A Long Time Coming
Malta has seen a slow but steady shift towards medical cannabis legalisation this year after the Maltese Medicines Authority first announced plans to implement new laws in February.
Cannabis decriminalisation goes back as far as 2015 which, although considered a progressive approach at the time, proved to be too bureaucratic and restrictive for doctors to prescribe the medicine. So much so that in the two years since the law has been active not a single cannabis-based medicine has been prescribed.
The current law states that only certain specialists are permitted to prescribe cannabis-based products. These professionals must be registered and licensed either by the Medicines Authority or the European Medicines Agency.
Fewer Restrictions or Newer Restrictions?
However, these restrictions could soon be lifted with a proposal put forward by the Maltese government that aims to facilitate the prescription of medical cannabis by general practitioners. This proposal comes in the form of an amendment to the Drug Dependence (treatment not imprisonment) Act and was presented to parliament by the health minister, Chris Fearne.
Patients in need of treatment for chronic illnesses, spasticity related to paraplegia & multiple sclerosis, nausea from chemotherapy, loss of appetite from HIV treatment, glaucoma and Tourette Syndrome will be eligible for prescriptions.
Each patient will require a personal ‘control card’ as well as individually approved cannabis prescriptions from the Superintendent for Health - a protocol that is likely to create a lengthy and convoluted time frame.
Cause for Concern
The announcement has not been met with universal praise - despite the seemingly progressive move. ReLeaf, the Maltese cannabis reform group, have publicly stated their trepidation towards the new legislation.
The group did applaud the “the allowance of family doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis as they see fit” as well as the “issuance of licenses for those who would like to manufacture cannabis-related products in Malta”. However, they were less keen on some other aspects of the legislation which they deemed to be “counterproductive”.
ReLeaf are concerned that the introduction of a ‘control card’ as well as the new pricing system will force patients to continue to acquire their much needed medical cannabis from black market sources.
The new proposal, if implemented, would drastically increase national demand for cannabis based medicine. Although the source of the country’s cannabis supply has not yet been confirmed, Chris Cardona, Malta’s Economy Minister, has stated plans to put forward proposals which would allow the production of medical cannabis products within the country. Alternatively, if the country was to rely on imported produce, it has been also revealed that only importers licensed by the Medicines Authority will be allowed to do so.
Both synthetic and natural cannabis-based medicines will be made available - all of which will have to be approved by either the local Medicines Authority, the European Authority or be considered a Good Manufactured Product (GMP). In addition, to ensure patient safety, no products can be purchased online.
It is expected that details on production licences will be announced along with the bill in January 2018.
Strictly Medical...For Now
It has been emphasised by Fearne that this specific proposal has no bearing on any recreational cannabis reform. However, this is still an issue being considered by the Maltese government, with the country’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, recently revealing his desire to pursue the ‘regularisation’ of recreational cannabis use in Malta.