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Malta just became the first European country to legalise weed – so where’s next?

The smallest EU state just implemented some of the world’s most liberal cannabis laws

Ed Cunningham
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Ed Cunningham

It might not have a reputation for its liberal approach to drugs, but Malta has just become the first EU member state to legalise weed for personal use. Maltese citizens over the age of 18 will be allowed to buy cannabis for recreational, possess up to four grams of the stuff and grow up to four plants at home.

But what about Amsterdam, that famous weed hotspot, you say? Well, technically the use and sale of cannabis in the Netherlands is only tolerated. Coffeeshops are allowed to sell weed under certain conditions, and cannabis is decriminalised for personal use, so you can grow and possess small amounts without being prosecuted... but it still isn’t technically legal. Spain is in a similar situation, with personal use and cultivation decriminalised, but sale, trade and public use still very much illegal.

In Malta, however, both the sale and use of cannabis will be legal. Though that doesn’t mean that all Maltese citizens have a free rein to grow, smoke and carry as much weed as they want. If caught with more than seven grams of weed, they could still be fined up to €100. If smokers light up in public, the penalty rises to €235 – and if they smoke in front of children, they could be fined up to €500. All these laws will be enforced by a new public body, the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis.

The Maltese government’s reasoning for the reforms cites studies that show that weed is not a proven gateway to use of harder drugs. The new laws aim to stifle the black market and better regulate cannabis. Weed lovers across the EU, meanwhile, are hoping that this will soon lead to cross-continental legalisation.

So which country could be next? Luxembourg is hot on the heels of Malta – it’s also set to legalise the growth, sale and recreational use of cannabis – while Germany is widely expected to lay out a series of reforms concerning the decriminalisation of weed next year. Switzerland is implementing similar measures, and Italy is planning a referendum on the matter in the near future.

In the UK, it looks severely unlikely that cannabis will be legalised anytime soon. While some police forces have said they won’t prosecute recreational users, possession of up to an ounce (28g) of weed could get you a warning or fine. Any more than that, and you could face up to five years in prison.

So while the legalisation sitch for UK weed heads may look a little bleak, at least there’s hope elsewhere, eh? Malta’s new reforms are set to be signed into law later this week.

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