Malta Becomes First European Country to Legalize Cannabis

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Malta’s parliament on Dec. 14 voted 36-to-27 to approve a measure legalizing possession, cultivation and regulated sale of cannabis. Malta has been a European Union in 2004, which puts this deeply conservative archipelago ahead of continental leaders like the Netherlands as the first in the EU to legalize. The law allows people to hold up to seven grams on their person, and to grow up to four plants and keep up to 50 grams of dried cannabis at home. It also establishes a framework for regulated sales, and for expungement of past convictions.“It’s groundbreaking,” Equality Minister Owen Bonnici, who introduced the bill, told the New York Times. “Malta can be a model for harm reduction.” Conservative Opposition Outmaneuvered This is indeed a counterintuitive development. The overwhelmingly Catholic archipelago had notoriously been under the rule of a Crusader military order, the Knights of Malta, for more than two-and-a-half centuries starting in the late Middle Ages, and this cultural stamp is still very much in evidence. Divorce was only legalized in Malta in 2011. The cannabis legalization bill was carefully crafted to reassure the conservative opposition, and portrayed as strategy to undercut criminal networks. “We are going to curb drug trafficking by making sure that people who make use of cannabis now have a safe and regularized way from where they can obtain cannabis,” Bonnici told Reuters. Retail outlets will be confined to nonprofit associations, to be registered with an Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis. These association will be able to sell no more than seven grams a day to their members, for a maximum of 50 grams a month. Public smoking will remain illegal, and fines of up to €500 are imposed for smoking in the presence of a minor. Those found to be holding in excess of the modest seven grams but still below…

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