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NGOs petition Malta to amend cannabis reform bill 

More than 50 Maltese NGOs and academics have petitioned the Government to amend its cannabis bill.

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NGOs petition Malta to amend cannabis reform bill 

53 NGOs and academics have submitted a petition that calls for amendments to Malta’s reform Bill No 241, “Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis”.

The bill, which is set for its final vote on Tuesday, 14 December, would allow citizens to possess up to 7g of cannabis for personal use, allow the cultivation of four cannabis plants in the home and would see the introduction of regulated cannabis clubs where people could purchase the plant.

The bill’s intention is to prevent the criminalisation of cannabis users and tackle the illicit cannabis market. Under the reform, proceedings for those in possession of more than 7g but less than 28g would take place in front of the Commissioner for Justice rather than the criminal court, and may lead to fines between €50 to €100.

The petition, initiated by director of the Roman Catholic Lasallian Education in Malta, Stephen Cachia, says that the Government of Malta remains adamant to pass a “weak regulatory framework which risks leaving a massive negative impact on our society, especially among children, youths and the most vulnerable.”

It calls for the government to:

  • Increase the age of legal cannabis consumption from 18 to 25
  • Increase the distance of cannabis clubs from schools, youth centres and post-secondary institutions from 250m to 1km
  • Double fines for smoking cannabis in front of children and in public
  • Remove the possibility allowed in the law for cannabis to be grown in residences adjacent to schools
  • Regulate the amount of THC allowed in cannabis
  • Remove the reference to educational campaigns mentioned in the Bill to retain clearly the present situation whereby Government campaigns on drug use focus exclusively on prevention measures explaining the risks of cannabis use

The NGOs and academics say that the Government has only considered the input of one pro-cannabis organisation and ignored input from other professionals including medical experts, academics and organisations with expertise in prevention. 

Malta’s Minister, Owen Bonnici, tabled the first reading of the bill in October 2021, and its white paper had more than 350 submissions from the public and organisations when consultation closed in May 2020.

Read more: Malta’s Minister Bonnici presents first reading on cannabis reform 

The petition was submitted on 7 December, 2021 and closes on 5 February, 2022. According to MaltaToday, the Nationalist Party made an urgent request to discuss the petition which was turned down by Petitions Committee chair Joe Mizzi. Mizzi stated he rejected the request as the petition would be discussed in February when it closes, as per the rules.

The publication reported that Mizzi noted the Opposition “had refused to table any submission and was absent during the consultation process” and that government Whip, Glenn Bedingfield, stated it had not participated in the bill’s consultations.

The petition states: “At this late stage in the parliamentary debate, the undersigned 52 associations and individuals, representing thousands of stakeholders, are making a strong appeal to Members of Parliament side to reflect on the far reaching negative repercussion this law may bring on our society and to introduce these mitigating amendments.”

German toxicologist, Dr Fabian Pitter Steinmetz, who has given talks to the Maltese Government about cannabis regulation said of the petition:

The bill is expected to pass on 14 December due to majority support. If indeed successful, the move would make Malta the first European country to decriminalise the personal use of cannabis ahead of Swizterland and Luxembourg, both of which recently announced changes to cannabis legislation that have yet to be voted in.

International

Italy plans hemp production increases: could the UK be next?

Italian officials are planning an increase in hemp and processing centres which could boost fabric or fibre production

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Officials in west-central Italy are progressing plans to build a sustainable hemp supply chain model which would help to boost local agriculture.

The town of Roccasecca is located in the Frosinone province in the Lazio region. Officials are preparing the land to be planted with hemp ahead of the growing season. The project is a joint initiative of the city of Roccasecca and Cosilam, the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, consultancy Agricola Happy Hill and municipalities of Ceccano and San Giovanni Incarico.

The project was announced last year as a way of processing poor soil and attracting industry to the region. The Consortium for the Industrial Development of Southern Lazio (Cosilam) conducted a pre-planting analysis and the soil will be assessed after one farming cycle this year.

