Towards a wider cannabis consensus

It has been more than 10 years since the publication of the report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan. One of its main recommendations was to end criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.  

The changes in drug legislation approved by Parliament earlier this week as a result of which the possession of cannabis for personal use was decriminalised was a definite step in the right direction. This does not however signify that all provisions of the approved legislation are satisfactory. It means that the general thrust of the legislation is positive and acceptable. Improvements are however still necessary.

The legislation approved earlier this week is a radical change and as such there is still a reluctance in some quarters and sectors about it. This is understandable. It is however a fact that the decriminalisation of the possession of cannabis for personal use has been generally accepted. This is a reflection of the positive development in our society’s attitudes and should form the basis for the way forward.

The Daniel Holmes case as a result of which the cultivation of a number of cannabis plants for personal use led to a draconian prison sentence is too recent for anyone of us to forget. Until this week, drug legislation was out of tune and not an adequate reflection of what our society is prepared to accept.

The publication of the 24-page White Paper in March 2021 entitled “Towards the strengthening of the legal framework on the responsible use of cannabis” should not be viewed as an end in itself but rather as part of a continuous consultation process with all stakeholders. It has to be borne in mind that notwithstanding the sterling work of the NGO ReLeaf Malta on behalf of cannabis users there are others who, while recognising the urgent need for reform, are however much more cautious and would prefer that the required reforms are more gradual.

Ignoring the rudderless parliamentary Opposition, which does not yet have a clue on the issue, I refer to various proposals on the drug reform legislation which proposals were prepared by a number of NGOs and presented to Parliament.  Parliament was wrong to ignore these proposals and to steamroll ahead, notwithstanding. Such an attitude is not conducive to good governance. Parliament ought to have listened much more before deciding. This applies even if at the end of the day not all of the proposals made by the NGOs would have been taken on board.

At this critical juncture it is imperative that the drug reform is supported by as wide as possible a base. The consensus achieved has to be as wide as possible. This is essential in order to isolate those elements in our society who still believe that the criminalisation of cannabis users should be the rule.

It has been estimated that in 2021 there are around 40,000 consumers of cannabis in Malta. That is the current state of play after 40 years of militarised crackdown on cannabis use in the Maltese Islands. Criminalisation of cannabis users has not yielded any tangible positive results over the years.

The way forward in drug reform is to ensure that possession for personal use can be dealt with differently from trafficking. The legislation which Parliament approved earlier this week does precisely that. It can however be improved by ensuring that there are suitable buffers which protect children and vulnerable persons. This is one of the principal points made by the NGOs, who, to their credit, accept decriminalisation of possession for personal use of cannabis as a positive step forward.

Greens in Malta support the need for drug reform in general and specifically the decriminalisation for personal use relative to cannabis. In fact, the Green Electoral Manifesto for the 2017 General Election was the only electoral platform which presented this as an electoral pledge.

It is indeed unfortunate that Government and Parliament have squandered a unique opportunity at consensus building. It is however still possible at this late hour to remedy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 December 2021

Meħtieġa: politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman

Id-dibattitu ta’ bħalissa fil-Parlament dwar riforma fil-qasam tad-droga messu ilu li sar.

Il-manifest elettorali tal-partit tiegħi għall-elezzjoni ġenerali tal- 2017 kien l-unika wieħed li tkellem b’mod ċar dwar il-ħtieġa li nintroduċu politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman. Il-politika dwar id-droga illum tikkastiga lill-vulnerabbli billi tikkriminalizza l-użu tad-droga. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għandha tkun parti minn viżjoni iktar wiesa’, fit-tul,  bl-iskop li tgħin u mhux li tikkastiga lil min hu vulnerabbli. Dan m’ghandux ikun limitat għall-kannabis, imma għandu japplika għal kull xorta ta’ droga.

Id-dokument konsultattiv ippubblikat f’Marzu li għadda dwar it-tisħiħ tal-qafas legali għall-użu responsabbli tal-kannabis flimkien mad-dibattitu parlamentari li għaddej bħalissa huma pass sinifikanti l-quddiem.

Għandna nifhmu, li, kif ippruvat tul is-snin, il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga ma solva xejn! Kien fl-2011 li l-Kummissjoni Globali dwar il-politika għad-droga, immexxija minn Kofi Anan, ex-Segretarju Ġenerali tal-Ġnus Maghquda, kienet iddikjarat li l-ġlieda globali kontra d-droga kienet falliet u dan b’konsegwenzi diżastrużi kemm individwalment kif ukoll għas-soċjetà.

