Patients in Malta can now access herbal medical cannabis from one pharmacy, but proposals to legalise non-medical “recreational” cannabis are facing considerable opposition.
In mid-July, one pharmacy in the southern Maltese city of Cospicua began stocking herbal medical cannabis. The two available strains, both of which have high THC content over 20 per cent, are being sold for 17 euros per gram to patients who have been prescribed the drug. The cannabis is reportedly produced by a German brand, but the available stock is set to diversify; the Maltese government has announced its intention to establish a cannabis cultivation facility in Malta, in collaboration with Canadian firm Aurora Cannabis Incorporated.
The legislation permitting medical cannabis was passed in March of this year, but Malta has seen other recent progressive drug law reform. In 2015, the country decriminalised the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use.
Nonetheless, the legalisation of non-medical cannabis continues to face significant resistance.
In mainstream political discourse, there is no apparent distinction between problematic and non-problematic cannabis use; all non-medical cannabis use is presented as harmful, irresponsible, and ethically wrong. Rhetoric on the subject is laden with moralistic arguments based on personal beliefs – as opposed to evidence-based research.
Even among experienced professionals in Malta’s drug treatment services, a moral distinction is made between people who use legal drugs like alcohol – who are depicted as clean, and those who use illegal drugs like cannabis – who are portrayed as dirty. This dichotomy continues to promote the false belief that the illegality of a substance correlates with its potential harms.
The widespread abstinence-driven ideological approach in Malta is not cognizant of why people choose to alter their state of consciousness, and results in the demonisation of people who use cannabis and other illegal substances. Cannabis is regularly identified as the primary illegal substance causing harm to young people, and this is presented as an argument against legalisation; peculiarly, as data from US jurisdictions suggest a drop in use among youths after the legalisation of non-medical cannabis.
This abstinence-focused approach ignores the use of tobacco and downplays its role in the development of a person’s problematic cannabis use. It also conflates the harms of cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids, despite the latter posing significantly worse health risks.
As the country continues to discuss “recreational”, non-medical cannabis use, a more honest and pragmatic approach seems vitally necessary.
Non-problematic, responsible cannabis users make up the majority of people who use the drug, despite what some treatment professionals would have you believe. But even for those who do have a problem with their cannabis use, discriminatory moral distinctions and stigmatising terminology can make people feel marginalised, worsen their problems, and dissuade them from seeking help.
Malta has introduce progressive drug law reform beyond that of many EU countries, but for it to legalise non-medical cannabis, it is first necessary for national discourse to be reshaped around evidence, rather than moralistic ideology.
Read more on Maltese perceptions on cannabis here.
*Karen is a Maltese citizen, with a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Mediterranean Security and a keen interest in drug policy reform.