James Camilleri

Legal Officer, PKF Malta

James Camilleri is a Legal Officer at PKF Malta

Can a commercial Cannabis industry eventually overtake gaming in Malta?

Thursday 10th October 2019

Similarly, to other countries such as Australia, Canada and the Czech Republic, Malta has chosen to make it legally permissible to possess medical cannabis which is prescribed by a qualified medic.

However, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes remains prohibited. The shift towards medical cannabis in Malta came about in March 2018 as the President of Malta assented to the relevant law. Something worth noting is that it is the Maltese Government's intention to promote the cultivation of marijuana, thus creating a new industry in a country that is lacking in natural resources.

Thus, through the 'Production of Cannabis for Medicinal Use Act, 2018' (the Act), economic entities and individuals alike may apply for a permit to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes. It should be stressed that only following the obtainment of appropriate licences and permits can one venture into the cultivation and production of marijuana for medical purposes.

There are a series of steps in the application process of obtaining a permit and license. The first step is registering with the Malta Enterprise. Second and thirdly, is the ascertainment of being complaint with the Act as well as Malta's international obligations. Fourth, all regulations applicable to producing medical products apply similarly to medical cannabis. Finally, the Medicines Authority has to give the final seal of approval. As a newly introduced industry, the cultivation of medical marijuana can create added job opportunities. As well, through exportation and taxation another source of revenue is generated.

The use of cannabis has been a colloquial form of black humour, and it may be difficult at first to assimilate it with the prescription drug industry. The current situation created by the enactment of the Act is laudable for being an improvement towards a more sensitive approach of drug control. Yet it cannot pass unnoticed that this reform does not go all the way. A person caught with up to 3.5 grams of cannabis is no longer considered a criminal but still faces arrest for up to 48 hours, possibly an interrogation and an administrative fine.

One of the latest buzz words in the beauty products industry is the ingredient called cannabidiol (CBD). As the name suggests it is derived from cannabis. It is not to be misunderstood that CBD has never featured in beauty products before. However, its presence has been gaining momentum. One of the reasons it is being marketed is as an alleviator of pain and a skin soother. This goes hand-in-hand with its declared anti-inflammatory properties which make them sought after for application on red and swollen skin such as in the case of acne disorders.

To be precise, CBD occurs naturally as a compound in the resinous flower of cannabis and when used in cosmetics as an oil form (cannabinoids) it binds to the skin receptors. This results in the soothing effect that reduces pain and swelling. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive cannabinoid associated with the renowned use of marijuana and although it is also being tested for the use in cosmetics it should be highlighted that the topical use of this ingredient does not induce any form of psychedelic properties.

From a comparative law perspective, some noteworthy jurisdictions are Colorado (United States), the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Uruguay. The state of Colorado in the United States regulates the use of recreational marijuana in the same way as the consumption of alcohol. In the Netherlands, personal use of cannabis is decriminalised. The maximum permitted is 5 grams and its use is limited to certain designated areas such as coffee shops. In Portugal use of cannabis in a personal capacity is limited to 2.5 grams and though decriminalised is still not permitted, with an administrative fine being a possible implication. In Spain, personal use of cannabis is permitted and restricted to cannabis clubs.

The approach in Uruguay is to issue an allowance for the use of cannabis in a personal capacity with the amount limit remaining unspecified. Within the European Union in general, a lot of police resources are still being used to tackle the cannabis problem. Regulating the personal use of cannabis does not do much to solve the trafficking of cannabis by criminal organisations. Fully regulating cannabis as is done with the consumption of alcohol and tobacco would lead to would remove the need for police intervention and allow the government to set up a tax system for recreational use of cannabis.

In synthesis, the proper regulation of cannabis should include: i) the right to use cannabis in a safe environment without fear of criminal prosecution; ii) safeguarding the quality of cannabis offered in Malta is of a high standard at reasonable prices, and; iii) allow the public to be well-informed about the use of cannabis, both in terms of its use and abuse.