Cannabis bioaccumlative

As well as the production of fibre, hemp plastic, concrete and biofuels, hemp can also be used as a bioaccumulative. It can draw unwanted toxic material out of the soil helping to heal polluted areas.

Nitrogen-fixing plants such as hemp, alfalfa and peas can extract nitrogen from the air for fertilization which then results in higher amounts released into the soil. Soil can be damaged by heavy metals, toxins and pesticides used in farming.

Soil regeneration may help to make the land suitable for farming other crops. Hemp could also contribute to the carbon targets set by European countries including the UK, by capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. For every tonne of hemp produced, 1.63 tonnes of CO2 is removed from the air. Hemp can absorb 15 tonnes of CO2 per hectare.

Examples of hemp fibre and fabric

Fabric made from hemp

Italian intuitive

Roccasecca is just one of many Italian cities considering hemp processing and planting.

Umbria, a neighbouring region to Lazio, has also started planting hemp with the aim of creating a hemp fibre and hurd supply chain. The city is also interested in the phytoremediation, and Phyto-purification of water in the region through hemp.

An increase in hemp farming and also an investment into infrastructure would allow Italian companies to start developing hemp-fibre-based bioplastics and biopolymers. It could also serve the textile and fashion industries where alternative fibres are in high demand.

Hemp cultivation has been legal in Italy since 2016. Until the second world war, Italy was the largest producer of hemp but the move towards synthetic fibres meant that production was scaled back.

During the pandemic, Italy proposed a law change regarding personal grows to allow medical cannabis patients to cultivate up to four plants at home. A petition on medical cannabis circulated last year gathered over 500,000 signatures which may trigger a referendum on legalisation.

Katya Kowalski, head of strategy at Volteface said: “The introduction of hemp farming across Italy is a welcome initiative. Hemp is a high value, sustainable and versatile crop. In the midst of economic and environmental turmoil, hemp is a viable crop from widespread job creation to offsetting carbon-intensive building.

Hemp is an excellent demonstration of how cannabis reform is a much broader and varied area of policy than simply recreational drug use.”

She added: “I hope that these positive changes continue to reframe the reform sector and that hemp farming is taken up further across Europe and in the UK.”

Hemp: Italy plans to increase hemp production

English production

When it comes to English hemp supply chains or production, Katya notes that changes would need to be made to THC levels to allow farmers more freedom.

“In order for the UK to capitalise on this, changes need to be made to the outdated restrictions on hemp farming. As per recommendations in Volteface’s report, Pleasant Lands allowing hemp seed varieties with a THC percentage above 0.2 per cent and up to 1 per cent would improve the health of the plant and increase the yield of CBD per acre.

Alongside this, investment into the sector and moving hemp farming under DEFRA as opposed to the Home Office to streamline this industry more”

Could the UK produce more hemp?

Hemp designer Laura Bossom, founder of Cultiva commented on what it would take for the UK to increase hemp production.

“As an industry, What we are waiting for is the government to put forward farmer incentives such as making policy changes that would allow farmers to benefit from growing hemp. Last year there were conversations happening [remove: at the moment] around building facility centres in the UK for processing. As a nation, we are only growing 1600 hectares a year and we must grow more to make it viable.” she said.

“There were initial talks about importing fibre from Europe but that doesn’t seem economically viable or sustainable in terms of emissions. I’m sure the government is aware of the information coming from research and other projects being put forward by a lot of associations. We are waiting for the government to give us the go-ahead and back it completely. They are protecting the Pharmaceutical CBD markets by making it difficult for farmers to grow. They don’t actually benefit much from growing hemp as the CBD margin on their crop is not there due to a ban on processing CBD in the UK.”

She added: “We need to be building our local industries and I don’t see why the government won’t do it. I think it’s just a matter of when.”

When it comes to private investment, Covid has caused disruption in the market and the hardiness of hemp could mean sturdier equipment is needed. However, government backing could secure private investors who may feel nervous about the sector.

Laura said: “The other issue we have is that it is quite a long process. When you look at other natural fibres, they are not as strong as hemp, so they are quicker and easier to process. Hemp is so hardy that it requires decortication with quaternized action and a lot of refining processes.

