The 20th of April, nicknamed 420 or 4/20, may not yet be so familiar to the masses in Malta, but over the years has become a globally recognised counterculture holiday amongst Cannabis enthusiasts to celebrate the use of this alternative medicine. Marijuana, ‘ħaxixa”, ‘weed’, ‘grass’, ‘ganja’ and ‘herb’ are just some other names used for the psychoactive drug that’s made from the Cannabis plant, used primarily for both medical and recreational purposes.
If you rolled back the clock ten years and asked someone whether or not they smoked weed, chances are that they would quickly respond ‘no’ or shy away from answering at all. Even though one could easily catch a whiff of its distinctive smell in the air at local music festivals, beach parties or clubbing events across the island, the ‘taboo’ perception and illegality around smoking cannabis meant that the mentality of its use remained discreet and in fear of getting caught by authorities.
However, over the course of these last 6 years, Malta has undergone a change in the way its general public looks at the use of Cannabis and its underlying benefits.
So how did we get here? What changed about 420?
Well, while recreational use is currently still illegal in Malta, new policies were introduced in 2015 to decriminalise cannabis and reduce the severity of charges for individuals in possession of small amounts deemed for personal use. Just three years later, in March 2018, the country saw the legalisation of medicinal cannabis kick in, allowing family doctors to prescribe it to patients living with chronic pain or undergoing chemotherapy.
Last year, on 20th April 2020, the government issued its first ever 4/20 message, serving as a reminder of the current administration’s electoral pledge, back in 2017. This message reignited the national discussion, with increasing pressure from NGOs and lobbyists alike pushing for proper legislation on the matter.
This brings us to this year, 2021. On 18th February, the Prime Minister of Malta committed to present a draft law for the reform to legalise the ‘responsible’ use of the substance. His comments came shortly after two teenagers were arrested for being caught smoking cannabis in a hotel room on Valentine’s Day. The White paper reform was announced just over a month later on 31st March, proposing the legalisation of up to 7 grams and the cultivation of up to 4 plants.
Malta isn’t the only European state pushing forward toward legalising Cannabis. Other countries including Luxembourg, Portugal and Germany have all made strides to decriminalise personal use and continue discussions on the legislation process. The social stigma around Cannabis use is slowly changing and will surely continue to evolve as other countries follow suit.
For more information on the White Paper proposal by the Maltese Government in March 2021, click here.