Malta will this week legalize cannabis for personal use, becoming the first European country to do so.
Following a vote in Maltese parliament today and with the signature of the president, the law will be enacted by the weekend, according to the Guardian, meaning that in just a matter of days, the growth and possession of cannabis for personal use will be legal.
Those aged 18 and over will be allowed to possess up to 7 grams (0.2 ounces) and grow up to four plants at home – up to 50 grams (1.8 ounces) of dried product from these plants can be stored.
“There is a wave of understanding now that the hard-fist approach against cannabis users was disproportionate, unjust and it was rendering a lot of suffering to people who are leading exemplary lives,” Owen Bonnici, the minister responsible for the new legislation, told the Guardian, explaining the decision.
The new approach, he added, will seek to address this by avoiding the criminalization of any cannabis use. There will, however, be regulations put in place to reduce harm. Fines, for example, of €50-€100 for possession of up to 28 grams (1 ounce) and €300-€500 for consuming cannabis in front of a child. Under-18s will be recommended a care plan by a commission should they be found in possession.
It is thought that the new laws from the European Union’s (EU) smallest member state will inspire reform of drug laws across Europe. In fact, Malta will just narrowly beat Luxembourg – who proposed something similar back in October – to this European first.
Elsewhere in Europe, the tides have been turning too. Switzerland and the Netherlands have both recently announced proposals akin to Malta’s, while Germany intends to establish a legally-regulated market. There is a referendum on decriminalizing cannabis planned in Italy next year.
Across the Atlantic, Malta will join 18 US states, as well as Canada and Mexico, in legalizing cannabis for personal use.
This potential overhaul in drug laws across Europe follows the United Nation’s decision to no longer classify cannabis alongside the most addictive and dangerous drugs, and to acknowledge its potential for therapeutic use.
While decriminalization of drugs is considered by some to be the best and safest way of dealing with recreational drug use, it is not without risk and there is much for governments to consider.
In Malta, Bonnici says, much thought was given as to whether to restrict the strength of cannabis that can be used or grown. Ultimately, however, they decided against it.
“We had a huge discussion internally on that. And we concluded that if a limit [can be put] on the strength of the cannabis, the THC levels, you will be creating a new market for the black market.
“What we need to do is to educate people and inform them day after day.”