Tiny Malta Looking to Make Waves Across European Cannabis Markets

By Oliver Bennett, Special Contributor to New Frontier Data

The archipelago of Malta, with a population shy of half a million situated in the central Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and the North African coast, has recently been stirring news for its progressive attitude to cannabis.

With Prime Minister Robert Abela pledging to put forward a draft law to legalize its “responsible use”, the smallest European Union nation by population is poised to become the EU’s fifth member state to adopt adult-use cannabis.

Abela’s endorsement follows a white paper proposal by the Maltese government to liberalise its policy, with proposals open to public consultation, making considerable waves.

One notable suggestion, from MEP and liberalisation advocate Cyrus Engerer, is that Malta’s decriminalisation ought allow for households to pool cannabis in nonprofit cannabis clubs (like those existing in Spain), bringing social benefits and a sense of community encouraged among registered cannabis users. Sensing a post-Brexit political opportunity, a pan-European, grassroots federalist party called Volt Europa claims to be contesting Malta’s next (2022) general election on a platform calling for a cannabis social club pilot project, and Portuguese-style decriminalisation of all drugs.

The white paper’s recommendations included each household’s prerogative to grow up to four plants, and that possession of less than 7 grams of cannabis be decriminalised (up to 3.5 grams already subject to a prosecutorial blind eye) pending any suspicion otherwise of trafficking, selling, or import-export activity. Included are proposals to devise safer methods of procuring cannabis, eliminate the prosecution of minors, and – perhaps most significantly – creating a dedicated Maltese cannabis authority to provide oversight and public education aimed at harm reduction. Though public consumption would remain illegal under the proposals, Malta’s integral seasonal tourism industry (recently hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic), may well be anticipating an influx of cannabis-curious summer tourists, too.

Malta has legalized medical cannabis since 2018, so its medical market is also aiming to accommodate liberalised adult use.

The country has (since the 19th century) had close cultural ties to the United Kingdom, with Cyprus being the only non-British countries recognized both as members of the Commonwealth and the EU. Generally considered as relatively conservative, Malta is also known for its strategic trade location between Europe, the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and the Suez Canal.

Industry investment has already been encouraged. Malta Enterprise, the country’s development agency, has pledged €2.5 million to establish the first European tech accelerator for the medical cannabis industry by funding start-ups in the TechforCannEU accelerator program. Israel-based cofounders Lilac Mandeles and Yona Cymerman are leading a program to help participants gain funding and opportunities to develop their technology in an EU-GMP licensed facility in Malta, with a view to notching up the country’s health care, biotech and agtech sectors – all while gaining footholds in EU markets “to further develop an innovative medical cannabis ecosystem in Europe,” according to Mandeles.

Similarly, Canadian company Tetra Bio-Pharma recently submitted a request to the Malta Medicines Authority regarding QIXLEEF, a fixed-ratio THC/CBD product inhaled via vaporizer.

Malta is also primed to become a powerful feeder market for Germany, with Canadian-British firm Materia cultivating medical cannabis there to supply extraction and processing in Germany.

The Maltese government has further incentivised the sector by offering to furnish 10 medical cannabis companies with land, permits, licences, and a propitious tax structure. Already, Israeli company Alvit LCS Pharma is constructing two EU-GMP certified facilities in Malta, which already has a well-established pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.

Last month, Engerer hosted Rolling Into The Future, a conference held with the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), during which he proposed that Malta’s regulation of cannabis could deliver a “vital blow to the [illicit] markets” across the Mediterranean.

Should such momentum in social acceptance and public opinion be maintained in Malta, the archipelago may soon enough represent the avant-garde of European cannabis reform policy.