Laws and Regulations

Malta becomes the first EU country to legalise recreational cannabis – but what’s next?

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What impact will Malta’s legalisation move have on the cannabis market, asks CBD-Intel

Malta becoming the first EU country to legalise recreational cannabis in some form will still have a commercial impact even though the regulations do not create a retail market.

The legislation will finally confirm the legality of hemp-derived CBD products, something that was unclear before. And it will not prohibit the sale of cannabis – merely limit it to non-profit cannabis clubs.

The non-profit statute that the bill references states:

“Provided further that an organisation shall continue to be deemed as non-profit making notwithstanding that:

(i) it obtains a pecuniary gain from its activities when such gain is not received or credited to its members but is exclusively utilised for its established purposes;

(ii) it buys or sells or otherwise deals in goods or services where such activities are exclusively related to its principal purposes”.

It is expected that these cannabis clubs will operate similarly to those seen in the Catalonia region of Spain – albeit with the full backing of being expressly permitted in national law, unlike those operating in Barcelona and its surrounds.

Furthermore, Maltese lawmakers may have written the law with an eye to eventually establishing more of an export market. The country is already attempting to set itself up as major player in the production of medical cannabis products.

It now states that the to-be-established Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis is to “identify overseas developments related to cannabis use that are of direct interest and relevance to Malta”.

The new law, which will become effective on a date to be set by the Maltese minister for equality, also records a definition of cannabis that includes flowers, leaves and resin from the cannabis plant but does not include seeds or “cannabinoid products containing not more than zero point two (0.2) percent of tetrahydrocannabinoil (THC)”.

This does open a question about the future of hemp production, as hemp plants would seem to be included in the definition of cannabis, with only cannabinoid products being excluded.

These may be clarified at a later date as the Ministry for Equality has the powers to make further regulations for the provisions of the act to be implemented better as time goes on and potential issues are identified.

It will now be worth monitoring the international response. The microstate of San Marino was set to become the first European country to create some form of legal recreational cannabis provision but was forced to shelve its plans as a result of international pressure.

How both the European Commission and the United Nations respond to this will be interesting. The UN will likely add Malta to its list of habitual rule-breakers that it warns are violating international drug treaties on a fairly regular basis. This includes countries such as Uruguay, the US (because of individual states) and Australia (because of the cannabis liberalisation actions taken by the Australian Capital Territory).

It is the EC action that could have the greater impact, both in terms of Malta’s plan and the future actions of other European states in various stages of looking to legalise or decriminalise recreational cannabis such as Luxembourg (where plans are advanced), Germany (promised) or the various countries where some form of cannabis law relaxation has been proposed. A critical response from the European Commission could delay or even scupper those plans, despite Luxembourg’s progress.

CBD-Intel provides impartial, independent and premium market and regulatory analysis, legal tracking, and quantitative data for the cannabidiol (CBD) sector.


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