Malta is adding an amendment to its drug law to make obtaining cannabis for medical purposes less arduous.
For patients in the European country of Malta, medical marijuana will soon be available like all other prescription medications. Malta Health Minister Chris Fearne announced on November 20 an amendment to the nation’s Drug Dependence Act of 2015 that will simplify the process for obtaining cannabis for medical purposes.
Prior to the change, writing prescriptions was limited to specialist doctors, such as:
Additionally, the specialist had to be registered in the Medicines Act, and every prescription for medical cannabis had to be approved by either the local medicines authority or the European Medicines Agency.
Non-smokable forms of medical cannabis had been available in Malta through this tedious and bureaucratic process since the passing of the Drug Dependence Act of 2015. The narrow selection of doctors permitted to write prescriptions, along with the arduous approval process, however, has so far inhibited patients from actually obtaining access.
“In these two years, we found that despite the requests by patients and doctors alike, in practice the 2015 law involved too much bureaucracy and many could not get access to the medicinals they needed,” Fearne announced at a press conference.
The new amendment will allow any general practitioner to prescribe cannabis, although prescriptions will need to be approved by the Superintendent of Health. Patients with a prescription and a control card will be able to purchase cannabis extracts from a pharmacy.
“No products prescribed by a doctor can be used for smoking, and these products can only be purchased from a pharmacy using a control card,” Fearne said.
Fearne added that Parliament would soon begin discussions related to legislation that allow manufacturers in Malta to produce medical cannabis products domestically. As of now, those who are licensed are only allowed to import medical cannabis products.
Will the New Amendment Help Patients?
Malta cannabis advocacy organization ReLeaf cheered the announcement of the amendment, describing it as “long overdue.”
“We especially applaud allowing family doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis as they see fit, which is in line with our proposals,” ReLeaf announced. “We also applaud the issuance of licenses for those who would like to manufacture cannabis-related products in Malta.”
The organization raised concerns, however, that the amendment doesn’t go far enough to truly help patients. Requiring prescriptions to be approved by the Superintendent of Health, ReLeaf argues, will add bureaucracy that hinders access.
Furthermore, limiting products to cannabis extracts and not allowing patients access to marijuana flowers will push patients to obtain cannabis illegally.
“Forcing patients to buy expensive extracts when they can turn to the black market and buy a natural product, from which they can make their own medicine, will be a losing strategy for the government,” ReLeaf added. “It will only strengthen the black market.”
Malta officials indicate, however, that more changes to the nation’s medical cannabis policies are coming.
“We want to update the protocols on medical marijuana so as to allow GPs to prescribe it, to allow more medical marijuana products to enter the Maltese market, and to allow people to manufacture the medicine in Malta,” Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in October. “The government wants to first make medical marijuana more accessible and then start discussing cannabis for personal use.”
Learn about Medical Marijuana
Researchers have conducted thousands of studies on medical marijuana. You can learn about their findings by visiting our education page.