Here, together, we are issuing this statement as our contribution to the public discussion:
- ESPAD (Sedqa, 2019) indicates that 12% of 15-year-olds said that they have tried cannabis in their lives. This rate has remained stable since 2015. In fact, there has been a slight decrease. This rate is much lower than the European average. This augurs well and indicates that when the policy on the personal use of cannabis was not changed, the rate was maintained.
- The 2014 Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act was an effective law and a step forward for persons caught with small quantities for personal use, who now appear before the commissioners for justice and are given a warning or a contravention. Due to the changes in the law there has been a drastic reduction in people being sentenced to prison for personal use unless on a series of other cases. This law has also led to dozens of people with serious drug cases and drug addiction seeking help instead of being sentenced to prison.
- In Malta there is a wide range and substantial investment by the state and voluntary organizations, on services for drug abusers. These services will be greatly strengthened through the opening of the Tal-Ibwar Therapeutic Center for Adolescents, funded by the Government.
- Steps have been taken in Malta in the field of medicinal use, through which one already has access for the substance if it can be of help to persons in particular conditions.
- Ingredients in Cannabis are harmful to the brain of a developing adolescent.
- Cannabis is a great danger to those at risk of developing mental health problems. In some cases it can cause anxiety, paranoia and psychosis.
- Cannabis is dangerous for people with mental disabilities and may continue to impair such persons in these capacities.
- Cannabis can cause “amotivational syndrome” where an abuser or a person who is dependent may lose interest in their studies, work or relationships.
- Prolonged use of Cannabis can lead to dementia later in life.
- Not everyone who starts with Cannabis necessarily moves on to other drugs. The gateway theory it is considered outdated in the case of adults but not in the case of adolescents.
- Whoever starts smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol at an early age (11/12), increases the chances of experimenting with Cannabis and continuing with other drugs.
- Not all cannabis smokers end up addicted to it.
- Cannabis appears to be the most widely used illegal substance.
- A recent study by the University of Malta (Bonnici, Clark and Azzopardi, 2021) indicated that University students who experienced greater fear of the pandemic, in a circumstance where activity was also restricted, used cannabis more.
- In the context of the increasing popularization of cannabis, and even more flexible laws, and current trends in use, the number of people requesting help due to cannabis is also increasing.
- The “Icelandic Model” is considered around the world as a leading model in the prevention and control of substance use in minors - this involves curfews; strong investment in sports and extra-curricular activities and even expectations from parents in terms of supervising their children. Not everything applies to Malta as a Mediterranean country but family time, natural high activities and discipline in the country seem to be basic ingredients for drug prevention.
- The Law passes on a message, and legalization for recreational use conveys the message that the substance is not so dangerous or risky or has recreational value. It can lead to further normalization of the substance.
- It turns out that a person dies every day due to cigarettes, and 20% of cancers are directly caused by smoking - cigarettes are legal but this does not mean promoting them as a healthy substance for peoples’ well-being. Alcohol and cigarettes are legal substances that lead to hundreds of deaths a year.
- If cannabis is legalized for personal use it will be harder to stop using it if you become dependent on it, as there are no legal pressures on the person.
- The Black Market like any other market adapts to legalization for recreational use by lowering the price or offering a more concentrated substance.
- When we look at what is happening overseas in this area we have to consider things well. For example in Canada one has to travel certain distances to buy cannabis from a “dispensary”. In places where there is a concentration of these dispensaries use increases. When we look at foreign trends in places where people can buy the substance we see for example in Uruguay there was a growing demand for the concentration of cannabis that is sold in dispensaries to increase.
Empathy and Sensitivity Towards the User:
As organizations we recognize that:
- There is a need for more sensitivity for people who use Cannabis.
- A person who uses Cannabis personally or has an addiction to Cannabis or other substances, should not be imprisoned or detained for use per se.
- That it is unfair to stigmatize these people.
- Strengthen the 2014 law in a way that empowers the Commissioner for Justice to see the cases of first time users (first time caught) – so that where there is problematic use a person is required to attend assessment sessions.
- That the judiciary has more leeway for people who are truly dependent and are caught with quantities over those established by law for personal use to not necessarily be considered as trafficking. This is where the quantity of the substance really is for personal use.
- Strengthen the discipline and enforcement of entertainment establishments to ensure that no adolescents have access to these places.
- Continue incentives for families involving their children and adolescents in sport or extracurricular activities.
- Encourage family / work balance policies and any other family strengthening policies.
- Carry out an evaluation of the potential impact on the well-being of society of legalizing cannabis for personal use in the Maltese context.
While acknowledging that not everyone who uses cannabis becomes addicted, and at the same time no person should be arrested for simple possession, as a society we must properly assess that which will most likely ensure the greatest well-being of our society and do our utmost to above all prioritize the health of children and adolescents, the family and the common good over other interests.