Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici published a set of amendments to existing drug laws which propose giving the Courts more discretion in so far as sentencing is concerned, in cases where people are found guilty of the cultivation of cannabis plants in circumstances which show that the plants were for personal use.
Minister Bonnici explained that the set of amendments were being published for public consumption, particularly in the light of recent Court judgments both in the Inferior and Superior jurisdictions. He stressed that once Parliament reconvenes, he would be putting forward this legislative proposal with immediate effect. He explained that while under the present legal regime, in the cases where a person is found guilty of cultivation of cannabis plants for personal use in an amount in excess of one, the Court is duty-bound to impose an effective prison sentence even though the Court would be convinced that the cultivation is being done for personal use, with the proposed amendments the Courts would have more discretion in the punishment they see fit to impose. Therefore, the Courts would be able to impose a sentence other than imprisonment wherever it is convinced that the cultivation is done for personal use.
This reform would be applicable both to the Inferior and the Superior Courts.
“After the numerous reforms in the judicial sector, we are proposing further changes to the respective drug laws in a manner where the Court will have the right to properly scrutinise the circumstances presented in front of it and from thereon decide whether the cultivation is for the exclusive personal use of the possessor or not. Thereafter, the Court will not be bound any more to impose mandatory imprisonment in cases where the individual is found in possession of more than one plant, even when the circumstances show that the mentioned plants are for the exclusive use of that person,” said Minister Bonnici.
“This means that when cultivation is not for the exclusive use of the possessor, the punishment remains that of mandatory imprisonment. However, when there is a case of cultivation for personal use, it is up to the Court’s discretion to decide on the basis of what is being presented in front of it.”
Minister Owen Bonnici stressed that this proposal will continue to build on what has been done in the promulgation of the Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act on the 15th April 2019, which saw towards an alternative way with which to help those who suffer from drug dependence.
He explained that through this reform, whoever is caught with a small amount of drugs (simple possession) is brought in front of a Commissioner of Justice rather than the Law Courts. Between 15th April 2015 and the 1st of December, 2019 three thousand and sixty-four people appeared in front of the Commissioner. 108 of these were referred to rehabilitation under the aegis of the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board, meaning that they would be found guilty twice of the same offence in a short time period.
This reform also provided for a second chance for those who are arraigned to Court accused of more serious drug offences if it is proven that the people concerned were victims of drug abuse and that they intend to kick the habit. The Court, since 15th April 2015, referred 107 cases in front of the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board. Out of these 107 case, thirty nine of them obtained a favourable recommendation with which the Court would not be bound any more to impose mandatory imprisonment.