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