Malta’s Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC) has updated its pioneering regulatory framework for adult-use cannabis following widespread criticism from stakeholders.
In a press conference in mid-May, Malta’s Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, Rebecca Buttigieg, and the head of ARUC, Leonid McKay, laid out the new set of ‘fine-tuned’ rules, which sought to address a number of issues as part of an ongoing ‘stakeholder consultation process’.
The pair also revealed that seven applications by would-be cannabis associations have now been submitted, while 11 names for associations have now been reserved, suggesting more applications are on the way.
While stakeholders have praised ARUC for remaining flexible and taking feedback onboard on some issues, they argue that many ‘grassroots community members and legacy growers are still finding it next to impossible’ to set up associations.
Following the press briefing on Thursday, May 18, ARUC published its updated regulatory framework on May 23.
In April, Business of Cannabis reported that many local stakeholders were complaining that ARUC had ‘shot themselves in the foot’, and that the current ‘barriers to entry were too high’.
A key concern among prospective Cannabis Harm Reduction Association (CHRA) owners was the format of the application process, which stipulated that all documents must be submitted at once with the application.
This meant that applicants were required to secure a prospective hold over their chosen property for the duration of the application process in order to be able to provide the correct paperwork.
ARUC has now amended this requirement ‘to allow prospective associations to adopt a modular approach through the application process’.
The next was in relation to the regulations surrounding the transportation of cannabis, which Andrew Bonello, President of ReLeaf Malta, had previously told Business of Cannabis amounted to ARUC treating ‘cannabis like plutonium’.
Previously, the transportation of cannabis between where it is grown and where it is sold was only allowed to be undertaken by ADR-certified individuals, the same licence needed to transport toxic, radioactive and explosive substances.
However, the newly amended rules will see ARUC issue its own certifications, ‘which satisfy all the criteria required to ensure that cannabis is transported securely’.
These include ensuring that transportation takes place only in the day time, that cannabis is moved only while in sealed containers inside a safe, and that the vehicle is temperature controlled, enclosed, and tracked.
Next came waste management. Initially, ARUC stipulated that waste product must be incinerated in an approved landfill, which received a major pushback from stakeholders due not only to the excess financial burden, but also to the environmental considerations.
Associations will now be able to simply compost their waste, though this must take place in a sealed container; the compost must be used as nutrients for the associations’ own growing operations; and a detailed paper trail of ‘all stages of the waste composting procedure’ must be maintained.
Last but not least came testing, which required associations to ‘test our cannabis at a level ten times stronger than medical cannabis is tested’, expected to cost ‘thousands upon thousands’ each month just to determine the quality of product.
Furthermore, there are said to be only two testing machines on the island, and the CHRAs are being asked to record levels for at least nine cannabinoids.
While ARUC said the testing ‘regime is being maintained in its entirety’, it said the ‘frequency and modality through which the testing shall take place have been fine-tuned to address the risk of each specific component of the testing criteria’.
This means that testing for phytocannabinoid profiles will be done ‘periodically’, rather than with each batch, but testing for things such as bacteria, yeast, mould and moisture will still need to be carried out by the association ‘prior to the release of each batch’.
‘One would expect many more applications by now’
While some praised ARUC’s willingness to respond to feedback and alter regulations to address stakeholder concerns, Mr Bonello suggested there was still a long way to go.
“While it is positive to see totally unnecessary costs being reviewed, the overall effectiveness of the ‘fine-tuned’ regulations is yet to be seen.
“Many of the grassroots community and legacy growers are still finding it next to impossible to be able to set up an Association. One wonders how the aims of tackling the illicit market and implementing social justice can be achieved when the needs of those who fought for this reform are being ignored.”
Mr McKay and Ms Buttigieg, meanwhile, said that they believe the ‘process is moving along very well’, and that the feedback they’d received from founders had so far been positive.
Furthermore, the Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms suggested that Malta would soon meet with other countries hoping to replicate its model.
The pair also said that of the seven associations that had now submitted their applications, there was a mix of cultivation practices between indoor and outdoor cultivation methods, while the majority had between 100 and 150 members.
However, considering that ARUC was set up over a year and a half ago, Mr Bonello said that ‘one would not only expect many more applicants but also a healthy number should be up and running by now’.
“However, we augur that the core principles of the reform are respected, acting in the best interest of the community with efforts genuinely focused on addressing social justice and human rights.”