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Malta Becomes the First EU Country to Legalize Cannabis

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European Union’s smallest member state is on the verge of becoming the first on the continent to allow adults to grow and possess small quantities of cannabis for personal use. On Tuesday, members of the parliament voted on the proposal, and the president is expected to sign it into law by weekend.

Not For Profit

The language of the bill allows anyone aged 18 years or older to grow up to 4 plants from cannabis seeds at their place of residence. It will be also legal to store at home up to 50 grams of finished product. As for public possession, the rules are going to be much stricter—you’ll be allowed to carry only 7 grams of dried flowers on your person.

Personal cultivation will not be the only legal way to obtain the substance. The proponents of the initiative did their best to come up with a working system of legal distribution. It will be similar to that of Spain where there are numerous associations of smokers providing their members with cannabis.

It should be noted that in Spain these associations, also known as cannabis social clubs, have quickly morphed into a kind of cafes, virtually open to everybody, including tourists.

The Maltese government obviously hopes to maintain stricter control and not let social clubs turn into for-profit businesses. According to the law, the members of a club will have a right to obtain up to 7 grams at a time but no more than 50 grams per month. Some members of the club will be charged with growing the needed amount of cannabis for other members.

Opposition Was Fierce

While in many other countries and states that have legalized marijuana or only think about it the economic incentives play major role, authors of the legalization bill in Malta have always stressed that it wasn’t about the money. Instead, they have been touting the harm-reduction argument.

Owen Bonnici, the country’s minister for equality, research, and innovation, said in an op-ed in the Sunday Times of Malta that the initiative is not meant to promote cannabis culture or the recreational use of the substance. The government is still committed to helping adults make healthier choices. However, legalizing the drug may resolve some issues associated with illegal trafficking.

But the opposition wasn’t convinced. Malta’s Nationalist Party voted against the move, drawing on support from medical associations and the church. They complained that their requests to water down the proposal were ignored. Despite the strong opposition, the bill passed in the Parliament with 36 votes in favor and 27 against.

Playing Into the Hands of Albanian Mafia?

The critics of the new law also express doubts that it will help curb illegal trafficking. If anything, they insist, it can make life easier for organized crime.

It is doubtful that any substantial percentage of cannabis users will decide to grow their own supply. On the one hand, it’s relatively simple, and a modern strain of cannabis grown from Gorilla Glue seeds for example can easily bring the 50 grams permitted by the law. On the other, it’s even easier to buy from someone else, and with laxer possession standards, the police will find it much harder to control illegal trafficking.

Currently, the black market in Malta is dominated by Albanian gangs that smuggle cannabis through Sicily. They cultivate the plant in remote mountainous regions from Tropoje to Nivica, but have also created a network of grow operations in warehouses throughout Europe.

Despite many high-profile busts of drug-trafficking rings in recent years, the police in Malta admit that the majority of illegal shipments find their way into the country. It remains to be seen whether criminal organizations find their place in the cracks of the new legal system or lose their profits and move elsewhere.

More Legalization Efforts Expected in EU Next Year

With its legalization initiative, Malta has beaten Luxemburg at the post, another tiny European state that wanted to be the first to enact reform. Now, Luxemburg will probably do it in 2022.

And, more importantly, the new ruling coalition in Germany has announced its plans to legalize the adult use of cannabis and regulate and tax its sales in the nearest future. When enacted, the proposed law will create the largest legal market in the world, surpassing in size both Canada and California.

Switzerland has also announced similar plans for 2022.

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BDC 318 : Jul 2024