Ewlenija fost ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet tal-Kummissjoni globali hemm it-tmiem tal-kriminalizzazzjoni, tal-marġinalizzazzjoni u tal-istigmatizzazzjoni ta’ dawk li jagħmlu użu personali mid-droga mingħajr ma jagħmlu l-ebda ħsara lill-ħaddieħor.

In-numru ta’ vittmi hu wieħed sostanzjali. Numru mhux żgħir ta’ ħajjiet intilfu jew ġew irvinati ħtija ta’ din il-gwerra kontra d-droga.   Isem partikolari li jiġi quddiem għajnejja hu dak ta’  Daniel Holmes li dabbar sentenza sostanzjali ta’ ħabs f’Malta għax kabbar il-pjanti tal-kannabis għall-użu tiegħu.  Ma għamel ħsara lil ħadd, imma spiċċa jerfa’ fuq spallejh sentenza twila ta’ ħabs. Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ inġustizzja kriminali.

Il-proposti li presentement hemm quddiem il-Parlament huma limitati għall-kannabis, avolja fost ir-responsabbiltajiet tal-Awtorità dwar l-Użu Responsabbli tal-Kannabis hu emfasizzat li din l-Awtorità tkun tista’ “tipparteċipa fil-proċess nazzjonali tal-ippjanar dwar il-politika soċjali u l-politika dwar il-mediċini perikolużi”. Hu possibli li l-leġislatur għandu pjani oħra f’moħħu għall-futur, imma dawn, s’issa għadhom mhux magħrufa.

Il-proposta għad-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis tagħmel sens f’kuntest ta’ politika olistika dwar id-droga li ma tibqax tikkonsidra l-użu tad-droga f’kuntest kriminali imma f’kuntest soċjo-mediku. Dan jirrikjedi iktar ħsieb, analiżi kif ukoll studji dwar impatti kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis għandha tkun  ikkunsidrata bħala parti minn politika dwar id-droga koerenti, b’wiċċ uman li tiddikriminalizza l-użu tad-drogi kollha.  

Min jagħmel użu okkażjonali tad-droga m’għandux ikun ikkunsidrata bħala kriminal. Il-vittmi u dawk dipendenti mid-droga għandhom bżonn l-għajnuna permezz ta’ esperti mħarrġa inkluż l-għajnuna medika kemm u kif meħtieġ.  

Il-Portugall mexa f’din it-triq u tul is-snin kellu success konsiderevoli li bħala riżultat tiegħu naqas l-użu ta’ kull tip ta’ droga kif ukoll naqset l-inċidenza tal-HIV.  Irridu nfasslu l-mixja tagħna biex nindirizzaw sewwa b’mod koerenti l-użu tad-droga f’pajjiżna.  

Il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għamlet ħsara ferm iżjed mid-droga innifisha. Ir-riżorsi tal-istat għandhom jintużaw biex intejbu l-ħajjiet tan-nies u mhux biex ikunu ikkastigati dawk li jeħtieġu l-għajnuna tagħna!  Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni u r-regolamentazzjoni tal-kannabis għandha tkun l-ewwel pass f’dan il-proċess.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Novembru 2021

Wanted: a drug policy with a human face

The current debate on drug reform, in parliament, is long overdue.

My party’s electoral platform for the 2017 general election was the only one which clearly and unequivocally spoke in favour of introducing a drug policy with a human face. Current drug policy punishes the vulnerable through the criminalisation of the use of drugs. Decriminalisation of drug use should be part of a long-term vision that aims to help and not punish the vulnerable.  This should not be limited to cannabis but should encompass all drug use.

The White Paper published last March on the strengthening of the legal framework relative to the responsible use of cannabis together with the parliamentary debate currently in progress are welcome first steps in this direction.

It is about time that we realise that, as proven over the years, considering drug use as a crime has not led to any significant result. It was in 2011 that the seminal Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan declared that the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

Foremost among the recommendations of the Global Commission was the end of criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.

The number of victims is substantial. Many lives have been lost or ruined as a result of this war on drugs. A specific person which comes to mind is Daniel Holmes who was sentenced to a substantial prison term in Malta for growing his own cannabis plants. He harmed no one, yet he was made to shoulder a heavy prison sentence. This is criminal injustice at its worst.

The proposals currently before Parliament are limited to the consideration of cannabis, even though amongst the functions of the proposed Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis one finds that it may “participate in the national planning process relating to social policy and dangerous drugs policy”. Possibly the legislator has some other plans which, however, are so far not known.