We need a facility centre that will cost a lot of money but will be profitable in the long term. It’s a big investment! A lot of investors during Covid have been wary of putting their money into a high-risk project when they aren’t seeing the government backing it or farming policy encouraging growth.”

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International

South African company planning to export cannabinoids to UK and EU

The company is the first in the country to receive a licence for the manufacture, import and export cannabinoids.

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South African company planning to export cannabinoids to UK

Green Engineering Solutions Ltd (GES Labs) has stated it intends to export into regions including Australia, Israel, EU, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and the US.

GES Labs is the first company in South Africa to receive the licence from the South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). 

The licence will allow the company to manufacture, import and export bulk active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) containing cannabinoids in accordance with the Medicines and Related Substances Act, 1965, and will last until 2026.

GES Labs, which is a licensed pharmaceutical manufacturer and exporter, has said that this will cover CBD Isolate APIs  at 98+ per cent, CBD API at 90+ per cent CBD, THC API at 90+ per cent THC and USP generic Dronabinol.

GES Labs stated publicly: “GESLabs has rolled out our product offering for 2022. 

“This quarter we will be focusing on our bulk cannabinoid product offering including CBD isolate, CBD intermediate, THC intermediate, and Dronabinol. 

“In quarter one we will be focusing on delivering sample amounts for prospective clients while our global stability program is underway for Quarter 2 commercial supply. 

“We will be looking to offer these products to Australia, Israel, EU, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, and US clients focussed on the pharmaceutical cannabinoid sector.”

On its website the company commented that: “The product certification ensures that all our cannabinoid APIs are of pharmaceutical quality suitable for medicine manufacturing.

“We use state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies to produce world-class extracts using high quality input materials from approved South African cultivators that have been approved through strictly controlled auditing programs.”

In December it said: “We have now been in production of cannabinoid APIs for a month and we will be finalizing our product validations with market-ready stability studies in the new year.”

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International

Thailand to propose removing cannabis from controlled substances list

Thailand was the first nation in Southeast Asia to approve medical cannabis in 2018

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Thailand: Thailand propose cannabis law changes

The Food and Drug Administration of Thailand is to propose that the narcotics control board remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances.

Under current law, cannabis is classed as a category 5 narcotic. It would also remove lengthy prison sentences for possession which can be up to 15 years. 

The measure would need to be approved by the Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul before the law is changed.

Thailand has been slowly liberalising access to cannabis although there are still many laws that restrict farming. Cannabis and hemp products are allowed in the cosmetic and food industries since 2020 with hospitals allowed to produce cannabis-based medicines.

Thailand was the first nation in Southeast Asia to approve medical cannabis in 2018. The county removed the stems, roots, leaves and sprigs of the plant from the Category 5 narcotics list in December 2021. However, buds and seeds remain on the list. 

Under the 2021 list update, Thai households can grow up to six plants for personal use and keep the parts of the plant with 0.2 per cent of THC. The flowers and seeds must be sent to a state medical facility for processing. 

Withid Sariddeechaikool, deputy secretary-general of the FDA told Bloomberg: “If we’re able to decriminalise marijuana, we will be able to benefit from all of the plant and not just parts of it. The flower buds and seeds could be used economically and in compliance of the law.”

Thailand: A collection of CBD oil in bottles and CBD flower

Thailand and medical cannabis

The Public Health Ministry in Thailand signed an agreement with Rx Leaf World Medica to establish an international medical cannabis research centre. The centre will combine doctors, scientists, pharmacists and cannabis experts to conduct research.

In a press event, public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul said that the ministry would promote medical cannabis to help people access treatment safely and within the law. He also highlighted that the ministry would aim to promote Thailand as a great location for cannabis production and development.

“In 2022, the Public Health Ministry will focus on promoting Thai herbs and wisdom in order to create jobs, generate revenue and improve patients’ quality of life.”
However, there have been some media reports which suggest that the formula that is available through the clinic is not of a high enough quality and that they have returned to the illegal market.

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