A stab in the back or a step forward?
The cannabis bill reform being piloted by the government is rushed and has only contributed to raise more questions rather than give answers. The discussion so far has been characterised by serious doubts on the reasons behind government’s resolve to enact this bill before the forthcoming general election, and the repercussions which this reform will have on Maltese society in general.
UHM Voice of the Workers is against any policy which in principle will promote addictions – not just cannabis. However, given that government is intent on legalising the use of this drug for “recreational purposes” anybody who is in principle against, still has a role to play. After all, everybody should have society’s common good at heart, albeit in practice this might translate to opposing views.
First of all, this Bill started on the wrong foot. Despite calls from NGOs including experts in the field of addiction to base its position on research and learn from mistakes committed abroad, government has forged ahead and presented the Bill. Recently, Scottish expert Sir Robin Murray was in Malta and warned that in Portugal cases of psychosis registered a 10-fold increase following legalisation of Cannabis in 2001.
The debate so far has been characterised by complete silence from the government side if not certain misconceptions. In this day and age nobody is being jailed for smoking a joint. Nonetheless, this Bill is being portrayed in certain quarters as a measure to safeguard young people from going to prison. This is completely false as this is no longer possible following the 2015 drug reform, and even before such sanction never used to be applied by our courts.
The real issue at stake in this Bill is the following: Are we better off living in a society which promotes the use of drugs (cannabis) as a form of recreation, while at the same time spending millions each year to prevent and treat people having serious addictions. This absurdity was showcased a few days ago during the inauguration of a new Caritas facility by the Prime Minister, to treat teens having a drug addiction. Such Bill is clearly in conflict with government’s own policies against smoking and alcohol abuse. It would be interesting to have the opinion of social workers who work among those suffering from any form of addiction. Is this reform a stab in the back or a step in the right direction? The truth is that this reform will only serve to normalise cannabis use, thereby directly or indirectly promote it among vulnerable members of society, particularly children and youths. Multiple studies have demonstrated that repetitive use of cannabis limits cognitive functioning while increase exposure to mental health issues.
Another aspect which so far seems to have been played down by the government is the impact on employment. How are we going to deal with employees who might turn up for work under the influence? Will there be certain categories whereby exceptions will be made? Where are we going to draw a line? What about the effects of the withdrawal symptoms which could be as dangerous as cannabis itself?
Finally, government’s rush to enact this reform by the end of this legislature is of concern. What is the need to have everything in place weeks before going to the polls? Are government’s considerations on this issue purely electoral? Is the reform primarily aimed at luring a sector of the electorate with complete disregard to the consequences? Haven’t we already paid a price for short-term political decisions or do we need to keep digging further?