The proposed decriminalisation of cannabis use makes sense within the context of an holistic drugs policy which would shift the emphasis on addressing drug use from one based on criminal law to a socio-medical model. This requires much more thought, analysis and consideration of studies and impact assessments carried out both in Malta and abroad. It cannot remain on its own but needs to form part of a coherent drugs policy with a human face which decriminalises all drug use.

Those who occasionally make use of drugs should not be considered as criminals. Victims and those who become addicted as a result of more than an occasional use of drugs should be offered adequate support, through the assistance of trained social workers as well as medical assistance whenever this is required.

Portugal has followed this path and over the years has had a considerable success in reducing use of heavy drugs and HIV.  We have to design our own path towards addressing the uptake of drugs.

The criminalisation of drug use has ruined more lives than drug use itself. It is about time that we use the resources of the state to improve lives and not to punish those who need our help!  The decriminalisation and regulation of cannabis should be just the first step in such a process.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2021

Il-Kunsill tal-Għarb u l-cannabis

epa02310452 A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern Israeli town of Safed on 31 August 2010. In conjunction with Israel's Health Ministry, the company currently distributes cannabis or Marijuana for medicinal purposes to over 1,800 people to help relieve pain caused by various health conditions. EPA/ABIR SULTAN ISRAEL OUT

Qrajna l-bieraħ li l-Kunsill tal-Għarb qed jikkunsidra li jieħu passi legali kontra omm Daniel Holmes wara li hi għaddiet kumment dwar il-fejqan ta’ diversi persuni li ġew imfejqa minn Frenċ tal-Għarb. Omm Daniel Holmes kienet ikkwotata li qalet li issa hu magħruf li dan il-fejqan sar permezz tal-użu tal-cannabis.

Issa jiena ma nafx jekk hux vera jew le li Frenċ ta’ Għarb kellu konoxxenza tal-kwalitajiet terrapewċi tal-cannabis. Imma din mhiex ħaġa kbira, għax, minn dak li nafu dwaru kellu konoxxenza profonda tan-natura b’mod partikolari tal-ħxejjex li jikbru fis-“selvaġ” li kien jagħmel użu tagħhom kontinwament biex ifejjaq.

In-natura fir-realtà tipprovdi l-kura għal ħafna mard u kundizzjonijiet li jkidduna u huwa għaqli kull min jagħraf dan.

Għalhekk, kieku jiena, xejn ma neħodha bi kbira aħbar bħal din li  ħarġet biha s-sinjura Holmes. Jekk inhi vera, din hi aħbar li żżid bil-bosta r-reputazzjoni ta’ Frenċ tal-Għarb. Għax mhux biss kien qabel żmienu, imma saħansitra kien iktar avvanzat mill-Gvernijiet ta’ Malta tal-bieraħ u tal-lum jekk kellu għarfien ukoll tal-kwalitajiet terrapewtiċi tal-cannabis.

Wasal iż-żmien li d-dikriminalizzazzjoni tad-droga għal użu personali nieħduha ftit iktar bis-serjetà bħalma għamlu bosta pajjiżi oħra qabilna. Hemm bżonn li niddiskutu iktar bis-serjetà l-kaz ta’ Daniel Holmes u tas-sentenza inġusta ta’ għaxar snin ħabs li weħel minħabba li kellu fil-pusess tiegħu, għall-użu personali, pjanti tal-cannabis.

Li qed tgħid is-sinjura Holmes hu li għad baqa’ ħafna x’nitgħallmu mingħand Frenċ tal-Għarb. Anke dwar il-cannabis.

 

 

 

Qegħdin sew : jabbuża wieħed, iħallsu kollha

CCF

F’dawn l-aħħar xhur il-ħabsin kienu qed jingħataw l-opportunità ta’ xogħol fil-komunità. Is-soċjetà kienet qed tagħtihom il-messaġġ li lesta tagħtihom ċans ieħor. Lesta li tgħinhom biex jerġgħu jirrintegraw ruħhom.

Wieħed minnhom abbuża u ħarab. Qabduh ftit wara.

Flok ma ħa kastig min abbuża qed iħallas kulħadd: għax waqqfu lil kulħadd.

Il-messaġġ żbaljat li l-awtoritajiet qed jagħtu hu li kollu ta’ xejn li tipprova tibdel triqatet għax mal-ħażin dejjem jeħel it-tajjeb.

Hemm min jgħid li riedu jagħtu lezzjoni. Forsi. Imma l-unika lezzjoni li qed jagħtu hi waħda : li m’għandhomx idea x’inhuma jagħmlu.