European Cannabis Reform Starts in Malta

Stephen Andrews
15 Dec 2021

Malta, the smallest country within the European Union (EU), becomes the first country in Europe to legalize cannabis for personal use. Cannabis is decriminalized in some countries in the EU, but Malta is the first to legalize recreational use of the plant and home cultivation of up to four plants.

The Maltese parliament approved the new bill on Tuesday (Dec 14), outracing the government of Luxembourg, which was previously anticipated to become the first within the EU to introduce a fully legal cannabis market. Luxembourg and Germany are expected to upgrade cannabis legislation early next year, while Italy will decide whether to legalize recreational use for adults in a national referendum. The Netherlands and Switzerland may also follow suit shortly.

Broader cannabis reform in Europe will put the region shoulder to shoulder with other legal markets like CanadaMexico, and the 18 US states where recreational use is regulated. 

The small island country in the Mediterranean sea, Malta, will allow those aged 18 and above to possess up to seven grams of marijuana. If a person is caught owning up to 28 grams, it equates to a fine of €50-€100 (roughly $56-$112), without the fear of a criminal record. 

The new law in Malta also permits the cultivation of up to four cannabis plants at home, which needs to be concealed from the public. A person can keep as much as 50g of dried product in storage.

Overall, the Maltese approach regulates the responsible use of weed and protects consumers from substance abuse. Here are some more highlights from the new legislation:

  • A young person who's not 18 yet, found in possession of weed, will not get arrested; a commission for justice will recommend a care plan for the youngster instead. 
  • Adults who consume cannabis in the presence of a child can earn a fine of up to €500 (about $563).
  • Consumption is restricted to private premises, but if a person has medical authorization, they can use cannabis in public.
  • Homegrowing is legal for personal use, as is cultivation in non-profit cannabis clubs that have a network of users to which the pot is then distributed in a closed circle. A similar practice is tolerated in the Netherlands and Spain. 
  • Criminal records of people charged for possession of cannabis under old drugs law will be deleted. 

Malta's minister for equality, research and innovation, and one of the bill sponsors, Owen Bonnici, said that the government wanted to "stop treating people who are not criminals like criminals" and establish a regulatory system "to protect minors and society at large." 

Last month, President Abela told ministers, "We are legislating to address a problem and taking the harm reduction approach by regulating the sector, so that people do not have to resort to the black market to purchase cannabis."

Abela added: "We are dissuading people from smoking cannabis, while not treating those who choose to do so as criminals. Drug trafficking will remain illegal." 

The bill was not met with support by the country's opposition party.

Stephen Andrews