Malta’s Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill to legalize marijuana, setting the country up as the first in Europe to enact the reform as soon as the measure is formally signed into law—which is expected within days.
Under the legislation sponsored by MP Owen Bonnici, adults 18 and older will be allowed to possess up to seven grams of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use. Up to 50 grams of homegrown marijuana could be stored at home.
While there wouldn’t be a commercial market per se, non-profit cooperatives would be able to cultivate marijuana and distribute it to members.
Possession of more than seven grams but less than 28 grams by an adult would be punishable by a €50 to €100 fine without the threat of jail time or a criminal record. Minors who are found in possession of cannabis would be referred to a commission for justice for a “care plan,” rather than face arrest.
And the ayes have it!
The #Cannabis reform bill has just been approved at third reading stage.
We are the change makers.
— •Owen Bonnici (@OwenBonnici) December 14, 2021
Cannabis clubs that would be authorized under the bill could have as many as 500 members and would be limited to distributing seven grams per day to each member, with a maximum of 50 grams per month. They could also distribute up to 20 cannabis seeds per member each month.
The legislation itself says its purpose is aimed at “allowing for a balance between individual freedom in the limited and responsible personal use of cannabis and other social requirements.”
The vote to approve the bill was 36-27, and President George Vella of the Labour party is expected to sign it into law by this weekend.
While there was debate among lawmakers about whether to set a THC limit on marijuana products, they ultimately decided against the notion because “you will be creating a new market for the black market,” Bonnici, who serves as the government’s minister for equality, research and innovation, said. “What we need to do is to educate people and inform them day after day.”
@MaltaGov has #reformed the #laws which regulate the use of cannabis to avoid treating its users as criminals. We are not encouraging use, rather we are recognising the realities of our society and legislating responsibly. – RA
— Robert Abela (@RobertAbela_MT) December 14, 2021
Malta’s opposition National Party attempted to get Parliament’s Petition Committee to hold a hearing after submitting a series of complaints about the legalization proposal, but the panel’s chairman rejected that request last week.
The opposition party’s leader has argued that the Labour Party government’s bill is an attempt to shore up votes by advancing the popular policy.
Malta, the smallest member nation of the European Union, stands to beat out several other countries in the region where legalization could soon be enacted.
The leaders of Germany’s new coalition government parties announced late last month that they have a formal agreement to legalize cannabis and promote broader drug policy harm reduction measures when they take power.
In neighboring Luxembourg, the ministers of justice and homeland security unveiled a legalization proposal in October. It will still require a vote in the Parliament but is expected to pass. For now, the country is focusing on legalization within a home setting. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in early 2022, and the ruling parties are friendly to the reform.
Meanwhile, Italian voters may get a chance this spring to vote on a referendum to legalize personal possession and home cultivation of cannabis as well as psilocybin mushrooms.
Over in the U.S., there are several competing legalization bills moving through Congress. A reform bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee in September. Another is being finalized by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues. And Republican lawmakers also introduced a legalization bill last month.
A draft bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales in Mexico is being circulated among senators, with top lawmakers saying the intent is to vote soon.
Canada and Uruguay have already legalized recreational cannabis.