Stigmatisation from society and the measures that Malta is taking to minimise this.
Cannabis is one of the world’s most commonly used recreational drugs. More and more countries and local governments have taken the step to legalise its use, both for medical and enjoyment purposes. However, cannabis users are still dealing, on a regular basis, a high level of stigmatisation from society.
Various cannabis users report discrimination in the workplace and in social contexts, having to deal with judgements or rejection from friends and family. Some of the negative stereotypes about marijuana consumers include being lazy, less intelligent, dangerous, and/or have something missing psychologically.
Results from a recent study from the University of Amsterdam show that in European countries where cannabis laws were most punitive, stigma was also the most intense. Logically, this makes perfect sense since cannabis stigma was given rise when laws around marijuana use started to change and shift.
The Concept of Cannabis Stigmatisation in Malta
In a recent open discussion about Malta’s approach to marijuana and its legalisation, one MP, who is also a doctor by profession, described cannabis users in the following way:
‘Don’t forget, a lot of these cannabis users, there is something that we call missing psychologically – perhaps they have a weak character, perhaps something went wrong in their lives.’
The above comment was said in the presence of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, featuring local experts, including Dr Andrew Agius from the Pain Clinic, ReLeaf president Andrew Bonello, Dr Martin Balzan, together with foreign experts, Dr Costanza Sanchez and Dr Fabian Pitter Steinmatz. The group got together to discuss the way forward on how Malta will be regulating marijuana on the island after the issued white paper from the government.
The said MP also went on to say:
‘So, we have a lot to do to invest and keep the youths active, happy and to solve problems they may be facing in their families, in society, in their peers – and you see it in the young ones.’
The foreign experts in the panel expressed their ideas about cannabis social clubs which were received by the following comment:
‘I appreciate it as a scientist also, but we’ve spoken of a limited number of a utopia thing, that if it exists, and you are providing it for whoever is there – but if you want to prevent the problems of drugs, we have to start investing in minors from going for drugs at a young age.’
She went on to say that cannabis users between the ages of 12 and 18 are on the line for heroin and morphine and that any country that has recently legalised the use of cannabis has seen a rise in their black market.
The MP has since issued a public apology for the comments that she made in this debate, stating that she was misinterpreted.
A Step Forward for Malta
However, this opinion is not everyone’s and it is definitely not the way forward that Malta intends to take on cannabis and its stigmatisation. Andrew Bonello, president of ReLeaf challenged the MP’s comments with regard to the black market, saying that each country has actually seen a decrease in its black market with the legalisation of cannabis. Bonello’s claims were confirmed by the foreign experts in the panel.
On the ongoing stigma that surrounds cannabis users, Bonello claims that people should stop acting like users have ‘needles’ stuck to their arms as this will only strengthen the stigma even more.
MP Rosianne Cutajar also believes that there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to the use of cannabis on the island, pointing out that people in Malta have, more than once, faced criminal charges and even lost their job over the use of cannabis.
Recently appointed in her role, Cutajar claims that she is working on proposals for a legislative framework that will overcome the stigma that cannabis users are used to receiving. She also mentions that there is nothing to be ashamed of in making use of this plant since even powerful leaders and athletes are making use of cannabis for recreational use.
Andrew Bonello hopes to see a time in Malta in which cannabis is not seen as something that is good or bad but rather something that is happening with proper regulation and control.
‘These people have normal lives, with a family, a work-life, and the only difference is that instead of a drink at the end of the day, they have a smoke.’
Malta’s recent white paper will no longer consider cannabis users as criminals. Those who are in possession of up to 7g of weed will no longer face criminal charges while those found in possession between 7g and 28g will be subject to appear in front of a tribunal with no court proceedings and be fined up to €100.
People in Malta will also be allowed to cultivate up to four cannabis plants for their own exclusive and recreational use. These plants are to be grown in a space which is not visible to the public and can only be made use of by people living in that particular household.
These new reforms, found in the recently released white paper, are a step forward in the right direction for Malta. Will we see a decline in the stigmatisation of cannabis users? We will just have to wait and see!