A First in Europe: Malta Makes Marijuana Legal

The parliament in Malta voted recently to make adult-use cannabis legal in the country, making the island nation the first in Europe to legalize marijuana. The law allows limited cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal use.

Proponents hope the decision by Malta to legalize marijuana ends criminalization of people for smoking marijuana and reduces criminal trafficking. “It’s groundbreaking,” Owen Bonnici, the Maltese minister for equality, research and innovation, told the New York Times.  “Malta can be a model for harm reduction.”

It may also be the first in a wave of legalization in Europe. Leaders in Luxembourg have announced plans to legalize cannabis but its parliament has not yet approved the measure. German leaders also appear ready to pass legalization.

What The New Law Allows

In parliament, the new law passed by a 36-27 vote. It allows adults in Malta to possess as much as seven grams of cannabis. It also allows them to legally grow up to four plants and keep up to 50 grams of dried cannabis at home. The law makes smoking cannabis in public and smoking in the presence of a child illegal.

Bonnici, who filed the bill, said the Malta legalized marijuana system will take a harm-reduction approach by establishing a federal authority to regulate the sale of cannabis by non-profit associations.

For those who have traveled to Europe, the “first country in Europe” distinction for Malta might seem confusing. That’s because other countries, most famously the Netherlands, have largely decriminalized possession of cannabis. However, in these countries, which also includes Spain and Portugal, carrying cannabis is still technically a civil offense and tolerated rather than protected by law.

Steve Rolles, an analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, told the Times, “Malta has formally legislated what exists in other European countries in a weird gray area.”

Marijuana Legalization Around the World

While many states in the U.S. have legalized cannabis, lawmakers continue to dither over federal legalization while other countries move forward. Uruguay was the first, followed by Canada and now Malta.

More will likely soon follow. In addition to the movement to legalize in Germany, cannabis advocates in Italy have collected the signatures needed to put a referendum on the ballot to legalize adult-use cannabis.

By moving ahead quickly, Malta hopes to become a European leader in the production of medical cannabis, according to Reuters. The country has a head start, as Maltese leaders first approved production of medical and research cannabis in 2018.

Part of the reason for the change is the United Nations’ decision to remove cannabis from its list of most dangerous drugs in December 2020. Before the vote, which came on a recommendation from the World Health Organization, the UN had placed cannabis on the list for 59 years.

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