Most Maltese know one fact on drug traffickers in prison. The fact that these are, in nearly all cases the small fish in the drug business. Mostly couriers who take huge risk and long prison sentences for little financial profit or drug addicts peddling some drugs to finance their own habit. Most of us know that a kingpin, those getting rich from drug trafficking, rarely ever get caught, let alone convicted.

What most Maltese don’t know is the other fact which is, to put it mildly, much scarier. What many don’t know is that there are people in our prisons who never made a single Euro out of drugs serving a sentence for drug trafficking.

How could this be possible?

Simple. In Malta (contrary to practically all other EU countries and, above all, common sense), sharing is dealing. When two or more people share say, a joint or a stash of heroin they’re not only committing the offence of drug use but also of trafficking – with each other.

This is why, for instance, Daniel Holmes who was never convicted of selling a single milligram of cannabis or that he had the intention to do so, has drug trafficking among his convictions. A charge on which the prosecution had originally asked for life imprisonment.

Daniel Holmes did not cultivate cannabis plants on his own but with a friend. The other guy, called Barry Lee, committed suicide in custody as soon as he came to know what a long term prison sentence he was facing. The plants belonged to both.

When both Daniel Holmes and Barry Lee admitted that they were using the same plants, little did they know that they were admitting to drug trafficking. Daniel Holmes was charged with trafficking with Barry Lee while Barry Lee was charged with trafficking with Daniel Holmes.

The case of Daniel Holmes is one I’m very familiar with. But I’m completely sure there are other people in Maltese prisons serving a sentence on drug trafficking without having ever even considered making money out of drug dealing.

Our laws are so absurd that the following scenario is possible:

A is a drug dealer while B is simply a consumer. A buys the drugs, sells them to B and asks the latter to roll a joint, which he does. They share that joint and get caught red handed smoking it.

A, being a drug dealer thus more street-wise denies everything except for smoking a joint. B, who is greener on these things and gets terrified by the police barking in his face says the truth and admits he actually did roll a joint and give it to A.

With a confession being the most powerful evidence against you and A being street-savvy hiring a good, expensive lawyer, there is the possibility that B goes to jail for drug trafficking while A gets a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence for simple possession.

 I believe that Marihuana is still illegal mainly due to one particular reason – misconception. There are many arguments against legalising Marihuana, I find them nearly all flawed. Here I will discuss one of the most common – that Marihuana though not very harmful in itself, leads to harder drugs. That it’s a stepping stone towards heroin or cocaine. I disagree.

First of all, let’s start by defining a drug. A drug is a substance that when inserted in a person’s body causes a change in how a person thinks and feels. Whether it is smoked, drank, swallowed, sniffed or injected doesn’t make a difference in what qualifies as a drug. Thus, not considering alcohol and prescribed pills that affect the Central Nervous System, such as tranquilisers, as non drugs because they are legal is a big mistake. After a particular dose of them, a person starts feeling changes such as relaxation, increased self-confidence, euphoria and many others. They are drugs, and how.

The stepping stone theory states that many people who end up hooked on hard drugs usually start with softer ones and then proceed to harder ones. There are many exceptions, however in general I agree with this theory.

Many scientific studies suggest that the first ‘drug’ a person who had proceeded to hard drugs had started with is Marihuana. However usually such research has one big flaw. The people filling in questionnaires or whatever method of data collection say their first drug was Marihuana because they don’t consider alcohol as a drug. Very few people have intoxicated themselves with Marihuana without having done so previously with alcohol at least once in their life.

 When a person takes his first drug, which is usually alcohol he learns a lesson. He learns that with a chemical outside of himself he can control his mood. That he can change a feeling he doesn’t like such as shyness to one he prefers such as self confidence. Due to our culture, where alcohol is socially accepted most people do thread on this stone.

Marihuana does exactly the same thing. The state of mind arrived to after its use is different, however the level of change is approximately the same, if not less drastic (in fact much more people do irresponsible things such as violence or unprotected sex if they are intoxicated by alcohol than Marihuana) than the effect of alcohol.

