Sometimes loopholes in cannabis laws provide positive ways for people to get around the legislation, but sometimes loopholes work the other way, limiting a right that they’re supposed to give. Malta’s cannabis regulation does just this.
The Republic of Malta, generally referred to simply as Malta, is a country made of a grouping of islands that lie south of Italy and East of Tunisia in the Mediterranean sea. With a population just shy of 500,000, Malta is one of the smallest countries in the region, and has the smallest of any EU capital city -Valletta – by land size.
Malta is a republic with a two-party system which is strongly dominated by the Nationalist Party and the Labour party. Malta has got some lovely beaches, beautiful weather, and is a tourism hotspot.
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Cannabis and Other Drugs in Malta
Cannabis in Malta is a narcotic substance and subject to the country’s laws on narcotics. This makes it federally illegal, however with a certain amount of personal right limits.
There are three main pieces of legislation that deal with drugs in Malta, the Medical and Kindred Professions Ordinance which relates to psychotropic substances, and the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, and 2014 Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act that deal with narcotic substances.
Interestingly, the illegal use of illicit drugs is not definitively recognized under Malta’s drug laws, however when proven in court can incur a sentence for possession or trafficking. Possession is seen as being in two categories: personal use (simple possession), and not for personal use only (aggravated possession).
How does this relate to cannabis?
The Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act of 2014 specifies that a person found with a small amount of drugs meant for personal use only would be tried before a Commissioner of Justice and generally receive a small fine if found guilty, the amount of which depends on the drug in question.
A second offense within two years means a mandatory trip to the Drug Offender’s Rehabilitation Board for further review and possible treatment. Part of the small amount of drugs for personal use stipulation is that a person can have one cannabis plant in their home without incurring a mandatory jail term if found.
Where’s the loophole?
The law states that a resident can have up to one cannabis plant in their home for personal use. What this means is that if a person has two plants in their home, even if both plants are strictly for that person’s own personal use, it is no longer covered under personal use rights. A recent lawsuit in Malta brought this inconsistency to light.
In October of 2019, Marie Claire Camilleri was sentenced to prison after being found with more than one cannabis plant in her house. She claimed it was all for her own personal use to deal with anxiety, and was even agreed with by the magistrate overseeing the case that it had been cultivated only for personal use.
That same magistrate claimed her hands were tied by the wording of the law that stipulated that over one plant incurs a 6-months jail sentence. The funny thing is that they are more concerned with the number of plants than the actual output, meaning one large plant could produce more than six small ones together, and yet still be regarded legal whereas the six together are not.
Some loopholes work out more positively. Think of Spain, and how cannabis clubs were put together to give people a way to freely use weed (within the confines of their clubs) by poking through some legal loopholes relating to personal use, and clubs, and memberships, and property and building rights. Unfortunately, Malta represents the opposite. Rather than getting away with a little more, simply having one extra plant, even when following the laws of personal use, is enough to be put in prison.
What about medical cannabis in Malta?
In March of 2018, medical cannabis was officially legalized in Malta, which was followed by the Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Research Purposes Act a month later with all the stipulations for growing, processing, using, and importing therein. Updates to the Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act of 2014 were also made. Apparently Malta celebrated legalizing medical cannabis with a 15 kilo import meant strictly for medical purposes.
The new updates permit doctors to write prescriptions for patients who can receive non-smokable forms of cannabis using a control card issued by the Superintendent of Public Health. Originally, the three main approved reasons for using medical cannabis were: to help with side effects from chemotherapy, for pain management, and for issues of spasticity in multiple sclerosis.
Does this include CBD?
CBD is an interesting one when it comes to Malta. There isn’t any distinction in the regulation between ‘hemp’ and ‘marijuana’, meaning that regardless of the THC level in the plant, they are being treated the same way. CBD – cannabidiol – is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant which has recently made headlines by showing up as a major contender for dealing with a menagerie of health problems like multiple sclerosis, pain management, insomnia, and so on.
Its lack of psychoactive abilities have allowed it to be accepted more readily than the entire cannabis plant, and in places where marijuana is strictly illegal, there will often be allowances for cannabis oils – like CBD – with only a small percentage of THC (the EU standard is .2%) in them.
Since there isn’t a distinction between the low and high THC forms of cannabis, CBD (and hemp in general) are left in a gray area. CBD can be medically prescribed, but it’s not been made officially legal. Most CBD products sold in regular shops are not licensed, and therefore not legal. But in a way, also not illegal to have. The new personal use laws should protect a person with a small amount of cannabis, so technically they should protect a person with a small amount of CBD oil. As Malta amps up its medical cannabis program, kinks like these are likely to be worked out, with more clear and specific regulation brought in to keep up with the changing cannabis world.
Malta is certainly not the most restrictive country when it comes to cannabis regulation, and it’s not the most lax either. It lies where a lot of countries do, in a middle ground, slowly liberalizing with personal use laws, or medical programs.
Legislators should take care in the future not to leave loopholes that will get their citizens in trouble (and bring negative feedback to their legislation), and to fix the loopholes that exist. It’s great to relax a little with personal use laws, but those laws should make sense, and not create more issues for residents who are technically following them.
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