It was going to happen. Somewhere in Europe was going to give. While it looked like it might be Germany – the current biggest European market was beat out by the tiniest EU country. Yup, that’s right, Malta just became the first legalized European country (so long as Georgia is not considered Europe).
Malta passed a bill which legalized cannabis in the country (save for a signature from the Pres), making the EU that much more cannabis friendly. No place is quite as friendly as the US though, where tons of cannabis products can be found, including a host of new cannabinoids like delta-8 THC, THCV, and HHC, which can be bought, even outside of dispensaries. The holidays are a great time to stock up on your favorite products, so go ahead and check our deals, to make everyone on your Christmas list happy this year.
Malta set to become the first legalized European country
On December 14th, 2021, Bill No. 241 passed in Malta’s parliament legalizing the cultivation and use of cannabis recreationally. The vote ran 36 in favor, 27 against, and the new law stipulates that adults (18+) will be able to carry up to seven grams of cannabis, and grow up to four plants at home, with up to 50 grams stored.
50 grams stored is okay (not great), but seven grams is certainly not the most amazing accomplishment, and is a low amount in contrast to most legalized locations. Being found with more than seven grams but less than 28 grams, will incur a user a fine of €100 ($112). The main attraction to this law, is that it gives the ability to grow.
According to Owen Bonnici, the county’s Equality Minister, this new law will “curb drug trafficking by making sure that [users] now have a safe and regularized way from where they can obtain cannabis”. This along with keeping personal users from having to face criminal charges. Kids who are caught with cannabis will not face criminal charges either, but will instead be placed in some kind of treatment program.
Bonnici stated: “There is a wave of understanding now that the hard-fist approach against cannabis users was disproportionate, unjust and it was rendering a lot of suffering to people who are leading exemplary lives. But the fact that they make use on a personal basis of cannabis is putting them in the jaws of criminality.” To back this up, those who have incurred criminal records from prior cannabis infractions, can apply for expungement of their records, depending on the crime.
The new law does not cover many things, and is very short of being a real cannabis legalization, or at least a far reaching one. Cannabis will still be illegal in public, with a fine of €235 ($264) attached, and smoking in front of anyone under 18 years of age incurs a fine of €500 ($562). More importantly, there is no ability to buy or sell in a free market. This means no dispensaries, no products market, no general business.
In place of this, the country will set up ‘associations’. These non-profit associations will grow and distribute either the actual plant, or seeds for cultivation, thereby keeping track specifically of what anyone receives. A person will only be able to be a part of one association, so no tricking the authorities by joining several. Associations tap out at 500 members, will only sell up to seven grams in a transaction (which makes sense as per carry laws), and won’t sell more than 50 grams to a person in a month. If a person desires seeds instead, they may receive up to 20 in a month.
How much choice users will have in these associations has not been made entirely clear, nor whether they will be operating at the behest of the government, or independently. If its the former, then Malta would join Uruguay in having a state-run system, unlike Canada and the US states.
Though the bill has not been signed into law yet by President George Vella, and though opponents of this legislation are asking him not to sign it, this last step is generally more ceremonial than not, and is fully expected to happen. Even so, I never like to count something as happened when it hasn’t, so to be perfectly on-point about it, nothing has technically been legalized yet. And it won’t be, until he signs off. He is expected to sign it later this week.
Does this really make Malta the first legalized European country?
The answer to this depends entirely on definitions. First and foremost, when looking at the EU – European Union, then yes, Malta is absolutely the first country to allow for any official recreational cannabis legalization, making it the first legalized European Union country. There is plenty of cannabis acceptance already in the EU though.
The Netherlands turns a blind eye and allows coffeeshops, but doesn’t have a recreational legalization. Spain has its social club loophole which essentially allows for near-legal use, but without official legalization. Luxembourg is on its way to allowing close to the same level of legalization that Malta just did, but its bill is still in parliament.
Germany has a new government forming which is likely to legalize and start the first fully regulated European market, but its still supposition at this point. Denmark has Christiana, an operational ‘Freetown’ where the possession and use of cannabis are ceremonially legal, despite being in a country that does not allow recreational use. And though not for an actual legalization, Italy is set for a referendum on decriminalization next year.
However, definitionally, if Georgia is considered part of Europe (albeit certainly not a part of the European Union), then the designation of first legalized European country actually goes to it. This definition is questionable as Georgia sits on the border between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, part of the former Soviet Bloc, technically a part of the Caucasus region. It is a member of the Council of Europe, Eurocontrol, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and OSCE, making a decent argument for its inclusion in Europe.
Georgia became the third country to legalize cannabis in 2018 with a Constitutional Court ruling that stated it was unconstitutional to punish a person for using cannabis as it restricts personal freedoms, and since it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
The court ruled that unless a third party somehow is being harmed, that cannabis use is okay. Unlike the Malta law, Georgia did not institute any form of cultivation law, nor associations, or regulated market. Meaning though the recreational possession and use of cannabis are legal in Georgia, the people are left in the uncomfortable position of having no legal way to procure it. Obviously not the best system, but still a reality.
Malta and cannabis in general
Malta certainly looks like it’ll be the first legalized European country, at least in the EU. And this isn’t surprising considering the country has been pushing toward less restrictive measures for quite some time. Prior to Bill 241 Malta had already decriminalized small amounts of cannabis for personal use, though it was otherwise federally illegal. 2014’s Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act made the specification that those caught with small amounts for personal use will go before a Commissioner of Justice, and generally only receive a small fine.
If caught again within a two year period, the offender is required to go before the Drug Offender’s Rehabilitation Board to be reviewed for possible treatment. The small amount does cover one plant grown in a house, though more plants than that incur mandatory prison time. Even if all plants are for personal use. This negative loophole requiring mandatory prison time for offenders, has caused people to go to jail, even when growing multiple plants for personal medical usage. The increase to four legal plants will be beneficial for those who do require (or want) more.
Malta does have a comprehensive medical cannabis program, signed into law in 2018. A month after that bill was signed, a second bill was signed with specifications in terms of cultivation, production, use, and importation. Malta celebrated its legalization of medical cannabis with an application to import 15 kilos for medical purposes.
Though this new legalization law is certainly a step up, providing for even more freedoms, it’s still pretty stiff. It takes a step up from Georgia, but doesn’t create anything to the level that Canada, or the legalized US states have. Even so, it is a clear indication of changing times that an EU country is allowing recreational use at all.
Though it’s not a big country – smallest in the EU, Malta has a lot of eyes on it globally as this new passed-legislation now goes to the president’s desk for signature. While Malta represents the smallest of the EU countries, it’s opposite on the other end of the spectrum, Germany, also looks likely to be passing legislation soon.
Even if it takes longer than expected for Germany, this new move by Mata opens the EU up to new levels of cannabis relaxation, and with several countries already mulling legislation, and debating in parliaments around the continent, the next few years are sure to bring major change in EU cannabis laws.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.