In an historic first for Europe, Malta has voted in a bill legalising adult use of cannabis.
After lengthy public consultation and three readings in parliament, Malta’s government has passed its reform bill, “Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis”, with a majority of 36 votes to 27. The development makes Malta the first European country to pass a legal regulatory framework for the adult use of cannabis.
Prior to this vote, possession of up to 3g of cannabis for personal use was decriminalised. Under the new law, citizens will be able to possess up to 7g of cannabis for personal use, cultivate up to four cannabis plants in the home and regulated cannabis clubs would be introduced where people could purchase the plant. It would also see the introduction of a regulatory body – the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis.
Penalties would still be implemented under the new bill, however, including fines for possession of more than 7g, court hearings for possession in excess of 28g, fines of up to €235 for public consumption of the plant and fines of €300 to €500 for consuming it in front of a minor.
Days before the final vote on the bill, a group of signatories, including the Nationalist Party, petitioned the Government of Malta to amend the bill as they believe it will harm society. The petitions committee chairman Joe Mizzi said the bill, which so far has over 9000 signatures, would not be discussed before today’s vote as it must be open for 60 days.
In a social media post, hours before the vote, former leader of the Nationalist Party and former Prime Minister of Malta from 2004 to 2013, Lawrence Gonzi, said that he hoped the bill was not being passed to serve the interests of a select few. He proceeded to encourage those who signed the petition to attempt to remove the bill “as soon as possible”.
He stated: “I wholeheartedly agree with the position of the PN and the organizations that spoke out against the Cannabis law that will be submitted to Parliament for approval today.
“I cannot understand how this Government has decided to set aside the advice of all the experts who have spoken out against this law. Nor can I understand how a supposedly socialist government that claims to seek the common good, abandons all this and takes this great risk that will surely have a very bad effect on our society as a whole and especially on our children.
“I hope that all this is not being done to once again serve the interests of the few who are mindful of money instead of the interests of our children. If so, then even if you pass this law, someone has to think about getting rid of it as soon as possible by all legitimate methods.”
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Thailand to propose removing cannabis from controlled substances list
Thailand was the first nation in Southeast Asia to approve medical cannabis in 2018
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 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.