Several European countries have been jockeying to become the first EU nation to legalize cannabis, but the tiny country of Malta just beat them all to the punch.
Malta, a Mediterranean archipelago situated between Sicily and North Africa, has effectively legalized personal possession, cultivation, and use of cannabis for all adults 18 and older. On Tuesday, the Maltese parliament voted 36-27 on the bill to permit personal use. The bill now only requires President George Vella's signature to take effect, which is expected by the weekend.
Adults may carry up to 7 grams of weed on their person, store up to 50 grams at home, and grow as many as four plants for personal use. The new law will not create a licensed and regulated adult-use market, and all non-medical marijuana sales will remain illegal. However, adults will be allowed to form non-profit cooperatives to legally grow weed and distribute it to co-op members. These cannabis clubs will be limited to 500 members each, and each member is limited to receiving up to 7 grams of weed per day, or 50 grams a month. These clubs will also be allowed to give members up to 20 pot seeds a month.
Adults caught with between 7 and 28 grams of weed can be fined between €50 and €100, but minor possession will become a civil charge with no risk of jail time or a criminal record. Minors who are caught with weed will be referred to a treatment program, rather than being arrested. Adults who smoke weed in front of children can be fined €300 to €500, though, and anyone caught selling weed can still face prison time and serious fines. And anyone who caught cannabis-related convictions prior to the new law's passage may apply to have their criminal records expunged.
“There is a wave of understanding now that the hard-fist approach against cannabis users was disproportionate, unjust and it was rendering a lot of suffering to people who are leading exemplary lives,” Owen Bonnici, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, told The Guardian. “But the fact that they make use on a personal basis of cannabis is putting them in the jaws of criminality... I’m very glad that Malta will be the first country which will put words in statute in a comprehensive manner with a regulatory authority.”
Lawmakers debated whether to impose a THC cap on legal weed, but wisely decided against it. “We had a huge discussion internally on that,” Bonnici explained. “And we concluded that if a limit [can be put] on the strength of the cannabis, the THC levels, you will be creating a new market for the black market. What we need to do is to educate people and inform them day after day.”
The legalization bill's passage is especially timely, since pandemic-related supply issues have made it very difficult for Maltese citizens to find either medical or recreational weed.
Before Malta's surprise announcement, it seemed like Luxembourg was going to become the first EU nation to legalize cannabis. In October, government officials proposed a new law to legalize personal cannabis use, possession, and home grows. This law would still prohibit sales, though, and cops would still be allowed to bust people for possessing weed in public.
Several other EU nations are expected to implement broader cannabis reforms in 2022. Next spring, Italian voters will have a chance to approve a ballot initiative that would decriminalize the possession, cultivation, and use of cannabis and natural psychedelics. And Germany's new government coalition is drawing up plans to fully legalize cannabis and create Europe’s first licensed and regulated adult-use retail industry.
Switzerland and the Netherlands have already launched pilot programs allowing limited numbers of people to use legal weed in specific locations, but neither of these countries has gone so far as to fully legalize cannabis use for all adults. Portugal also decriminalized all drugs way back in 2000, but has not officially legalized cannabis sales or use.