabis can be sold to regis- tered members, within limits. The government believes the law will pull cannabis users away from the black market, by allowing the purchase of canna- bis from non-profit sources in the form of 'cannabis clubs'. Non-profits, under current legislation, would be allowed to grow cannabis on behalf of reg- istered members, while being li- censed and regulated by the Au- thority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC). But after the sacking of the ARUC head, Mariella Dimech, pro-cannabis activists have crit- icised the apppointment of for- mer Caritas chief Leonid McKay as her replacement. Home Affairs minister By- ron Camilleri has insisted that cannabis associations will be non-profit as promised. "The law is clear. I still believe that this should not be commercial- ised. We will implement the law and we have to ensure that this is implemented as approved in parliament." But the minister has not an- swered directly as to whether any business groups had sig- nalled their interest in running cannabis associations. "Take band clubs as an example: they make small profits at the end of the year, but they are still non-profits. They do not make huge profits." Messy situation: activists fear business interest in 'non-profit' cannabis regime 23 organisations have called for urgent regulation over what they said was "free for all" use of can- nabis, saying Malta's recreational cannabis laws have no effective structures to cater to the law. "The recent developments sur- rounding the appointment of a new executive chairperson of the Cannabis Authority (ARCU) con- firms our strong reservations, that the government has introduced legislation with a major impact on society in a hurried manner and without creating effective struc- tures to implement the law," the organisations, which include Cari- tas, the Malta Employers Associ- ation, the Secretariat for Catholic Education, and the Independent Schools Assoiciation, said. "One year after the law was ap- proved, the perception that the use of cannabis in our society has become 'free for all' has dramati- cally increased while the struc- tures contemplated by the law to regulate are conspicuous by their complete absence." The organisations expressed concern that the government did not match its drive to legislate, with the complimentary and nec- essary resources to set up a strong authority to implement the law in a serious and responsible manner. "We augur that the Cannabis authority would be given the nec- essary resources to develop the appropriate structures to regulate such a sensitive sector in a man- ner which protects the interests of the most vulnerable members of society, particularly children and youths." The statement was endorsed by Caritas Malta, Malta Association of Psychiatry, Fondazzjoni OA- SI Maltese Association of Social Workers, Richmond Foundation, Kamra tal-Ispiżjara, Malta Em- ployers Association, Secretariat for Catholic Education, Anti-pov- erty Forum, Church Schools Asso- ciation, Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, Independent Schools Association, Gozo Tourism Association, Karl Vella Foundation, Gozo Business Chamber Dar Osanna Pia, Dar Tal-Providenza Fondazzjoni Pao- lo Freire, Millenium Chapel, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, Dar Merħba Bik, Kummissjoni Ġusti- zzja u Paci, and Fondazzjoni Sebħ. Schools, employers call out 'cannabis free-for-all'

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