Malta is set to introduce random drug testing for drivers of all vehicles as part of a newly proposed ‘zero tolerance’ policy.
The largely progressive new drug strategy for the next decade, which emphasises the need to ‘respect the fundamental aspects of human rights in that users are not criminals’, is ultimately aimed at reducing the use of ‘illegal drugs’ in Malta.
However, the inclusion of random drug tests for drivers and possibly in workplaces has raised concerns over testing accuracy and unfair penalisation.
Random drug tests
Yesterday, Malta’s Social Policy Minister Michael Falzon announced the controversial new measures in a press conference, alongside the release of the ‘National Drug Strategy 2023-2033’ consultation document.
The new strategy’s ultimate aim is to ‘reduce the use of drugs and their resultant harms’, largely by focusing coordinated cross-departmental efforts on trafficking.
To achieve this, a new National Law Enforcement Body composed of representatives from various national law enforcement agencies will be established, while ‘enhancing the activities of police’ and giving them new powers to intervene.
As part of this, one of the 30 actions set to be implemented is the introduction of a ‘new law on random drug testing for all drivers of all vehicles with a zero tolerance for all illicit drugs.’
While details in the consultation document were limited, including any indication on when this could be implemented, a press briefing yesterday shed some more light on the strategy.
The random tests will be done via a saliva swab, and will reportedly be able to detect whether a driver is currently under the influence of drugs.
Cannabis, which Malta moved to legalise for personal use in 2021, was confirmed to be one of the substances these swabs will test for.
When asked whether drivers will be penalised for consuming cannabis the day before being tested, Professor Richard Muscat suggested that this would not be the case and that it would only detect the drug if the driver has consumed it ‘recently’.
He added that there was no tolerance in the test, and there would be no leeway announced.
Concerns over test accuracy
While the details on these tests are not yet available, accurately determining whether drivers are currently under the influence of cannabis has been an ongoing issue in other countries, seeing many medical cannabis patients wrongly penalised.
A recent report from the UK’s Cannabis Industry Council suggested that a number of recent studies have found that these tests are ineffective at measuring impairment, with one finding no relationship between blood THC levels and driving performance.
Neurocognitive impairment is also impacted by the method of consumption, the report explains, with impairment associated with vaped THC subsiding after two to four hours, but lasting up to six when taken orally.
“The implications of being drug tested and convicted, given a criminal record, fines, up to six months in prison and a driving disqualification are insurmountable,” the report stated.
“Even if, following a roadside arrest, further investigations lead to no charges being made, the unfair criminalisation has still taken place and the shame, embarrassment and stigma cannot be undone.”
Following the implementation of the Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act in Malta in 2015, the possession of small quantities of all drugs for personal use is illegal but not criminal, meaning anyone found in breach are usually just issued a fine.
Later, after the introduction of Act LXVI on December 18 2021, the amount of cannabis permissible for personal use was extended to between seven and 28 grams.
However, it is understood that anyone caught driving supposedly under the influence will still be charged with a criminal offence.