Decriminalization? Not yet. But certainly, a more flexible policy on self-cultivation of cannabis. Last Thursday, Malta’s Minister of Justice, Culture and Local Government, Owen Bonnici, announced a package of amendments to existing drug laws, proposing to grant discretionary power to the court to convict or not a person caught in the offense of cannabis cultivation and able to prove that they were strictly reserved for personal use.
Owen Bonnici said the bill will be published after the Christmas holidays.
A judicial decision behind the evolution
This decision comes after a young woman, Marie Claire Camilleri, was sentenced to six months in prison for 6 mini-feet of cannabis growing in a pot. Owen Bonnici explained that because of the law, the court had “its hands tied” and had no choice but to imprison the accused for six months,” but now this law will change with the new bill.
“Under the current legal regime, in cases where a person is convicted of growing cannabis for personal use – which exceeds a plant – the Court is required to impose an effective sentence of imprisonment,” explained Owen Bonnici.
He stated that with the proposed amendments, the courts would have more flexibility as to the sentence they consider appropriate. “Courts could impose a sentence other than imprisonment wherever they are convinced that the culture is for personal use. »
Owen Bonnici pointed out that the amendment of drug laws concerns people who own more than one plant for their personal use and not for the sale of cannabis. Consequently, the law remains the same when the culture is not reserved for the exclusive use of the possessor and the sanction in these circumstances remains that of mandatory imprisonment.
A precedent in 2015
Drug laws had already evolved in Malta by 2015. Previous reforms include in particular:
the police can prosecute for small amounts of drugs (3.5 g cannabis, 2 g other drugs, two ecstasy tablets) but users will be liable to fines ranging from €65 to €125, or between €50 and €100 in the case of cannabis
the police can still detain persons captured with small quantities of drugs for up to 48 hours in order to extract information related to drug trafficking
repeat offenders, except cannabis, will be referred to a Drug Offender Rehabilitation Council. For cannabis, repeat offenders are exempted from appearing before the commission, regardless of the number of times they have the drug
the cultivation of a cannabis plant for personal use is no longer punishable by mandatory or conditional sentences, and doctors may prescribe cannabis in the medicinal form if there is no other viable alternative
Owen Bonnici explained that as a result of the 2015 reforms, people caught with a small number of drugs (simple possession) are brought before a Commissioner of Justice rather than the courthouses. “Between April 2015 and December 1, 2019, 3,064 people appeared before the Commissioner instead of the courthouses,” Bonnici said. He reported that 108 of these cases had been referred for rehabilitation under the aegis of the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board.
He pointed out that the reform also offers a second chance to those who are prosecuted for more serious drug offenses if it is proven that the people concerned are victims of drug addiction and that they intend to stop the habit.