CND 67 side event - Intervention by Mr Leonid McKay
CND 67 side event – Intervention by Mr Leonid McKay
21 March

Mitigating the socioeconomic impact related to drug use by strengthening societal resilience through community-based action

Short intro

Good morning to all. It is my pleasure to contribute to this side event organised by Malta, my country.

I am the Executive Chairperson of the Maltese Authority for the Responsible Use of Cannabis. I also worked for several years within the drug rehab field with a specific emphasis on residential therapeutic communities for persons with problematic use of drugs and also as Chief Executive Officer of the Housing Authority in Malta.  

Objective

Let me start with cannabis regulation in Malta – a purely harm-reduction approach. I will focus on the Regulation of cannabis for non-medical use, allowing limited activities related to the personal use of cannabis.  

There is no single alternative, no single policy approach to the dangers and risks of the illicit market.

Often, we hear that the only alternative to the illegal market is the full-blow retail commercialised market.

Context

We strongly believe that regulation should not be industry-driven. It should not concern big corporations, monopolies, or companies.

It should be community-driven. I am not a big fan of self-regulation; however, I strongly believe that cannabis regulation should be about the community itself.

We do not perceive cannabis as if it is a commodity on the open market.  

It is not about maximisation of profits.

It is not a new economic niche where the government seek new revenue.

The Malta Cannabis Reform is part of a broader drug policy reform framework built on a person-centred approach that looks at drug use within society from a public health lens.

That is why we have adopted a very different approach from a commercialised type of regulation. Commercial enterprises and/or profit-driven actors have no place or role in the regulation of cannabis in Malta.

Commercialisation goes against the fundamental principle of what we aim to achieve. It goes against the fundamental harm reduction principles, public health and community-based action.  

What we aim for is not a transition of cannabis users from the dangers of the illicit market to a full-blown commercialised market. Such a move will not put the community at the centre.  

  • I cannot imagine an industry-driven-market prioritising harm reduction over profits.
  • I firmly believe that a free-for-all commercialised market is as dangerous as the illicit market because it minimises risks and dangers to attract new users.

We believe that adopting a community-based action approach to cannabis regulation is to adopt a not-for-profit model. Such a model is not a fairy tale at all. It is no longer a nice idea but has been successfully implemented in Malta.

We aim for a shift of cannabis users from the risks associated with the illicit market [adulterated cannabis, emergence of synthetic products, criminal consequences] to a regulated and community-driven not-for-profit sector via Cannabis Harm Reduction Associations.

The key element of our not-for-profit regulatory model is that it should be a bottom-up approach, with the members of cannabis harm reduction associations being key players, not simple consumers.

That is why we advocate for a complete ban on any form of advertising. It is not about enticing new users like a commercialised market would do or encouraging increased use.

  • That is why we advocate for strict financing rules to prohibit cannabis harm reduction associations from developing into profit-driven platforms.
  • That is why we prioritise a seed-to-distribution model, preventing big monopolies’ emergence.
  • That is why we promote a model emphasising small-scale operations driven by the local community over drug tourism.
  • That is why we emphasised quality testing and compliance over revenue.

One of our biggest harm reduction policies is that it takes over from the invisible hand of the illicit criminal market without giving it up to the big profit-making corporations. This is only possible if a community and not-for-profit-driven model is adopted.  

The good news! No, it is not a fairy tale concept.

In these first weeks since the Cannabis Harm Reduction Associations started the distribution to their own members, it was evident that all members are already EXISTING USERS – this shows that a community-driven approach facilitates a shift of existing users from the illicit market to a more regulated source without promoting or facilitating an increase in cannabis use or the initiation of new users.

Conclusion

I will close my short intervention with a brief overview of how HOUSING POLICY in Malta perceives problematic drugs from a comprehensive approach.

Problematic drug use is a multifaceted phenomenon; however, providing stable accommodation should be a priority without any specific pre-conditions.

Housing assistance should not be conditional.

Stable accommodation should be a fundamental right and without specific preconditions such as sobriety, abstinence, mental health or participation in services.

Housing policy in Malta prioritises accommodation regardless of socio-economic status or health condition.

This also applies to persons with problematic drug use.

I used to have a lot of heated discussions with people arguing that social housing should be provided on one condition – that they successfully complete a rehab programme.  It is about accepting the idea that people with substance use issues can manage their issues whilst in housing.

It is also about giving the service users themselves a voice in getting stable accommodation in their community of choice. It should foster social connections and engagement with neighbours.

Unconditional housing should be about stability and community engagement.

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