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Malta’s Faltering Reform Is The Result Of It ‘Treating Cannabis Like Plutonium’

THE Maltese authorities have been accused of treating cannabis like plutonium, as its cannabis reform programme falters.

At the end of February, this year, the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis  (ARUC) unveiled its recreational cannabis proposals which are premised on health and aimed at harm reduction.

However, these have been branded a sham as they include overly-restrictive testing, waste disposal and handling requirements, bureaucratic recording mechanisms and potential fines of up to €10,000.

Those looking to establish a Cannabis Harm Reduction Association (CHRA) on the Mediterranean island will have to find several hundred thousand Euros to do so, it has been claimed.

Cost Of Up To €1m

One island-based cannabis businessman told Business of Cannabis: “The new recreational rules mean that you’re going to have to put at least €500,000, up to €1m, to get it off the ground.

“I know people who are pretty liquid who were going to buy properties to get an association off the ground but having read the rules and restrictions say it’s ridiculous.

“Everything from the security of moving the products, separate sites for storing and dispensing and only having 500 grams available for sale at any one time.

“They (ARUC) have made it really difficult to do it without a lot of investment capital. And many people who want to do that don’t have the money for it, and the people who have the money say they will not be able to recoup any cash back for a long time.

“They (ARUC) have shot themselves completely in the foot. The barriers of entry are too high.”

As a result of the strict rules around creating a CHRA the selling price of association-grown cannabis may top €15 a gram, compared to €12 in the medical market and €8 on the illegal market, it has been claimed.

No Applications Received

In December 2021, Maltese President George Vella signed into law proposals that permit adults to possess up to 7 grams, cultivate four plants at home and secure cannabis supplies from regulated clubs.

Weeks later it established ARUC with the brief of laying out a comprehensive path for implementing these plans.

These were published at the end of February, this year, with those interested in establishing a CHRA asked to apply for licences. None have been received, so far, Business of Cannabis Europe understands.

The detailed rules have come under-fire from across the board. There are only said to be two testing machines on the island and the CHRA’s are being asked to record levels for at least nine cannabinoids.

One observer speaking to Lovin Malta said: “We’ve been asked to test our cannabis at a level ten times stronger than medical cannabis is tested… if an NPO (non-profit organisation) has eight strains, and it costs an addition €2,500 to do the test, we are looking at thousands upon thousands each and every month just to test the quality.”

Restrictive Rules

There are also issues around transportation and waste disposal rules which are as stringent as those for moving fuel, gas and fireworks.

The CHRA’s can vary in size from 50 members up to 500 members with an annual registration fee for the smaller ones of £1,000 and the larger ones of €26,000.

The CHRA’s will be required to contribute 5% of their annual income to a harm reduction fund and 10% of their accumulated income to a community projects fund, both of which are managed by ARUC.

Those selling cannabis to non-members or minors will be fined up to €10,000. Regardless of size, all associations must keep detailed records of each cannabis cultivation cycle and submit a quarterly report to ARUC, detailing their number of members, cannabis sold and cash flow.

Associations must also maintain a membership register that includes all personal data.

Association founders must have lived in Malta for at least five years to set up an association and anyone convicted of serious crimes or drug-related offences in the previous 10 years cannot set up or work for an association.

ARUC inspectors will carry out site inspections or audits and violators of the rules will face a range of sanctions including warnings, specific stop orders, fines and even the revocation of their permit.

‘Treating Cannabis Like Plutonium’

Fines for infringements range from €1,000 – for failing to submit a quarterly report or maintain an adequate list of members – to €10.000 for more serious infringements, such as selling cannabis that is not labelled or improperly packaged.

ReLeaf Malta, an NGO that has been at the forefront of cannabis regulation in the country, says the new regulations will exclude the grassroots cannabis community.

Andrew Bonello, President of ReLeaf Malta, told Business Of Cannabis: “As far as I know there have been no applications, so far.

“These directives are not what the cannabis community would have wanted. There is far too much red tape…and the grassroots community is being frozen out of the process.

“Permits are needed for many things including transport from the grow to the association and waste disposal. It appears as if they are treating cannabis like plutonium… it’s totally over the top.

“All these directives are what the illicit market does not have so how will the price of the regulated market match the illicit market? it looks like the objectives will be very hard to achieve.”

He said ReLeaf Malta had been pushing for a grassroots community approach where members pooled together to support the organisation in a not-for-profit way; one that would not require outside investment.

He estimated the minimum cost of the proposed regime will be well over €100,000 which is beyond the reach of such grassroots organisations.

However, he went on to say it could very well open the door to those with compliance teams in existing businesses such as entertainment or other psychoactive endeavours such as alcohol or tobacco.

Business Of Cannabis has approached ARUC for a response to these concerns and is awaiting an answer.

This comes in the same week Germany announced plans to open similar cannabis club ventures and highlights some of the challenges it will face in the coming months.

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