‘Malta will not become another Amsterdam’: president of cannabis authority
Psychotherapist MARIELLA DIMECH has just been named the first executive chairman of the cannabis authority. She says Marc Laurence Zammit how she plans to stifle the black market and raise awareness about cannabis use.
You were against the legalization of cannabis. I remember very well that you opposed it.
You are right. When I worked at Caritas, I feared that legalization would create a ‘free attitude for all’. I had just returned from rehab training in the United States, where we were taught a punitive, zero-tolerance approach to drug addiction.
And I was very adamant about that when I was a program coordinator at Caritas. But I’ve learned from experience that it’s not the only way to go about it.
And I now believe that a harm reduction approach is also needed. That’s what this law does and what encouraged me to take on this role. Through this new authority, we have the opportunity to create a safe, balanced, responsible, informative and legal framework for the benefit of all.
But are you still against the legalization of cannabis?
How can I be against a law and preside over its authority? I’m not saying there aren’t addiction issues. They are still real and I haven’t changed my mind about them. I have seen how drugs can completely devastate people and their families. I have witnessed it several times.
But the new law recognizes the undeniable reality of cannabis use.
People smoke weed. Statistics show that it is the illicit substance most consumed after alcohol. Now our job as an authority is to recognize the risks and implement the necessary actions to promote safe consumption. Just because I take a harm reduction approach doesn’t mean I’m okay with addiction.
We must also inform the public of what the law says. Some people imagine cafes popping up everywhere selling weed and tourists coming to the island to smoke drugs. They imagine Malta becoming another Amsterdam.
None of this is in the law. The law does not allow a tourist to buy weed. It does not allow cafes.
Well, people are worried because the new law allows you to smoke more weed, and it could be dangerous for some people.
You are wrong. People who broke the law were already smoking as much as they wanted. I know people are worried that the law will increase consumption.
Only research can answer this question… the research that we will carry out within the framework of the provision of licenses.
What is the basic difference between cannabis and cocaine? Cannabis can lead some people to very dark places, just like cocaine.
The principle is different because the effects of each drug are different and to understand them it takes time to analyze the effects of each. As for alcohol and tobacco.
I will never encourage people to smoke weed, just like I never encourage people to smoke cigarettes. But some people still do, and when they do, we will provide them with a harm reduction approach through information, education, and ensuring that legal cannabis is sold below market price. noir.
How is this a harm reduction approach, though? How do you help me to harm myself less if I was previously allowed to smoke up to 3.5 grams and now I am allowed to smoke seven grams?
It reduces harm because previously every gram was bought illegally and for every gram people had no idea what they were buying. They didn’t know if it was synthetic, if it contained any chemicals, and how much THC it contained.
Now people will know exactly that they are buying at a price lower than the black market and they will be informed of its potential effects.
This does not remove dependency issues.
This reduces the damage and allows the person to be better informed because now more people will not hide what they are doing.
All drug addicts in Caritas rehabilitation programs confirm that they have all started from weed or alcohol.
Aren’t you worried that we have legalized a substance that is almost always the source of some of the worst problems?
This happens because alcohol and cannabis have always been the most readily available substances.
Statistics show that their availability has made it easier for people to connect to them. The difference now is that whenever someone comes to the counter to buy weed, it will be as safe as possible. We also plan to conduct continued research into its effects on human psychology.
Caritas says cannabis could lead to psychosis and schizophrenia in some people. Doesn’t that worry you?
It’s not just Caritas that says so. It is backed by research and authority will never dispute that. But there is also other research on cannabis.
We will ensure that we provide people with all relevant research so that they are able to make responsible, evidence-based decisions.
I love Caritas and their work and they will always be close to my heart and that is part of the reason I took on this role.
Research shows that often addiction is the consequence of a deeper, unresolved problem.
People who end up addicted to heavy drugs usually come from difficult childhoods, trauma, abuse, attachment issues, peer pressure, and psychological disorders.
In my first thesis, I studied the link between substance abuse and child abuse. I found that 80% of people surveyed with drug addiction were abused at home.
So, yes, a certain history and genetic makeup can put them at increased risk of addiction and the authority will work to address that through education programs.
Caritas urges you to do all you can to prevent what it calls ‘further legalisation’. This is what many parents are afraid of – complete liberalization. Can you assure them that this will not happen?
I think the government sent a clear message when they appointed us.
We are all professionals in drug addiction, addiction, psychology, sociology and law and it shows that the government values our contributions to a healthier and healthier society.
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