Pubdate: Sun, 18 Dec 2011 Source: Independent on Sunday (Malta) Copyright: 2011, Standard Publications Ltd Contact: http://www.independent.com.mt/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/2885 Author: Francesca Vella PRO-CANNABIS DEMONSTRATORS CALL FOR DECRIMINALISATION AND CLASSIFICATION A crowd of about 300 people participated in a lively demonstration in Valletta yesterday, organised by the group 'Legalise it, Malta!' which is calling for the decriminalisation, classification and the eventual legalisation of cannabis. The demonstrators, consisting mainly of people in their 20s, walked along Republic Street, chanting "Legalise it, legalise it" and "We're no criminals" to the beat of bongos as they stopped in front of the Law Courts building before proceeding to Palace Square. Reactions from onlookers were varied. While some people looked worried, some simply smiled, while others commented about the negative effects of any drug, irrespective of whether it was cannabis, heroin, ecstasy or anything else. One thing leads to another and the legalisation of cannabis would lead to the legalisation of more dangerous drugs, one woman remarked, adding that making the use of drugs acceptable would have a detrimental effect on society. The demonstration also elicited a particularly extreme reaction from someone who was heard saying: "Hitler did the right thing gas!" But the peaceful demonstrators, some of whom had their hair in dreadlocks and were dressed in green, distributed leaflets to passers-by, saying they wanted to dispel myths about cannabis. They argued in favour of adults having rights over their own bodies and minds, the medical and therapeutic use of cannabis and the industrial use of hemp (for bio fuel, for instance). Those who participated in the demonstration included popular television presenter Peppi Azzopardi, who spoke of the devastating effects of the current legal system on drug users and their families. "I have never taken drugs myself, but I strongly believe that people with drug addiction problems should not be sent to prison. Since the penalties were increased, there has been an increase in the amount of drugs used and in the number of drug users, but a decrease in the age of drug users." Ramon Casha, a computer programmer by profession, has also never used cannabis himself, but said he has long been researching the subject. The laws as they currently stand are harmful, he said, noting that cannabis is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol. He referred to the liberalisation of the drug laws in Portugal, which abolished criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs in 2001. According to Time magazine, compared to the EU and the US, Portugal's drug use numbers are impressive. "Following decriminalisation, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the EU: 10 per cent. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8 per cent. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana." Addressing the crowd in Palace Square, event organiser David Caruana who stands charged with cultivating two plants thanked those who participated for not being afraid of showing their support for the cause. "Legalise It, Malta! was set up in 2007, three years before I was charged. We're calling for a reform. The decriminalisation and classification of marijuana should have happened 10 years ago. MPs need to start talking about decriminalisation. We're ready to sit down and discuss the best way forward, including a model of legalisation with an element of regulation." He noted that currently, dealers do not ask for identity cards and sell drugs to everyone, including minors. Talking about the medical and therapeutic potential of cannabis, Mr Caruana referred to what the Nationalist Party said about the proper production of medicines containing cannabis. "Why should pharmaceutical companies alone be allowed to exploit the medicinal benefits of cannabis? Why are people denied a medicine that is cheap and natural?" he asked, referring to the use of cannabis to treat several conditions including multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, cancer, AIDS wasting, anorexia and Alzheimer's. Legalise It, Malta! is expected to organise a second demonstration in April or May. AD reiterates that drug victims need help Alternattiva Demokratika has reiterated its stand in favour of the classification and decriminalisation (not legalisation) of personal drug use. The party had welcomed President George Abela's and Caritas' appeal for the drug laws to be revisited in a way that ensures that drug users are rehabilitated rather than sent to prison. AD spokesperson for social policy Angele Deguara said a distinction needed to be made between the real criminals the dealers and their victims. AD chairperson Michael Briguglio, on his part, said it is a known fact that the imprisonment of drug victims only makes problems for them and their loved ones worse. "Unfortunately both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party prefer resorting to populist rhetoric and cheap scaremongering, rather than calling a spade a spade and proposing constructive measures to avoid the criminalisation of drug victims." Prohibiting cannabis is simply harmful Graffitti Members of Moviment Graffitti participated in yesterday's demonstration, reiterating the movement's disappointment at the attitude of the justice minister and the shadow minister in the wake of the report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which states: "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world." Saying that both the government and the Opposition dismissed the need for change, the movement said: "Prohibition pumps money into criminal organisations, which can bribe and corrupt officials, buy weapons that keep the military-industrial complex profitable, and generally have no problem with rape, murder and torture." Moviment Graffitti said the end of prohibition of cannabis is a matter of when, not if, and the time for change is now. Several European states are experimenting with new ways of regulating the market. The Basque region in Spain will start regulating the cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis from 2012, while the city of Copenhagen in Denmark is proposing a system whereby the government directly sells cannabis. Proponents of this strategy believe that it would be far safer if people bought buy drugs from social workers than from criminals, said Graffitti, adding that several Swiss cantons have passed legislation to allow the cultivation of up to four plants for personal use. "Fundamentally, although cannabis is not harmless and should be used with care, the harm caused by prohibition far outweigh any harm done by the plant itself, while not allowing any of its benefits to be taken advantage of." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.