Last week lawmakers in Malta passed an adult-use cannabis legalization measure, and Malta’s president promptly signed it into law by the end of the week. Passage of the law resulted in Malta being touted as ‘the first’ country in Europe to legalize cannabis for adult use. While there is some debate within the cannabis community regarding whether Malta’s new law is truly adult-use legalization, the measure’s passage is no doubt significant.
Malta’s new law does not create a regulated cannabis industry with legal sales, which is the main point of contention among some members of the global cannabis community. However, many argue that Malta’s new cannabis law is actually better because it does not include regulated sales. Not having a regulated system helps mitigate any potential industry inequities.
Assuming that Malta’s law constitutes actual legalization, which I certainly feel that it does, the European country is only the third nation to pass a legalization measure.
How Does Malta’s Law Compare To Others?
Uruguay was the first nation on earth to pass an adult-use legalization measure back in 2013. The landmark public policy change brought about various ways that people of legal age could legally acquire cannabis. Most notably, legal purchases are allowed in Uruguay via pharmacies. Uruguay also allows non-profit clubs, which will also be allowed in Malta. However, Uruguay differs from Malta in that Malta will not allow regulated sales to occur at all.
Canada became the second country to legalize cannabis for adult use back in 2018. Canada’s legalization model is the most robust of the three from an industry standpoint. Anyone of legal age (18-19 years old depending on the jurisdiction) can make legal retail purchases of cannabis from storefronts as well as online in Canada.
Other limited forms of legalization exist within the global community, including the European continent. Italy’s Supreme Court previously ruled that home cultivation of cannabis was legal; low-THC cannabis products are currently legal to purchase nationwide in Switzerland. Countries like the Netherlands have adult-use legalization ‘pilot programs’ in certain jurisdictions. With that being said, Malta’s law is still the first of its kind ever to be passed on the European continent.
Local Examples In The United States
Whenever someone lobs up the claim that Malta’s new cannabis law is not ‘true legalization,’ I am always quick to offer up two examples from the United States as comparators. In 2018, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to pass an adult-use legalization measure via legislative action. All legalization measures passed in the United States came via the initiative process versus the legislative process until that point.
Vermont’s legalization model was distinct in that while it allowed for personal possession, cultivation, and use, it did not allow regulated adult-use sales. It was a first-of-its-kind model in the United States at the state level. At the time of passage, it was overwhelmingly accepted within the cannabis community that Vermont’s model was indeed ‘true legalization’ even if the law wasn’t perfect.
Another example can be found in Washington, D.C., where voters passed a legalization initiative in 2014. Much like Vermont four years later, D.C.’s legalization model did not include legalized sales, albeit in more of a roundabout manner. D.C. cannot allow legalized sales without Congress’ approval, and being that Congress’ cannabis reform ‘efforts’ move like molasses, regulated sales are still not allowed in D.C. Yet, despite that fact, it is generally accepted that D.C.’s legalization model still constitutes ‘true legalization.’
Malta’s legalization law may not be perfect in the eyes of some cannabis community members. However, it’s still a historic public policy shift. It will likely open the floodgates to legalization measures being passed throughout Europe and beyond. Also, Malta will always be able to carry the title of being the first in Europe to pass a legalization measure, and that will always be a cause for celebration.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Barcelona (March 10th), Berlin (July 19-20th), and Zurich (September 8-9).