If Marihuana was legal, the second lesson the individual learns is that if he breaks the law, he can find new drugs with a much more severe alterations in his state of mind. This is a big step. One has to be willing to take a drug he knows is dangerous as well as break the law. With Marihuana criminalised, this step is broken in two. The man who ‘arrives’ to heroin or cocaine would have already got used to breaking the law in order to acquire Marihuana.

 Thus, it is its illegality that makes Marihuana a stepping stone.

This has many implications. That alcohol is sold from a legitimate pub, disco or supermarket means that the consumer doesn’t have to mingle with some criminal network to acquire it. On the other hand, the same networks that supply Marihuana, are more likely then not to be related to networks providing harder drugs.

Another problem is that if the individual considers Marihuana a drug, and alcohol a non-drug, after he smokes his first joint, he has already accepted the fact that he has already taken drugs. It is then a less big deal to take something that falls in the same category – illicit drug. It is tempting to think that after all drugs are not that much of a big deal. By legalising Marihuana, it is easier to spread the idea that alcohol is a drug, with a potential for harm, especially getting addicted to it. Not as devastating as heroin or cocaine, however neither Marihuana is.

This is one of the reasons I strongly believe it should be legalised. I’m not saying it’s harmless. However, even biting your own fingernails can cause appendicitis and thankfully no one is considering making such practice illegal.

Regarding the racially related violence that spread in Rosarno yesterday 8th January, all that Interior Minister Roberto Maroni did was condemn immigration, stating that violence by migrants had been ‘tolerated all these years’. Unfortunately Maroni is (partially) succeeding in fuelling hatred between the people of Rosarno and immigrants. Thanks to this, the attention is taken away from the real cause of the history of violence in Calabria – the N’drangheta – an organisation larger and more brutal than the Sicilian Mafia, that unlike the latter prefers to keep a low profile.

Once again a right-wing leader is using the tactic of divide and rule. Let the oppressed African workers fight with the oppressed, albeit less severely, people of Rosarno. Most of the people in Rosarno support the N’dangreta. What the immigrants do not know is that most of these people, otherwise honest men and women, do so out of fear of this deadly organisation.

Maroni’s words were condemned by the Italian left as xenophobic and racist. However what I find really worrying is not the words he said, but those he didn’t. If one relies on the Interior Minister’s condemnations, the N’drangeta barely exists. Unlike the violence of the immigrants, that of this criminal organisation is never mentioned.

The extreme violence of the N’drangheta is not mainly targeted at African immigrants, but rich Italians living in the North, ironically the core voters of Maroni’s party. In fact, the organisation got its financial boost to make itself on the same level or even better than the Sicilian Mafia and the Camorra, by kidnapping children and relatives of millionaires from the North for huge ransom sums of money. Most of these victims just ‘vanished’ either because their families failed to pay the ransom, or because they happened to see something they shouldn’t. A few were given back to their families after the ransom was paid. All of these had been severely physically abused and psychologically traumatised for life. In the last three decades only one person managed to escape. Unfortunately, probably out of fear, he was captured and sent back to the criminals by the people of Rosarno themselves.

The ransom money was in turn invested in massive drug trafficking where a kilogram of Cocaine is bought for €20 and sold more than douple that price for every single gramme. Most of these drugs were sold to rich adoloscents in the North, the same people Maroni claims to defend.

The ‘caccia al negro’ serves well for duping the people of Rosarno and let them vent their rage. A ‘caccia al Mafioso’ would not only be more horrible, but might also be the beginning of the fight against the N’drangheta.

In an intercepted conversation between two N’drangheta leaders one says “noi siamo il passato, il presente e il futuro” (we are the past, the present and the future). However, the other voice shows concern for the organisation “se la gente si ribella, noi siamo finiti” (if people revolt, it’s the end of us).

The words Maroni said show him as a racist. However, the words he failed to mention show an even more sinister side.