By Steven Voser

In December 2021, Malta became[1] the first European nation to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at Legal Notice 478, which exercises Malta’s 2021 Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis Act. We’ll teach you exactly what the act allows, what it doesn’t, some key events that led to its acceptance by President Vella and a majority of Maltese MPs, and the impact it might have on the legalization movement across Europe.

Understanding Malta’s Cannabis Law

Malta’s Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis Act was signed into law on Saturday, December 18th, 2021. While the law didn’t fully legalize weed, it did mark some clear legal parameters allowing people over 18 years old to carry and grow limited amounts of cannabis.

Under the new act, people 18 years or older can now legally:

✔️ Carry up to 0.2 oz of cannabis.
✔️ Grow up to 4 plants at home. This limit applies per household, not per person, and the plants must not be visible to the public.
✔️ Store up to 1.8 oz of cannabis.
✔️ Apply to have any charges for cannabis possession expunged from their criminal record.
✔️ Establish organizations (i.e. cannabis clubs) with other individuals that serve the sole purpose of growing and distributing cannabis among the organization’s members.

The law falls under the scope of the Ministry for Equality, Research, and Innovation. The Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis will be charged with upholding and amending the law if necessary.

  • Malta’s Take on Cannabis Clubs

As noted above, Malta’s new cannabis legislation allows adults to form cannabis clubs dedicated solely to supplying its members with cannabis. This is so cannabis users who cannot or choose not to cultivate their own cannabis have ways to access it legally.

Under Malta’s new weed law, cannabis clubs must abide by the following restrictions:

⚠️ Cannabis organizations must be run as nonprofits.
⚠️ Only individuals can be registered as the owners of a cannabis organization.
⚠️ Cannabis organizations must be located at least 250 metres from a school.
⚠️ Organizations can’t have more than 500 members.
⚠️ Cannabis organizations can sell their members up to 0.2 oz of cannabis per day, and 1.8 oz per month.
⚠️ Cannabis organizations can sell their members up to 20 cannabis seeds per month to facilitate the home cultivation of cannabis.

All cannabis organizations must register with the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis, and report to it every three months. Memberships to cannabis organizations are to be kept anonymous.

Malta’s Take on Cannabis Clubs

What Doesn’t Malta’s Cannabis Law Allow?

The Responsible Use of Cannabis Act also marks clear legal parameters for people operating outside its restrictions. These include:

❌ Anyone caught carrying between 0.2 – 1 oz of cannabis must appear at a tribunal, which may impose a fine of up to €100.
❌ Smoking cannabis in public remains illegal. Anyone caught smoking in public will have to appear in front of a justice and may be fined up to €235.
❌ Any adult caught smoking cannabis in front of a child (either in public or private) may be fined up to €500.
❌ Minors caught in possession of cannabis will not be arrested. Instead, they shall be referred to a justice commission to establish a “care plan”.

Based on the information made available by the Maltese government and media reports, some obvious aspects of the new cannabis policy remain unclear.

For example, the Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis Act doesn’t seem to specify the sanctions that apply to people caught in possession of more than 1 oz of cannabis, storing more than 1.8 oz of cannabis at home, or growing more than four plants. It also doesn’t state what actions will be taken against cannabis associations that do not comply with the act’s regulations.

What Was Malta’s Stance on Cannabis Prior to 2021?

Prior to 2021, Malta had already made some minor changes to its cannabis policy. In 2015, for example, the country decriminalised the possession of up to 0.1 oz of cannabis.

First-time offenders caught possessing more than this limit could be fined between €50–100, while repeat offenders were forced to appear in front of a Drug Offender’s Rehabilitation Board, which could sanction the individual to rehabilitation. Failure to comply with the rehabilitation programme would be considered a criminal offense.

In 2015, Malta also approved the prescription use of Sativex—a cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical containing THC and CBD. Then, in March 2018, Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca signed into law the Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Research Purposes Act, which also approved the prescription use of medical cannabis.

What Was Malta’s Stance on Cannabis Prior to 2021?

How Does Malta’s Law Compare to That of Other European Countries?

The Netherlands is obviously extremely well-known for its lax cannabis laws, which attract millions of tourists from around the world every year. However, cannabis actually remains a controlled substance in Holland; its use and sale via coffeeshops are just tolerated by police. Hence, most of the operations going on inside Holland’s coffeeshop scene occur in a kind of legal gray area where they are tolerated, but technically still illegal.

In recent years, Spain has also become a hotspot in the European cannabis scene due to the rising number of cannabis social clubs popping up around the country, especially in Barcelona. Like Holland’s coffeeshops, Spain’s cannabis clubs also operate within some legal gray areas.

Spanish law prohibits the cultivation of cannabis for personal use, but not the consumption of cannabis on private property.

Self-consumption is therefore not criminally punishable, nor the use of cannabis in the company of other people, in closed spaces away from the general public. Cannabis clubs exist (and are allowed to continue operating) under the law of personal choice, freedom, and social consumption in a private property. Some laws are being created in the process, allowing cultivation, transport and social use of the herb, always in a discrete manner and away from public health.

In order to operate without breaking any laws, Spain’s cannabis clubs are run as nonprofits, and provide their members with small amounts of cannabis in exchange for an annual fee, which is to cover the costs associated with cultivation. There is, however, no clear legislation that dictates what constitutes a member of a cannabis club or the amount of weed they are legally entitled to.

More recently, other European nations have announced that they would revisit their cannabis legislation. Luxembourg legalized medical cannabis use in 2018, and also announced plans to legalize the plant’s recreational use that same year. Then, in 2021, the Luxembourg government followed up by announcing a plan[2] that would allow adults to grow and consume cannabis within their own homes, as well as buy cannabis seeds locally or import them from other countries.

In 2021, Germany also rekindled talks of legalizing cannabis. Germany’s government, now led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, stated it was open to legalizing cannabis to some degree, allowing, for example, the controlled sale of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes. This would complement the medical cannabis programme that has been in place in Germany since 2017.

Finally, Malta’s neighbor Italy also came close to legalizing cannabis use in 2021, through a legalization referendum that was presented to the Italian Supreme Court on January 22, 2022, and ruled inadmissible by the Constitutional Court on February 16th.

We will have to wait and see how Malta’s decision to legalize recreational cannabis affects the rest of Europe. Given that legalization is a hot topic for many governments around the world, we can only expect countries like Luxembourg, Germany, and Italy to pay close attention to how Malta’s framework holds up.

External Resources:
  1. It's official: recreational cannabis reform is now law
  2. Luxembourg to legalise growing and using cannabis at home
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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