“This is a historic day for the health of our people,” Dr Ayesha Verrall, New Zealand’s health minister declared. New Zealand introduced measures that will eventually ban all cigarette sales.
“We want to make sure young people never start smoking,” Prime minister Jacinda Adern proudly declared. Selling or supplying tobacco to new cohorts of youth is now an offence in New Zealand. The legal age of buying tobacco will gradually be raised until eventually smoking will be phased out.
Malta’s Health Minister on the other hand stated “I always advise people not to drink and smoke but it is their decision to make, the same applies to cannabis”. Minister Owen Bonnici has been euphemistically promoting the recent cannabis law changes as harm reduction. Possession of 7g of cannabis will be legal and up to 28 g subject to a meagre fine paid online. Any adult can grow 4 cannabis plants at home.
Bonnici’s pathetic arguments are entirely hollow. There already is a “real and great spread of cannabis”, he claimed, so might as well make it legal. Nobody would consider legalising rape because it’s pretty common. Or tax evasion because it’s rampant.
Those making “responsible use” of the drug are “disproportionately penalized,” Bonnici stated. Actually not. If your son or daughter is mowed down by a driver under the influence of cannabis, the driver cannot be found guilty of driving under the influence of cannabis or even causing death while under the influence of cannabis. There is no maximum THC concentration established in Maltese law to define a cannabis related driving offence – unlike many EU countries. Even if any law existed, our police wouldn’t know. They simply don’t have the means of testing for cannabis.
While Bonnici harps on about risk reduction, he hasn’t told us that in states where cannabis use was relaxed traffic deaths involving cannabis positive drivers doubled. When combined with alcohol, as it often is, its effects are amplified.
While Labour rushed the cannabis ‘reforms’ through parliament it’s done nothing to protect the rest of society that doesn’t use cannabis. It hasn’t bothered to update the laws regarding driving under the influence of cannabis. It has not prepared the police force with tools to identify cannabis use in drivers. Neither has it empowered our judicial system to protect us from those making “responsible use” of the drug by driving under the influence.
Bonnici continues to make ludicrous claims: “those who use cannabis have no choice but to resort to criminality”. In the same way those robbing a bank have no choice but to resort to criminality.
To bolster government’s defence on cannabis they’ve rolled out Carmelo Abela who penned an article “The non-option on cannabis”. Nobody would buy a used car from Carmelo Abela. Why on earth would you send him to rally the troops? The man has not a crumb of credibility. Repeatedly exposed for his dishonesty, he pompously pronounced: “The issue here is being honest with ourselves as a society”.
In his warped logic he comments: “I would better have my children brought up in an environment where societal truths are discussed rather than pushing everyone to the black market to illegally procure cannabis”. The clear binary choice for Abela is either to have his children discuss issues or for “everyone” to procure cannabis illegally. Abela’s statement would be hilarious if it weren’t absurdly dangerous. We either “discuss” issues, by which he means accepting whatever Labour throws at us, or we all get cannabis illegally, he proposes.
Abela betrays one of the reasons behind Labour’s rush to decriminalise cannabis. Abela points out that when Colorado decriminalized cannabis possession, it “attracted tourism with an approximate added income of 2.2 billion dollars in 2020”.
Shamelessly, Carmelo Abela declares that “our remit as a government is to lead”. Pandering to the demands of a narrow interest lobby group at the cost of wider society is not leading. Leading is what Jacinda Adern does. Leading is taking the right decisions for the nation’s health, even when those decisions are unpopular. Leading is doing the right thing even when electoral prospects may be damaged. Leading is putting the future interest of your nation before narrow partisan interests.
Health experts welcomed Adern’s legislation as “world leading reforms”. Prof Janet Hook commented that “it will make it much less likely that young people get addicted to nicotine”.
The cynics protested that Adern’s actions will create a black market. The black market excuse is one Labour used to relax cannabis legislation. Adern’s response was simple – no problem, we will tackle it. So she’s allocated more resources to enforce border control and empower law enforcement to stifle the black market. That is true leadership. When faced with a problem, don’t throw in the towel. Leaders don’t legalise widespread problems away. They fix them.
New Zealand plans to reduce smoking rates to 5% by 2025. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Smoking causes a quarter of deaths and is the leading cause of preventable deaths. Adern is not taking “it’s their decision” approach. She’s also imposed major tobacco controls. Sales of cigarettes has been severely restricted. Cigarettes can’t be sold in supermarkets or corner shops. The legal amount of nicotine in cigarettes has been reduced. Funding for addiction services has been increased to truly reduce harm.
In New Zealand only 13% smoke. In Malta 27.8% smoke. Every year over 500 Maltese people die because of smoking – 40% from cancer, 40% from cardiovascular disease and 18% from respiratory disease. That’s more than the total number of COVID deaths in two years.
Now wouldn’t some tough anti-smoking legislation be a lovely present from Labour? Wouldn’t an attempt to save those hundreds of lives be the decent thing to do? Sadly that won’t happen. Instead we get the Cannabis law. When it comes to choose between what is right and what wins votes, we know what Labour does.