Malta Becomes First EU Nation to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis
Eliminating criminal penalties and the black market key reasons for the bill passing legislation.
Several European nations have vied to bring fully legal cannabis to their citizens this decade. Germany’s new governing coalition pledges to bring a fully regulated cannabis industry to its country, while neighboring Luxembourg announced in October that it would be “the first European nation to legalize the growing and selling of cannabis.” However, it appears that the tiny island nation of Malta has beaten them to the legislative punch. And while there is no industry component to the country’s laws as of yet, possession of up to five grams is now perfectly legal, as is homegrow of up to four plants. All in a country where divorce has only been legal for its citizens since 2011, so if Malta can do it, any country can.
When asked, the Maltese minister for equality, research and innovation Owen Bonnici, who introduced the bill signed by President George Vella on December 18th, referred to the bill and the now-legalized regime as “a model for harm reduction” to the New York Times. In particular, the government cited eliminating criminal penalties for simple consumption and eliminating the black market as key reasons for passing the legislation.
Similar to the early days of medical marijuana in California, cannabis users who would rather have someone else grow and prepare the plant for them can buy it from non-profit “clubs.” These clubs will work similar to California’s collectives, where club members can both grow and sell cannabis to each other. Only a club’s members can buy cannabis from their outlets, and each club’s membership is capped at 500 members. Members can buy up to seven grams from their club at a time, and they are limited to 50 grams in a month.
By design, these non-profit groups do not constitute a cannabis industry per se, since their ability to grow their businesses is legally capped. However, there will be a government regulatory body, the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis, that will serve as a regulatory force. Penalties still exist for certain types of possession: for instance, possession of cannabis over 5 grams, but under 28 grams, will result in fines between 50-100 Euros. Smoking or consuming in public is still illegal, and the age limit to possess cannabis is capped at 18. Cannabis clubs also cannot be closer than 250 meters from schools and youth centers as well.
Disputes over the law, which passed the country’s Parliament by a vote of 36-27, were fierce, and some even recommended that the President not sign the bill (he demurred, stating that not to do so would create a constitutional crisis.). And sectors of Maltese civil society do exist that oppose the bill, such as the Catholic charity Caritas in Malta, which maintains that 25% of those who seek care from drug dependencies do so for cannabis. President Vella believes the bill signed creates a workable balance between those who no longer wish to be persecuted for consuming the plant and those who want to maintain certain types of control on what sorts of consumption and commerce will be allowed.
In the meantime, progress moves forward in other European countries. Besides Malta, Luxembourg and Germany, Italy has just moved forward with a cannabis referendum which would nationally decriminalize personal use and possession. And in the Netherlands, different cities are working to regulate the for-now unregulated and illegal cultivation and distribution channels which funnel cannabis to the nation’s coffeeshops.