The cannabis legalisation fiasco
Last week, psychotherapist Mariella Dimech was fired as the executive chairperson of the authority responsible for the regulation of cannabis, only 11 months after she was handed a three-year contract to head the new authority.
The authority was born after Malta became the first country in the European Union to legalise cannabis, with new legislation which allowed people to grow a small amount of the drug at home, possess a small amount of it, and allowed the setting up of registered associations to legally sell the drug.
The law was approved by Parliament – all government MPs voted in favour and all PN MPs voted against – before the last general election, in what seemed like a parliamentary process intended to get the law over the line before Malta went to the polls.
There was criticism both from the PN and from stakeholders and organisations who deal with people affected by drugs on a daily basis that the law had been rushed – and now less than a year down the line it appears that this criticism was correct.
This is because at the time of Dimech’s sacking this week, the authority she led – the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis – has done nothing tangible in the way of actually setting up a regulatory framework for what is mentioned in the law approved by Parliament to start to function.
A promise to have a regulatory framework up and running by April of this year was very quickly scuppered, and the latest promise is that everything will be in place by the end of this year. However, even that is already over a year since Parliament enacted the legislation legalising cannabis.
As things stand, because there is no regulatory framework in place, none of the associations which would have been licensed to sell cannabis legally can actually be opened.
In essence, therefore, we are in an absurd situation where people can consume cannabis legally, but they cannot actually purchase it legally – meaning that the legislation which was enacted by Parliament has likely already had the effect of pushing more people towards drug dealers in order to purchase cannabis.
It is important to note that besides acting as a regulator for the associations which were to be set up, the authority’s aim was also to promote and organise educational campaigns and training on the “responsible use of cannabis.”
The authority’s Facebook page shows that it was present at the University of Malta’s Freshers’ Week in October, but beyond that, the last post that it published was in the middle of July, giving a run down on what the cannabis law says and confirming that no licenses to actually sell the drug had been issued.
A forum was organised in April and a host of meetings took place, but it seems like since then any work in public by the authority has fallen by the wayside.
It therefore is particularly worrying that this reform has seemingly failed to fulfil two of its most basic aims: raising awareness about cannabis and actually regulating the sale of the drug in such a manner that people do not need to go to drug dealers in order to acquire it.
As things stand, all this legislation has done so far is put more money into the pockets of drug dealers.