Analysis. The new Maltese law is the result of the major advocacy work of the Releaf Malta association, which hailed the “historic day” in which “the Government has kept its promise to amend the current draconian laws and move towards a more human rights-based policy.”

Malta becomes the first EU country to legalize cannabis

Malta is the first country in the European Union to legalize the cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal use and to allow the opening of Cannabis social clubs. It will be possible to grow up to 4 marijuana plants and to possess up to 7 grams of cannabis in public places. If one is found with a higher quantity, up to 28 grams, they will have to appear before a commissioner of justice who may impose fines ranging from 50 to 100 euros. Consumption in public and in front of minors is also prohibited. The measures include the cancellation of previous convictions.

The rules don’t allow the establishment of a commercial system, but non-profit associations or clubs, which will be able to grow the plant on behalf of members (capped at 500), and give them up to 7 grams per day and 50 per month.

First established and developed in Spain and Belgium, Cannabis social clubs are also legal in Uruguay. In Malta, it will be the first time that they will be tested as the only legal distribution channel for products containing THC. This is a non-profit model that can limit the risks related to the excessive commercialization of a psychoactive substance. Clubs also allow the building of social and cultural networks that favor the sharing of experience and knowledge, promoting conscious consumption.

As demonstrated by various research, including by Forum Droghe, in these contexts it is possible to achieve a greater ability to self-regulate the use of cannabis and therefore to control its effects on the life paths of those who consume it.

The new Maltese law is the result of the major advocacy work of the Releaf Malta association, which hailed the “historic day” in which “the Government has kept its promise to amend the current draconian laws and move towards a more human rights-based policy.”

The issue of rights finally seems to have entered the institutional lexicon when it comes to drug policies. On December 10, World Human Rights Day, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which monitors the application of the UN conventions on drugs, issued a statement in which it recalled that the “right to treatment and access to controlled substances for medical purposes” is part of the right to health protected by human rights treaties, and that human rights must “be placed at the center of [national] drug control policies.” The Vienna office of the institution listed the known violations, including “arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, other forms of ill-treatment and extrajudicial killings committed in the name of drug control,” adding that “the global drug problem requires a balanced approach and respect for the principle of proportionality and human rights.”

After years of silence and conniving with the most violent “drug control” policies, the INCB seems to have finally changed its line. The previous presidency of the Dutch Joncheere had put on the table the need for a revision of the tables of the Conventions, also pointing out that the three documents “do not require that people who use drugs or those who commit minor drug-related offenses be imprisoned.”

These are significant steps forward from when, in the mid-1990s, INCB officials went to the Italian Ministry of Justice to complain about the radical 1993 referendum that eliminated prison terms for people who took drugs for personal use. At the time, the answer was “the sovereign people wanted it,” while today it seems that the INCB is more intent on self-criticism—even if it does not admit it.

But things are not changing everywhere. At its last session in early December, the United Nations Commission on Drugs prevented the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention from presenting the lengthy report coordinated by Elina Steinerte that documents the use of drug laws as a means of violating human rights tied to personal freedom. This decision was a concerning one in two different ways: on the one hand, it confirms, if there was ever a need for it, that the war on drugs is actually a war on people, and on the other hand it shows that the United Nations works in mutually-insulated compartments, especially when it comes to human rights. States that have ratified the international treaties have well-defined obligations to respect, which include more than right to health and are more stringent than the principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

The legalization in Malta and the aforementioned positions of international organization came only a few days after the 6th National Conference on Drugs of the Italian government went in the same direction. How long will it be before we move from presenting papers to amending laws that are violating far more rights than they are intended to protect?

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