A cannabis user talks to TheJournal.mt about his experience on using and living with cannabis, and how the proposed legislation will help differentiate between cannabis users and drug traffickers.
Luke* started using cannabis when he was around 16 years old. Like other kids his age, he wanted to try and experiment with new and different things. He began using cannabis regularly and it became a part of his life, and it also was of help to him. Luke had a problem sleeping and his regular cannabis use helped him start sleeping comfortably and soundly.
Around 1996/1998, cannabis became hard to find. There was a huge scarcity in the market and the prices skyrocketed. This situation, which lasted a year and a half, proved to be difficult for Luke and he decided to grow cannabis himself. He insists that his intention was to grow enough cannabis for his own personal use only, and for five years, he grew four cannabis plants at home. It was never his intention to sell or make any money out of it. In fact, he never told anyone. He was in a stable full-time employment, his life was settled, he married and had a daughter, bought a new property, and things were looking well.
In 2003, whilst in the process of moving items to the new property, including his plants, he was stopped and raided by the police who found the plants in his possession. Luke believes that the police were tipped off by family members from his wife’s side.
The law at the time, however, did not differentiate between the cultivation of cannabis for personal use and the cultivation of cannabis for onward trafficking. Even if the plant was only a few centimetres long, the person would still be accused of growing plants for trafficking purposes. “A huge injustice”, Luke said, and something which “absolutely does not make sense”. He was then arrested and taken up to court, with his not accepted and a curfew imposed. This lasted for three years, until in 2007, the court sentenced him to 10 months in prison and four hundred Maltese Lira.
This sentence was unjust, Luke says, because he did not commit any form of crime. He was merely cultivating a plant for his own personal use without informing, let alone harming, anyone.
In his own words:
“I am not a villain. I was a victim of the unfair system that was in place at the time. No packets for onward trafficking or money were found at my place during the police raid, as I was not aiming to make money off it. I just wanted to have cannabis available for my own personal use, within the comfort of my own home.”
I just wanted to have cannabis available for my own personal use, within the comfort of my own home.
A life shattered
Following his sentence, Luke had to sell the new place he worked so hard to buy. It was impossible to maintain his family and pay his debts, as things were. His marriage also ended during these 10 months, and he got legally separated whilst in prison. This injustice broke many people and shattered their lives and their families, Luke’s included.
“It’s unbelievable. I had it all, and then I had absolutely nothing. That is my story. And I am still suffering the consequences till this very day. Life is very difficult for me. I am now 50 years old and I am restricted in what I can do. I am not a criminal, but here I am, struggling to survive.”
Today, Luke smokes somewhere between one gram and a half and 3 grams daily. He is in stable employment and lives independently.
In March this year, the Government presented a White Paper entitled Towards the Strengthening of the Legal Framework on the Responsible Use of Cannabis. The aim of the White Paper is to move towards a fairer legal system for responsible cannabis users and does not in any way promote the consumption of cannabis. The White Paper proposes that every residential household can grow up to four plants for personal cultivation and private consumption.
The White Paper’s consultation period ended this week, and the Labour Party has advocated for legalisation, and not just decriminalisation, of cannabis.
Luke adds that he’s vehemently in favour of the decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis, as the regulation and legal framework will allow for the responsible personal use of cannabis and distinguish between cannabis users and drug traffickers.
“It is important that people out there understand that there is no difference between recreational and medicinal cannabis. It is the same plant. The only difference is between those who cultivate it for personal use, and those who do so for trafficking purposes. Plain and simple.”
*The name has been changed to protect the person’s identity.