Despite the legalization of medical cannabis last year, the legality of recreational cannabis is affecting both cannabis users and society at large. According to WHO, marijuana is the world’s most used illicit substance and is the most trafficked drug in the world, accounting for over half of all drug seizures worldwide. Malta’s Country Drug Report for 2019 by the EMCDDA, showsthat cannabis is the most commonly used drug for recreational purposes among 4.3% of the Maltese adult population ranging from the age of 18 to 65 years old, which amounts for a significant proportion of the Maltese population.
Anti-cannabis lobbyists commonly refer to the results of a 2012 Yale research study, which clearly demonstrated that in men and women aged 18 to 25, the use of marijuana was linked to increased future use of prescription drug abuse. However, this study failed to consider the genetic predisposition an individual has in the face of addiction, the impact of the individual’s upbringing, prior exposure to assault or abuse, and any family history of psychosis. Moreover, this study associated marijuana with prior exposure to cigarettes and alcohol. Still however, there is no conclusive research which has examined the above possibilities in relation to marijuana.
In fact, further overlooked studies have proven that the real gateway drug is one that many are exposed to even the early age of 12; cigarettes. Shockingly, a study by Lai. S, in the Journal of Addiction Diseases, 2000 indicates that teens who smoke before the age of 15 were 80% more likely to use hard drugs in the future than those who did not, thus dissociating marijuana. Furthermore, a later study in 2007 conducted by Columbia University showed that teenagers between 12 and 17 who smoked cigarettes were seven times more likely to consume marijuana in the future but did not go on to consume any further drugs apart from marijuana.
As a direct consequence of the partially decriminalised status of the drug in Malta , marijuana quality is typically of an insufficient level, purposefully contaminated with harmful substances such as rubber or glass to add weight thus increasing monopoly on its market price. Furthermore, the majority of Maltese cannabis users are unknowledgeable in necessary information including the name, species, THC and CBD levels, and other details about the product they are using, thus creating an environment of distrust and further encouraging illegal activity.
However, countries such as Portugal have proven that there is a foreseeable end to the war on drugs, implementing an effective system that quells illegal activity, and provides an array of services to reduce addiction across the board. The 2001 policy of decriminalisation made it far easier for the Portuguese government to offer services including healthcare, psychiatry, employment and housing effectively slashing regular drug use from 48% in 2001 to 22% in 2012, halting the black market, and fully ensure that individuals who were in any extent involved within ‘illegal’ drug trade were able to recover. This policy also means that possession of personal amounts not more than a 10-day supply is acceptable by law. Despite individuals not being criminalised if found possessing any amount of cannabis, said individuals are evaluated by the local Commission for Dissuasion of Drug Addiction consisting of three officials – a legal expert, and two either medical professionals, social workers or sociologists. The Portuguese system therefore acknowledges that individuals suffering from drug addiction are individuals with a chronic disease who require targeted and specific treatment, and not simply criminals.
In essence, the decriminalisation of marijuana is possible even on a local level, and there is no need to immediately take drastic measures in order to see it through. It is a necessary step to ensure that cannabis users are able to safely consume marijuana in a secure environment, without fear of persecution. It is also vital to ensure that cannabis in Malta regulated in a manner that ensures good quality, elimination of criminal and multi-national company control over the market, and to enable a better and more informed conversation about cannabis, its uses and effects.