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24/04/2018 Julian Delia General / Medical Use

Chronic pain does not wait for legislation

Time and time again, one of the most infuriating moments of being a cannabis activist in Malta is having to witness the imprisonment of people who only wanted to do what many other countries in the world allow their citizens to do - alleviate illnesses that are treatable with the use of marijuana.

Immediately the first case that comes to mind is the case of Christopher Bartolo, a case which we will never get tired of mentioning simply because of the inhumanity which he was made to suffer at the hands of a government that loves to define itself as a compassionate, humane and benevolent entity. Recently, another case that adds fuel to the fire of sheer disbelief was the arrest and prosecution of two men who were caught importing cannabis for medical use via post.

The case is completely distorted from start to finish – to begin with, the so-called bust amounted to a miserly 60 – 70g of cannabis, a trifling amount in comparison with the amounts that the police have seized in the month of March alone (some 54 kg in the recent seizure that occurred in Hamrun, for example). 

Despite the fact that both of the accused collaborated with the police throughout the entire investigation (one of the men, Mr Aaron Pavia, even had a medical cannabis card that entitled him to obtain his medication in Spain), they were still sentenced to a total of 14 months in prison, a 2 year suspension and a €500 euro fine. 

This is especially egregious when one compares the disparity of sentencing in the Maltese legal system – in February, Mr Rhys Spiteri was charged with possession of 3kg of cannabis and was granted bail to the tune of a €20,000 personal guarantee. As Releaf, we firmly believe that any and all prosecution of cannabis users is erroneous and a futile effort that forms part of the ailing war on drugs, so in this respect all the aforementioned cases should not even be in court to begin with.

However, if there is to be prosecution of cannabis offenders, why does the legal system repeatedly issue judgements that seem to be based on different measures? It is inherently illogical to grant bail to a man that was caught with roughly 42x the amount of cannabis with which Mr Pavia and the other man implicated in the case were arrested and charged for. This disparity proves the impossibility of maintaining this framework, and also further proves our point that regardless of how many arrests are made, cannabis cannot be properly regulated as long as it’s controlled by the black market.

Furthermore, the biggest point to be made here is this – what is the difference between men such as Mr Pavia and his associate and the multi-millionaires which have been granted a blank slate to create entire local industries such as Mr Apap Bologna, one of the key players in the investments made by giant medical marijuana companies such as Nuuvera Malta Ltd.?

On the one hand, we have two men who, had they not found means to obtain cannabis through what are considered to be illicit means, would have to suffer for every single minute of their day. On the other, we have a highly influential business magnate who is exclusively focused on profiting from the creation of such an industry. 

How is it fair to allow people with connections to literally establish an entire market whilst actual patients who are suffering on a daily basis are sentenced to prison? Some might argue that the only way to safely produce consumable cannabis is to leave it in the hands of companies that are bound by GMP protocols, and thus local cultivation or arrangements such as social clubs are best avoided.

However, when one takes into consideration the undeniable fact that people such as Mr Pavia are in pain on a daily basis, the need for personal cultivation rather than absolute dependency on medical marijuana companies is that much more significant. Furthermore, issuing licenses exclusively to firmly established companies automatically makes for a non-level playing field when it comes to other interested parties who want to contribute to the industry, and increases the dangers of a monopoly being established.