Malta is set to become the first European country to legalise the cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal use.
The EU’s smallest state has beaten Luxembourg in taking the measure, and changes could be seen across more European countries from next year.
People over the age of 18 will, under law, be allowed to possess up to seven grams of the drug and grow up to four cannabis plants at home, with up to 50g of the dried product storable.
‘Hard-fist approach against cannabis users is disproportionate’
Minister Owen Bonnici told The Guardian that his government is not encouraging drug use, but that there is no evidence that cannabis would push people to try other substances.
He said: “There is a wave of understanding now that the hard-fist approach against cannabis users was disproportionate, unjust and it was rendering a lot of suffering to people who are leading exemplary lives. But the fact that they make use on a personal basis of cannabis is putting them in the jaws of criminality.
“I’m very glad that Malta will be the first country which will put words in statute in a comprehensive manner with a regulatory authority”.
He added Malta is trying to regulate only to ensure harm reduction, but is avoiding criminalising people, which means under-18s found in possession of cannabis will be recommended a care plan instead of being arrested.
Adults found with up to 28 grams of the drug will be fined between €50-€100 but will not have a criminal record, and those who use cannabis in front of children will be fined between €300 and €500.
European countries are decriminalising cannabis – but not the UK
Malta will also follow examples offered by Spain and the Netherlands in allowing non-profit clubs to grow cannabis for their members, with membership limited to 500 people, each entitled to up to 7 grams a day and up to 50 grams and 20 seeds of the plant a month. The organisations will not be allowed less than 250 metres from a school, club or youth centre.
The news from Malta comes as the new coalition government in Germany recently announced it will regulate cannabis sales through licensed stores.
Meanwhile, Luxembourg announced it will allow adults to grow up to four cannabis plants in their homes or gardens, whilst Switzerland will allow people in Zurich to buy cannabis products from pharmacies and clubs.
At the same time, Italy will likely decide whether or not to decriminalise cannabis in a referendum in 2022, while Canada, Mexico and 18 US states have already legalised marijuana.
In the UK, cannabis remains illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell and those caught with the drug risk up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both – and the Tory government recently took steps to amplify the “war on drugs” despite a UN conclusion in December 2020 that cannabis is not one of the potentially addictive and dangerous drugs and has therapeutic benefits.
But some British police forces said they would not punish those who use cannabis for recreational use, and that those caught with less than 28 grams would be given a warning or a fine.