One of Malta’s first provisionally licensed ‘cannabis clubs’, headed by a government employee, may have violated rules on advertising in a now-deleted Facebook post where it invited potential members to embark on a “weed-loving journey” amid fears such clubs will descend into a free-for-all for cannabis users.
Under Malta’s cannabis laws, which entered into force in December 2021, ‘Cannabis Harm Reduction Associations’ are licensed and regulated entities that can grow and sell marijuana.
Associations must apply for licensing through a non-profit model set by the Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis. Under the rules, they must be non-profit and can only sell their product – only locally-grown cannabis can be sold in the country in a bid to cut down on trafficking.
Current harm reduction mechanisms include age restrictions, member caps and rules around the strength of the cannabis on offer. But as of November 2024, associations at an advanced licensing application stage will receive harm reduction training.
Associations are also not allowed to advertise themselves or include cannabis in the name or anything that may incite the use of cannabis.
While, according to the government, the legislation was necessary to make the use of recreational cannabis safer, opponents insist that it will make it easier to increase drug use and provide a sense of “free for all” in Malta’s society, particularly among youths.
In August, Sprawt was one of two associations to be granted an ‘in-principle’ licence, meaning the construction of growing facilities can start, but actual growing is still prohibited. The association can only begin cultivating cannabis once the authorities grant a full permit.
But on 6 October, Sprawt posted on Facebook to recruit members.
The post promises a “weed-loving journey” with “sizzling events, blazing giveaways, and pot-tastic surprises.”
Asking new potential association members to join, Sprawt promised “to elevate cannabis experiences to new heights”.
“We’re not your average social club, we’re your “high society” club, offering laughter, love, and lots of tokes”, Sprawt wrote.
The post has since been deleted along with the entire Sprawt Facebook page.
Based in Żebbuġ, Sprawt Chra is Andrew Cassar Overend as its key officer and treasurer, although he makes no mention of the association on his professional LinkedIn profile.
He has worked in several government roles, including at the National Development and Social Fund, where he is currently, and as an economics officer in the Ministry of Finance and Employment.
The Shift contacted Overend to ask if his post and the page violated rules on association advertising and why he took the Facebook page down, but no reply was forthcoming by the time of publication.
News of the first official cannabis clubs comes months after a new legal notice was published by the government putting revised fines, membership rules and requirements for setting up a cannabis association.
Clubs must keep a register of members’ details and be “non-profit making” while paying their administrators in line with market rates established by the Voluntary Organisations legislation.
According to this new legislation, the growing of cannabis is now legal, but smoking in public and trafficking are still considered a crime.
ARUC was set up in 2021 with Mariella Dimech, a former activist against legalising cannabis, as its first regulator. However, she was ousted shortly after by the government due to her lack of performance and was substituted by Leonid McKay.