Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
2018 may be the year medical marijuana laws in Malta become more practical, giving patients in this small island nation the chance to receive the cannabis medications they need to treat their debilitating conditions.
Although Malta’s 2015 Drug Dependence Act stipulates a course of action for patients who wish to receive cannabis-based treatments, it’s so restrictive that it’s basically ineffective. The new amendment will have its restrictions, but with a more practical application. It will also open the island to companies who wish to use the country as a base for cannabis production.
The current medical marijuana program in Malta is so limited that, to date, no patients have received cannabis-based medications. They are required to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops that most patients and their family members would rather purchase cannabis illegally, risking low-quality products that may have negative side effects.
When the new law is implemented, patients will be able to receive their medication from safe medical manufacturers. Although the Maltese Parliament has passed two readings of the bill, they have not yet approved the measure as a law. Once it passes, patients and advocates are hoping that the new system, overseen by the Malta Ministry for Health, will allow people who need marijuana medicine to get it.
Because of its location in the Mediterranean Sea, just north of the African coast, Malta has a long history of illegal cannabis resin being secretly imported into the country and sold on the black market. Although many marijuana plants are now grown in the country illegally, cannabis resin continues to be illegally trafficked from Africa.
Marijuana is the second most abused substance in the country, right after heroin. However, many believe this is because patients are obtaining the plant illegally to self-medicate. In 2015, the Drug Dependence Act offered leniency to those found in possession of small amounts of marijuana. Although this act also initiated a limited medical marijuana program, it is so restrictive that no patients have been able to join.
There are currently no medical marijuana patients in Malta because of the restrictiveness of the 2015 program. However, the black market is a thriving illegal business, supplying marijuana to recreational users and medical patients alike. To focus their attention on more serious drug crimes, the 2015 Drug Dependence Act reduced the penalty for those found in possession of marijuana.
Cultivating cannabis is illegal in Malta — however, the new law in Parliament would open the nation to companies wishing to manufacture medical marijuana. This would be an added source of revenue and jobs for the country. The personal cultivation of marijuana would remain illegal, but the penalty is less severe if an individual is found to be growing weed for personal use.
The current program in Malta only allows the prescription of Sativex, a cannabis-based medication which is used most commonly to treat spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. The new law will allow patients with other conditions and symptoms to receive cannabis medications.
Although there is no list of qualifying conditions, patients will be able to go their physician to obtain a cannabis prescription. Doctors will have to follow the government’s guidebook, which will explain who they believe will most benefit from these medications.
Under the current law, the prescribing physician must be a government-approved doctor. However, the new legislation will allow any Maltese doctor registered with the country’s Medical Council to prescribe cannabis. These forms of medications will still be closely supervised, like other narcotic prescriptions.
The Superintendent of Health will keep a patient registry that will detail everything about an individual’s prescription, including:
The natural form of marijuana will not be permitted — all medications will be cannabis extract products, and smoking marijuana will still be prohibited.
The Maltese government has also pushed for the reduction of marijuana possession charges in recent years. They believe that treatment, not imprisonment, is a more effective option. If someone is found with less than 3.5 grams of cannabis, they will be brought before the Commissioner of Justice. Depending on whether they are a first-time or repeat offender and other criteria, there are three possible penalties:
MarijuanaDoctors.com is concerned about medical cannabis laws both at home in the United States and abroad. If you’d like to learn more about international medical marijuana laws in Malta and beyond, be sure to check back soon. As the new legislation moves forward, we will update you on all changes. For other interesting cannabis info, be sure to check out our blog.