Just days after Malta’s Parliament approved a bill to legalize marijuana, President George Vella signed the legislation into law on Saturday.
This makes Malta the first European country to enact the reform.
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 as many as four plants for personal use. Up to 50 grams of homegrown marijuana can be stored at home.
While there won’t be a commercial market per se, non-profit cooperatives will be able to cultivate marijuana and distribute it to members.
Possession of more than seven grams but less than 28 grams by an adult will 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 will be referred to a commission for justice for a “care plan,” rather than face arrest.
Cannabis clubs that are authorized under the law can have as many as 500 members and will be limited to distributing seven grams per day to each member, with a maximum of 50 grams per month. They can also distribute up to 20 cannabis seeds per member each month.
“The entry into force of this robust legislative framework underlines this government’s willingness to make bold decisions by implementing wise and unprecedented reforms in order to bring about change and social justice in the best interests of society as a whole,” Bonnici said in a press release.
New legislation on the responsible use of #cannabis enters into force.
Here is why we are doing this 👇 pic.twitter.com/Krm569Ilec
— •Owen Bonnici (@OwenBonnici) December 18, 2021
In a speech to lawmakers on Friday, Vella reacted to opposition party calls for him to block the legislation.
“To date, the president does not have the power to ignore a law that was passed democratically by Parliament, whether he agrees with it or not, unless he has such a serious moral objection that he prefers to pack up and go home rather than sign that law”, he said.
“The head of state cannot capriciously create a constitutional crisis and cause instability,” he added. “There is nothing in our Constitution that gives the president the final say on a law, otherwise we will create a dictator who decides what becomes law at a whim.”
Tuesday’s vote to approve the bill was 36-27.
The legislation 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.”
A government notice on the new law’s enactment says that Bonnici, who serves as the country’s minister for equality, research and innovation, will be responsible for implementing it.
Malta, the smallest member nation of the European Union, has beaten out several other countries in the region where legalization could also 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.