Pubdate: Sun, 18 Dec 2011
Source: Independent on Sunday (Malta)
Copyright: 2011, Standard Publications Ltd
Author: Francesca Vella


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."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.