December 19, 2021
While the European Union is generally viewed as one of the most progressive blocs in the world, its cannabis policy remains pathetically underdeveloped. Although the majority (16) of the 27 EU countries have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, none had legalized cannabis for recreational purposes as of this week. This move has the potential to turn the tide of official European attitudes towards recreational cannabis policy.
On December 14th, Malta became the first EU country to pass a law legalizing the use of cannabis for recreational purposes by adults. Under the law signed by President George Vella late this week, citizens over the age of 18 can smoke in the privacy of their own homes. Adults can own up to seven grams of cannabis and grow up to four cannabis plants at home.
Of course, there are still restrictions on responsible consumption: adults can be fined up to 500 euros for smoking in the presence of a child and a fine of 235 euros is imposed for public consumption of cannabis.
By giving adults access to recreational cannabis, Malta’s new legislation gives hope to those who have been punished for cannabis-related crimes across the EU. In a comment for the Times of Malta, the Maltese Minister for Equality, Research and Innovation, Owen Bonniċi, outlined the logic behind this step: ingesting cannabis of his own accord. ”
He further elaborated on Malta’s approach to relaxing cannabis-related restrictions, referring to internationally supported harm reduction strategies that “aim to minimize the negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policy and law,” said the international NGO Harm Reduction International. Bonniċi continues, “If an adult freely chooses to use cannabis, he or she must have a safe and regulated way from which the cannabis can be obtained.”
Given the urgent need for cannabis policy reform in EU countries, particularly with regard to criminal justice reform, Malta’s commitment to this progressive approach is encouraging.
This Maltese development is likely to be the first of many to take place in the near future, especially as the governments of Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany recently committed to legalizing recreational cannabis. In October, Luxembourg announced its intention to relax its cannabis policy to allow recreational use, although the country’s legislature has yet to approve the measure. Similarly, in October, a Swiss parliamentary commission tasked with investigating cannabis policy found that the drug should no longer be banned, anticipating upcoming legislation. Last month, Germany’s new government coalition (consisting of the socialist SPD, the liberal FPD and the environmentalists of the Greens) agreed to legalize the recreational use of cannabis nationwide.
It should be noted that all of these developments took place over the past year as the UN recently relaxed its classification of cannabis and officially recognized its medicinal use in December 2020. However, the UN still claims that it has “similar levels of abuse” and addiction potential to drugs like morphine and oxycodone, “which, frankly, is absurd. While there is still a long way to go in global cannabis policy reform, the EU – led by Malta – is certainly taking steps in the right direction.
Photo by Esteban Lopez