- The personal use and cultivation of cannabis has been approved by Malta's parliament.
- Its Prime Minister said the move will spare parents the trauma of their child being arrested.
- A tough stance will still be maintained on dealers.
Malta's parliament approved Tuesday the legalisation of cannabis and its cultivation for personal use - a first in Europe, although other countries tolerate it to varying degrees.
Adults will be allowed to have up to seven grams of cannabis and grow up to four plants at home under the legislation backed by Prime Minister Robert Abela's Labour party.
The law, which passed by 36 votes to 27, also allows for the creation of regulated non-profit associations of up to 500 people to grow the drug for the exclusive use of their members.
"We are legislating to address a problem and taking the harm reduction approach by regulating the sector, so that people do not have to resort to the black market to purchase cannabis," Abela said during a parliamentary debate last month.
He said he wanted to maintain a tough stance on dealers but spare parents the "trauma" of their child being arrested and hauled to court over a joint.
"We are dissuading people from smoking cannabis, while not treating those who choose to do so as criminals. Drug trafficking will remain illegal," he said.
The move comes just weeks after Luxembourg announced similar proposals.
Germany's new government also plans to legalise the recreational use of cannabis.
Spain and the Netherlands already tolerate, to different degrees, the consumption and growing of cannabis for personal use. Both Czechoslovakia and Portugal, meanwhile, have decriminalised cannabis for personal use.
Malta is often regarded as socially conservative but had already decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cannabis, and passed legislation that promoted the island as a potential centre for the production of medical marijuana.
The main opposition Nationalist Party opposed the latest plan, warning it would "normalise and increase drug abuse in our country".
The law also softens penalties for those found with larger amounts of cannabis.
Adults in possession of between seven and 28 grams of cannabis for their own use face a tribunal rather than a court, and a maximum 100-euro fine.
Minors caught in possession of cannabis meanwhile will be referred to a tribunal which may propose a care plan or treatment.
Consuming cannabis in public, however, remains illegal, punishable by a 235-euro fine, while consuming the drug in front of a child, whether in public or private, could entail a penalty of between 300 and 500 euros.
In October, Luxembourg's government unveiled proposals to allow each household to grow up to four cannabis plants, and to reduce fines for public consumption in cases involving fewer than three grams.
In Spain, the lack of a legal framework allows for the private production and consumption of cannabis by adults for their personal use in a private space, though its sale is still illegal.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands tolerates the sale of small amounts of cannabis to locals in coffeeshops and possession by individuals of no more than five grams of cannabis or five plants.