Malta has become the first European country to fully legalize cannabis.
President George Vella signed a marijuana legalization bill into law only days after Malta’s Parliament approved the reform in a 36-27 vote.
The legislation, sponsored by MP Owen Bonnici, permits adults 18 and older to possess up to seven grams of marijuana in public, 50 grams stored at home, and to grow up to four plants for personal use.
“The entry into force of this robust legislative framework underlines this government’s willingness to make bold decisions by implementing wise and unprecedented reforms in order to bring about change and social justice in the best interests of society as a whole,” Bonnici said in a press release.
The measure doesn’t include provisions to establish a legal retail cannabis market, but non-profit cooperatives will be permitted to grow and distribute marijuana to its members. These cannabis clubs may comprise up to 500 members, each of whom may receive up to seven grams per day but a maximum of 50 grams per month.
Adults in possession of more than seven grams but less than 28 grams in public face a €50 to €100 fine, but no prospect of jail time or a criminal record. Minors in possession of any amount of cannabis will also not face arrest, but will instead be referred for treatment.
Ahead of putting his signature to the bill, Vella responded to lawmakers’ calls for him to obstruct the legislation.
“To date, the president does not have the power to ignore a law that was passed democratically by Parliament, whether he agrees with it or not, unless he has such a serious moral objection that he prefers to pack up and go home rather than sign that law”, he said.
“The head of state cannot capriciously create a constitutional crisis and cause instability,” he added. “There is nothing in our Constitution that gives the president the final say on a law, otherwise we will create a dictator who decides what becomes law at a whim.”
The preamble to the bill states that its purpose is to allow for “a balance between individual freedom in the limited and responsible personal use of cannabis and other social requirements.”
Bonnici, Malta’s minister for equality, research and innovation, will now be responsible for putting the cannabis legalization law into effect.
The speed at which Malta’s legislature and executive passed the bill into law means it has won the race among European countries to be the first to legalize the plant.
Germany’s recently inaugurated coalition government has pledged to legalize marijuana and pursue a broader harm reduction drug policy as it enters office.
Neighboring Luxembourg is also considering the move, with a marijuana legalization bill introduced to its Parliament in October and a vote expected on the measure in early 2022.
Voters in Italy may soon get a chance to vote on cannabis reform, with a referendum on legal personal possession and cultivation slated for spring.
Meanwhile, Norway’s government wants to decriminalize possession and use of all illicit substances, while the Netherlands has launched a pilot program of recreational cannabis cultivators to professionalize the country’s largely unregulated marijuana economy.