Malta has been heralded by international experts in drug policy for the recent changes to the law criminalizing cannabis and the establishment of not-for-profit cannabis associations. In fact, the new provisions of the law, establish that cannabinoids under 0.2% THC are outside the scope of national legislation pertaining to the control of narcotic and psychotropic drugs. This change moved Maltese legislation closer to regional and international developments related to cannabis, particularly the distinction between cannabis which produces mind-altering effects, and therefore falling under the UN Drug Control Conventions of 1961, 1971, and 1988, and Hemp or CBD dominant strains, the latter having no mind-altering effects and therefore no potential for abuse. CBD products, including oils and flowers, have been widely available within the European single market. It is therefore natural for Maltese consumers to earnestly enjoy equal rights and full access to the European Union Single market of Hemp, CBD flowers and other products.
Nonetheless, recent media reports, and information gathered by grassroots organisations, reflect a somewhat distorted reality unfolding on the ground. It seems a majestic Viennese Waltz is being coordinated between people at the customs department and law enforcement. The dance quickly turns into a fast-paced tango when police officers come marching down the street, knock on peoples’ doors, raid their homes, and arrest them to investigate further the terrible crime of obtaining a ‘novel food product’ from recognized EU retailers and through legitimate and transparent monetary transactions.
The most clamorous case was that of a respected family doctor with a specialization in pain medication, arrested and detained on cannabis trafficking charges. This doctor’s only crime was that of obtaining CBD dominant flowers with a lower content of 0.2% THC, bought within the EU and sold according to national legislation. Other cases not making it to the media include people ordering CBD oil or flowers in very small quantities from recognized European Union companies.
This newfound witch hunt for hemp and CBD is unfolding in a parallel fashion while local pharmacies have just recently obtained licensing to import GMP certified and controlled CBD products. All this is also taking place while the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis is discussing regulation pertaining to cannabis associations and a high-level conference about psychedelic medicine is taking place just this week.
Could this be a coincidence? Maybe it is, or maybe it is not.
Before you reach a conclusion, it is important to look at what international and regional legislation about Hemp and CBD states.
When looking at Chapter 101 Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, amended recently in 2021, the law states that:
“Cannabis” means the inflorescence and leaves of any plant of the genus Cannabis and includes any resin obtained from the said plant and any preparations derived from the said plant, but does not include its seeds, or cannabinoid products containing not more than zero point two (0.2) percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The novel amendment included new terminology to replace the archaic and non-scientific term Indian Hemp, and to also differentiate between THC dominant Cannabis strains which are psychoactive, and other types of cannabis (with less than 0.2%THC) which have no psychoactive effect, and hence are outside of the scope of regulation.
Hemp is a crop grown across Europe and in recent years the area dedicated to hemp cultivation has increased significantly from 19,970 hectares (ha) in 2015 to 34,960 ha in 2019 (a 75% increase). In the same period, the production of hemp increased from 94,120 tonnes to 152,820 tonnes (a 62.4% increase). France is the largest producer, accounting for more than 70% of EU production, followed by the Netherlands (10%) and Austria (4%).
Hemp (Cannabis sativa Linn) is a species in the Cannabaceae family in which the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is very low, according to the provisions under the common agricultural policy (CAP). Hemp is grown primarily for its industrial uses and there are 75 different hemp varieties registered in the EU catalogue. Due to the very low level of THC, hemp complying with the provisions of the CAP is not used to produce narcotic drugs.
In accordance with Article 189 of EU Regulation 1308/2013, all imports of hemp are currently subject to an import licence requirement, and;
- The following products may be imported into the Union only if the following conditions are met:
|(a)||raw true hemp falling within CN code 5302 10 00 meeting the conditions laid down in Article 32(6) and in Article 35(3) of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013;|
|(b)||seeds of varieties of hemp falling within CN code ex 1207 99 20 for sowing accompanied by proof that the tetrahydrocannabinol level of the variety concerned does not exceed that fixed in accordance with Article 32(6) and in Article 35(3) of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013;|
|(c)||hemp seeds other than for sowing, falling within CN code 1207 99 91 and imported only by importers authorised by the Member State in order to ensure that such seeds are not intended for sowing.|
- This Article shall apply without prejudice to more restrictive rules adopted by the Member States in compliance with the TFEU and the obligations under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture.
There are multiple uses of hemp, including cosmetics (oils, lotions, shampoos, etc.) and energy production (biofuels). There is also interest in the production and marketing of cannabidiol (CBD), a substance present in the hemp plant, due to its multiple uses in cosmetics, health and food. In November 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union determined that the marketing of legally produced CBD is permitted under EU law.
On 3 December 2020, the EU Commission’s spokesman for public health and food safety Stefan de Keersmaecker declared that on CBD the Commission has taken into account the recent decision of the European Court of Justice, and on that basis, it has reviewed its preliminary assessment and concluded that cannabidiol should not be considered a drug within the meaning of the United Nation Conventions.
In the same year, the notification from the World Health Organization concerning cannabis and cannabis-related substances to the Reconvened sixty-third session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs provided recommendations for a rescheduling of cannabis. The WHO explained that Cannabis and cannabis resin are included in Schedule I and Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention. Substances that are included in both these Schedules are particularly liable to abuse and produce ill effects and have little or no therapeutic use. Other substances that are included in both Schedules I and IV are fentanyl analogues, heroin and other opioids that are considered especially dangerous. The use of all these substances is associated with a significant risk of death, whereas cannabis use is not associated with such risk.
The evidence presented to the WHO Expert Committee did not indicate that the cannabis plant and cannabis resin were particularly liable to produce ill-effects similar to the effects of the other substances in Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention. In addition, preparations of cannabis have shown therapeutic potential for the treatment of pain and other medical conditions, such as epilepsy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. In line with the above, cannabis and cannabis resin should be scheduled at a level of control that will prevent harm caused by cannabis use and at the same time will not act as a barrier to access and to research and development of cannabis-related preparations for medical use. The Committee concluded that the inclusion of cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV is not consistent with the criteria for a drug to be placed in Schedule IV.
The WHO explained that CBD is found in cannabis and cannabis resin but does not have psychoactive properties and has no potential for abuse and no potential to produce dependence. Furthermore, CBD does not have significant ill-effects and has been shown to be effective in the management of certain treatment-resistant, childhood-onset epilepsy disorders. It was approved for this use in the United States of America in 2018 and is currently under consideration for approval by the European Union. The Expert Committee on Drug Dependence considered a critical review of CBD and recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled within the international drug control conventions
“Preparations containing predominantly cannabidiol and not more than 0.2 per cent of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol are not under international control”.
In summary, CBD has no potential for abuse, is allowed within the EU, and has been identified in Maltese legislation as being separate from cannabis with a higher THC content of 0.2%.
Yet, we observe this hushed CBD witch hunt, and potentially lurking pharmaceutical interests seeping into and trying to dominate CBD availability in Malta.
We will let you decide what is going on. In the meantime, people continue to have their lives suspended and trampled on by a draconian interpretation and implementation of the law, and a complete mismatch between human rights and an evidence-based approach to drug policy.
Contact us at: office(a)encod.org