Though some countries in the EU have decriminalized cannabis, the island nation is the first to legalize recreational use and cultivation for adults. Germany and Luxembourg are expected to follow suit early next year.
Malta became the first country in Europe to approve legalization the recreational use of cannabis among adults on Tuesday.
A new bill allows those over 18 to possess up to seven grams (0.25 ounces) of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home. It also allows non-profit groups of up to 500 people to grow the plant for members.
The law will soften penalties for those in possession of larger amounts of cannabis, too. Adults found with up to 28 grams of cannabis for their own consumption could face a tribunal rather than court, as well as a maximum fine of €100 euro ($113).
Public consumption of cannabis will remain illegal and punishable with a €235 fine, whereas consuming the drug in front of a child — in public or in private — carries a penalty between €300 and €500.
Lawmakers who sponsored the bill are also calling for the establishment of an authority that will work with the government to shape national cannabis policy.
Tuesday’s legislation was backed by Prime Minister Robert Abela’s Labour Party and passed by 36 votes to 27. The bill must now be signed by the president to become law.
One sponsor, Owen Bonnici, said, “Once that assent is received, the government intends to enter the law into effect immediately.” Bonnici, who is Malta’s minister for equality, research and innovation, said the government wanted to “stop treating people who are not criminals like criminals,” and create a regulatory system to “protect minors and society at large.”
Last month, President Abela told parliamentarians, “We are legislating to address a problem and taking the harm reduction approach by regulating the sector, so that people do not have to resort to the black market to purchase cannabis.”
“We are dissuading people from smoking cannabis, while not treating those who choose to do so as criminals. Drug trafficking will remain illegal,” said Abela.
The opposition Nationalist Party opposed the bill, warning it would “normalize and increase drug abuse.”
Where is cannabis legal?
The move comes just weeks after Luxembourg announced similar proposals. Germany’s new government also plans to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.
Among other EU nations, Spain and the Netherlands tolerate the consumption and growing of cannabis for personal use to different degrees, and the Czech Republic and Portugal have decriminalized cannabis for personal use.
Globally, Uruguay, Canada, Georgia, Mexico, South Africa and 18 US states as well as the capital Washington, DC., have all legalized recreational cannabis consumption.
A large number of countries around the world have also legalized medical marijuana. That list includes European countries such as Austria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the UK.