In the Mediterranean island of Malta, one man who was caught with cannabis 15 years ago and recently saw his case come to an end.
In June 2008, Conray Azzopardi’s apartment was raided by local police. According to Times Malta, he attempted to escape, and dropped “a bag containing cannabis wrapped in individual packets.” Police also found €250 (or approximately US$264). Azzopardi was charged for possession with the intent to traffic drugs.
According to a translated court document published on December 28, 2018, which covered the extent of Azzopardi’s case, ending with a conclusion from Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras sentencing Azzopardi to one year in prison and a fine of €1,000 (USD$1,096).
However, Azzopardi and his legal counsel appealed the decision, and five years later both the Malta Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board and Caritas Malta (an organization that supports inmates who are imprisoned for crimes related to addiction) made recommendations in support of Azzopardi following the conclusion of his rehabilitation program.
The Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board closed his case after he successfully completed his care plan. Azzopardi sought to apply for medical cannabis to treat undisclosed conditions but was rejected. The board added that if an individual receives treatment from a detox or rehabilitation center, they are no longer eligible for medical cannabis. Ultimately it recommended that Azzopardi be given assistance so that he wouldn’t resort to consuming illegal substances.
Appeals court Judge Neville Camilleri reviewed the recommendations of the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board and Caritas Malta and ruled that Azzopardi’s one-year prison sentence be overturned, and that, instead, he undergo a two-year probation order.
Medical cannabis has been legal in Malta since March 2018, and it became the first country in the European Union to legalize recreational cannabis in October 2021.
Azzopardi’s legal defense counsel included lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb. In November 2022, Debono posted about the state of cannabis on Facebook, noting the lack of progress for cannabis sales. “As far as I know, there aren’t any legal outlets from where one buy cannabis, which would mean that Malta is the only country in the world where you can possess cannabis but cannot purchase it legally,” Debono wrote. “I hope the government understands the gravity and the ugliness of this situation and how much responsibility should be shouldered.”
The Maltese Cannabis Authority released the details of opening a cannabis club in February 2023, and began accepting applications as of February 28, according to El Planteo.
In May 2023, Malta Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms Rebecca Buttigieg and leader of the Malta Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis (ARUC) spoke at a press conference covering new rules regarding non-profit associations who want to obtain a cultivation or distribution license for non-medical purposes.
However, cannabis business owner Andrew Bonello, who is president of ReLeaf Malta, told Business of Cannabis that ATUC is treating “cannabis like plutonium” and that more action is necessary to get the ball rolling.
“While it is positive to see totally unnecessary costs being reviewed, the overall effectiveness of the ‘fine-tuned’ regulations is yet to be seen,” Bonello said. “Many of the grassroots community and legacy growers are still finding it next to impossible to be able to set up an Association. One wonders how the aims of tackling the illicit market and implementing social justice can be achieved when the needs of those who fought for this reform are being ignored.”
As of May, there were only seven associations that had submitted applications, and 11 that had reserved the association name. Bonello stated that he expected more associations to have submitted applications and would already be operating by now. “However, we augur that the core principles of the reform are respected, acting in the best interest of the community with efforts genuinely focused on addressing social justice and human rights,” Bonello said.