It’s been over half a decade since Malta decriminalised using cannabis, yet people are still being arrested for smoking a joint.
Since Malta’s judicial system doesn’t seem to have Malta’s 40,000 cannabis users’ best interests at heart – and politicians seem more focused on paying lip service than offering real solutions – Lovin Malta has created an A to Z guide of everything you need to know if you plan on handling weed, in some form or another, in Malta.
Got plans to smoke with your BFFs at the beach? Hitting 4.20 at home? Or even having a wake n’ bake with your partner in a St Julian’s hotel room?
Then you absolutely need to read this.
1. Let’s start with the bud basics.
On 15th April 2015 – just five days before 4/20 – the government rolled out The Drug Dependence (Treatment Not Imprisonment) Act, a progressive law meant to take Malta forward as several countries and US states began legalising the sticky icky for personal use.
While the legislation, which is found in Chapter 537 of the Laws of Malta, featured some good points – such as no longer making it illegal and punishable within a court to carry up to 3.5 grams of cannabis – it came with a laundry list of caveats giving authorities powers to still get you in trouble… and that’s a problem.
You can read the full law here.
One of the biggest changes that came with the amendment was that anyone caught with less than 3.5g of weed would be hauled in front of the Local Council Tribunals – the one you go to when you receive parking contraventions.
It is only if you are caught a second time that the tribunal will refer you to a newly-created Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board.
The board’s approach to your case, however, will probably not be too progressive, with the overarching frame of thought remaining that drugs are bad, mmkay.
2. What powers do the drugs board have?
Unfortunately, they can introduce several humiliating scenarios into your life.
If the board deems it fit, they can order you to submit blood and urine samples at their will; they can also appoint outside experts to assess your mental health or ensure you “aren’t addicted”.
They can also call in people from JobsPlus or the Housing Authority while assessing you, and propose a plan for providing psychological support for your family.
The board even has the power to restrict your movement if they deem it best for your “treatment”.
If you are lucky, you will be asked to pay a fine of €50 to €100 and sent on your merry way, without the fine being listed on your criminal record.
3. What should I do if police catch me with weed?
So, you are chilling at the beach with two friends smoking a joint, and all of a sudden police appear, saying they smell something in the air and are looking right at you.
The first few moments of your interaction with the police will determine the rest of your court case.
“When people call me to say they’ve been stopped by the police, the point I make is: don’t go into sharing or getting it for your friends because this can lead to serious repercussions and could be tantamount to the more serious charge of trafficking,” leading Maltese criminal lawyer Joe Giglio told Lovin Malta.
Saying things like “we are just sharing a joint” or giving information on where you bought your supply from will open you up to potential drug trafficking charges.
Be cautious, and avoid saying anything beyond the fact that you sometimes smoke at home, alone, with your own supply.
However, even better than saying anything is consulting with your lawyer first.
“Don’t rush – it pays to consult,” Giglio says. “By consulting, the person getting arrested can get a clearer perspective of what is going to happen to them over the next couple of hours.” He pointed out how often people forego consulting their lawyers during this critical moment, and oftentimes make “stupid mistakes” while being interrogated.
“You are going to be asked where you got the cannabis from, if you’ve ever shared it with anyone… and as soon as you’ve said you shared a joint once at a party, suddenly it’s trafficking and you’ve complicated matters.”
4. How does a typical police search go down, and how should I react?
Once police approach you, they might ask to search you, and then you could be taken to the police headquarters for further questioning; police have the power to hold you for up to 48 hours without charge if they have any further suspicions.
In these cases, the less you say, the better – though this might be hard as police will be pressing you for comments. And you definitely want your lawyer by your side while being questioned.
“If you are stopped by a police while in possession of cannabis, strictly speaking you have the right to consult a lawyer before speaking to the police,” Giglio said. “Oftentimes, police will search a person and find a small piece on them and will then inform the individual of their right to consult their lawyer for an hour before questioning.”
However, Giglio recounted how oftentimes, people panic about their family finding out they were found with cannabis, and make bad decisions.
“Sometimes, people who were arrested won’t want their parents to find out, so they just tell the police: ‘I’ll tell you whatever, I just want to go home before my parents find out… and do me a favour, send the court summons directly to me’.”
Image courtesy of Outlook – Releaf Medical Cannabis
5. What can make my situation worse?
Mentioning sharing or where you bought the cannabis from are definite no-nos.
But more than that, your surroundings can be used against you. Under the 2015 provision, if you are within 100m of a place youths frequent – basically, anywhere from clubs to schools to parks – prosecutors can (and probably will) use this against you.
The problem is, with Malta being so small, there’s always a good chance you are within 100m from a location which youth frequent. Even worse is the fact that practically any place – including, say, hotels – can arguably be presented as a place youths frequent.
Even more complicated is that its often up to the inspector charging you to decide whether they want to include the exact location you were caught at, leaving it in their discretion to pin you with being within 100m of a banned location.
“If an offence is committed within these circumstances, then not only is the 2015 law now applicable, but the punishment is actually increased,” Giglio said. “In Malta, it’s almost impossible not to be within 100m of a school, club of whatever sorts, place which youths usually frequent, or some social club of some sort, therefore creating regular situations were Chapter 537 will not be applicable.”
“Also, experience teaches us that usually youths consume drugs in places which they themselves actually frequent, thereby rendering the inapplicability of Chapter 537 even more probable.”
6. Can I grow my own plant in Malta?
Technically yes – if you stick to one singular plant, that is.
“Growing is a whole other situation,” Giglio continued. “The law says if you grow one plant, there is a possibility for you to gain the benefit of Chapter 537. However, the law may not apply if you have more than one plant or seedling.”
Oftentimes, when people want to grow cannabis, multiple seeds will be planted so that more than one seedling sprouts for a better chance of survival of a good plant – however, this immediately means that the law has been broken.
“However, with an amendment that came into effect in early 2020, if a court is satisfied that the plants are for personal use, Chapter 537 can be applied,” Giglio said.
Don’t panic, don’t give out any details and call a lawyer.
And definitely do not talk about sharing weed, buying weed or even anything beyond what was said above.
Prime Minister Robert Abela has officially pledged to present a draft law regulating Malta’s cannabis industry. This is great news, and there’s finally serious hope that Malta’s cannabis users will soon be able to smoke a joint in their homes without fears of the police bashing down their doors.
There’s even proper hope that people will be able to grow a small amount of plants privately.
However, no real timeframe has been given yet – so until the bill becomes law, use the above information well.
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Johnathan is Editor-in-Chief of Lovin Malta, and an award-winning Maltese journalist interested in social justice, politics, minority issues, music and food. Follow him at @supreofficialmt on Instagram, and send him news, food and music stories at [emailprotected]