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29/03/2018 Julian Delia General

The reductionist approach of cannabis policy in Malta

If as Releaf we had to choose one particular moment in which our message was solidified in the strongest possible manner, it has to be that Tuesday evening when Marc Emery gave a brilliant speech on the hypocrisy and the generation-spanning issues that have been the Achilles heel of cannabis legalisation across the globe.

One of the points that was really noteworthy was when he rightfully pointed out, several times, all the injustices involving people getting sent to jail for growing marijuana. Specifically, we are referring to how he explained the way in which the very same authorities who dispensed these sentences are now suddenly inviting major companies to take over the market and monopolise the industry at the expense of entire communities of skilled, independent marijuana cultivators across the globe.

The case that originally raised Marc Emery’s interest in visiting Malta was that of Christopher Bartolo - understandably, much like everyone in the country with an informed opinion on the subject, he was furious at the treatment which Mr Bartolo had received in prison. But, it isn’t only this case which boggles the mind in Maltese politics when it comes to cannabis legalization.

A quick scroll through local headlines will reveal that the Malta Police Force is still actively prosecuting the sale and consumption of marijuana. The glaring differences between one sentence and the other and the general arbitrariness with which the laws are enforced begs the question – what is the difference between medical marijuana which is brought in by a giant company such as Nuuvera, as the government is in the process of implementing as a system for Malta, and the marijuana which is presently in our country and is itself being consumed regardless of the laws?

The government stance seems to envision a strictly controlled system wherein cultivation is not allowed locally as such but only the production of the oil itself will be present along with importation and exportation of said product. What is dangerously being left out of the equation is the far greater efficiency which would be present in the system if people were allowed to cultivate cannabis in their own homes.

This brings another question – why is the government so keen on ‘attracting international investment in terms of medical marijuana when logically-speaking the approach should be based on the regulation of the industry as a whole? With such a framework, the availability of medical products such as CBD-based oils will be in the hands of the major companies with the sort of capital to bring in such a product. This is especially worrying when one considers that recently CBD oil imports were being seized and thus patients who were trying to obtain their medicine had their access restricted.

It is this point which matters the most right now – we have people who need medicine and literal relief from their illnesses, and besides that we also have a black market which needs to be cut off permanently and not through half-measures which will only bring investment opportunities for a select few prominent businessmen in the field. The biggest asset which is brought to the people of Malta through the legalization of cannabis as suggested by Releaf in our manifesto would be that it would be an industry which people can creatively and openly participate in.

If one looks at states such as Colorado, there is an incredible variety in the regularized cannabis industry – besides the re-invigoration of the local economy and the state’s revenue along with the re-investment of that revenue in public services, there is a fierce competition in the standards of the cannabis products being created for public use. With such a limited framework as is being presently suggested, the market will be largely controlled by entities rather than the people who actively need it. Additionally, the government is ignoring the fact that nobody in their right mind would want to consume or somehow use marijuana that has been tampered with, and if people are growing their own then the risk is self-directed.

Time and time again, we’ve seen (not just locally, but across the world) how efforts to control the cannabis industry are inevitably destined to fail. Whilst this is a positive step in the direction of accepting the undeniable positive properties of a legalized marijuana industry, it may be a step that is overbearing when it comes to who is allowed to participate in it. In the memorable words of Marc Emery, marijuana is a crop that has been growing and co-evolving with humanity for tens of thousands of years – it shouldn’t be controlled by a handful of people, but it should be something that can, with the right education and knowledge, be successfully handled and safely used by those who need it or otherwise have some interest in the use of cannabis.