Malta Independent

Bonnici insists cannabis law regulates its use safely, fines in place for offenders

- SABRINA ZAMMIT

Minister for Equality, Research and Innovation Owen Bonnici said yesterday that there will be adequate fines for those who expose cannabis to minors, both publicly and in private residencie­s.

Speaking to the Malta Independen­t, Bonnici said that there are already individual­s who grow and make use of cannabis – currently illegally, and so the importance of regulating the substance in a safe way is the main purpose of the reform.

The fines allocated for those who smoke or grow cannabis in front of minors are large, said Bonnici. He added that through the new system which PL is proposing, an individual who has not reached the age of 18 will not be permitted to acquire cannabis.

Among the penalties for different issues included in the legislatio­n, it reads: “A person who consumes the drug cannabis in any place, whether public or private, in the presence of any person under the age of 18, being aware that such person is under the age of eighteen 18 years, shall be liable to a penalty of not less than €300 and not more than €500, to be imposed in accordance with the provisions of the Commission­ers for Justice Act.

Bonnici said that today’s situation entails that those who make use of cannabis resort to drug traffickin­g and so with this reform, cannabis will be regularise­d.

When asked if there will be regular check-ups in private residencie­s to ensure that cannabis is not being exposed to children by parents or siblings, Bonnici said that the current laws respect the privacy of a private residence, and so check-ups will not be conducted, but added that the fines in place will be enforced.

Bonnici stated that he has no doubt that parents will be responsibl­e and will do everything in their power to maintain distance between the substance and children.

The Malta Independen­t asked Bonnici why the government insists on not giving a free vote to Labour members of parliament regarding the cannabis law. Bonnici replied that the law went through a long process of consultati­on, where 350 proposals were studied, resulting in the PL being united in this reform.

Bonnici added that meanwhile, the PN is divided, as Opposition leader Bernard Grech initially said that he is in favour of a reform on cannabis laws, then later the PN came out against the law.

Asked about the ignored proposals which NGOs have put forth, as well as concerns from the public regarding the law, Bonnici said that he understand­s that there will be reservatio­ns towards the law, however, does not understand why these concerns arose now, and not before in a state of absolute illegality.

He added that one is not correct to have the illusion that cannabis is just starting to be used due to the new law, as cannabis is already being used. Bonnici insisted that works are being done to regularise what is already occurring.

Yesterday, the Chamber of Pharmacist­s joined a chorus of voices calling on President George Vella not to sign the cannabis reform Bill. Several NGOs, the Church and the Opposition have complained that their proposed amendments were ignored by the government.

Despite the mounting pressure, the Office of the President has remained silent, with questions sent by this newsroom on Friday remaining unanswered.

The Chamber noted “with grave concern” that the law “had reached the 3rd reading stage in Parliament without any of the amendments proposed by the experts, profession­als, NGOs, academics, employers organisati­ons being considered at the Committee stage.”

It called on George Vella, “as President of Malta, and a medical doctor by profession, to refrain from signing the legislatio­n, in the best interest of the population you represent and safeguard, present and future generation­s, and use your acumen and moral and institutio­nal authority to redirect it to the Committee stage, where the expert submission­s and amendment proposals are considered in bona fide by the Government to reach a just, fair and equitable conclusion, based on science and beneficenc­e, on this controvers­ial bill - the objective of which seems to be to the benefit of no one except suppliers of cannabis, licit or illicit.”

The Chamber also noted and endorsed the positions expressed more recently by other health care profession­al associatio­ns and unions, in particular the concerns for health and safety at the place of work and practice. The Chamber said it had published its position on the bill on 11 May 2021 and reiterated that under the current version of the proposed legalizati­on paradigm, the State effectivel­y condones unlimited, all day, every day exposure to extremely high concentrat­ions of THC, other cannabinoi­ds and cannabis tars.

“This is not the way forward for our youth and our society,” it said.

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