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Reading time - 6 minutes - November 18, 2021
‘You may have the universe if I may have Italy’ – Verdi
Down at the bottom of the European continent sits a boot-looking country: Italy. This place is a place of dreams. Well known for its Colosseum, pizza, pasta, Leonardo Di Vinci, the Amalfi Coast, ice cream and….progressive cannabis laws? Europe is an up and down place when it comes to cannabis legality, with some countries leading the charge, and others with firmer and less accepting approaches. The Netherlands are known worldwide for their weed-utopian capital, Spain are noted for their cannabis cafes, but what about Italy? Are they part of the less-progressive countries, or are they part of the cannabis revolution? Let’s find out.
In Italy, cannabis is referred to as many terms. Some call it canne, some call it erba, some call it canapa. Whichever word you use, they all essentially describe the same thing: the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant is a complex beauty, and as more research is done into its many parts, the way in which it is dealt with changes. There are 100 cannabinoids within the marijuana plant, and each creates different effects. The two most commonly spoken about are CBD and THC, and each of these is dealt with differently by law.
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CBD is the calmer, chiller one. CBD is not a psychoactive substance, which means it does not alter the state of someone’s mind. However, CBD still has relaxing effects and can also be used to treat pains and ailments. Some research has also been done into CBD helping with concentration levels. CBD is usually connected with the medical use of cannabis, and is seen as a pretty harmless cannabinoid by most of the world.
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THC is the more exciting, trippy one. THC is a psychoactive substance, which means it does alter the state of someone’s mind. The effects can include: euphoria, hunger, enhanced senses, joy, paranoia and dizziness. Whilst THC has proven to help with both mental and physical health issues, its connection with recreational use has deemed it an illegal substance in many countries.
Hemp is often the first introduction of any country to cannabis due to the fact that it can be used to create essentials like clothes, food and building materials, Hemp cultivation was a huge aspect of life in Italy during the Roman times. This dates back to the 1st century CE. Hemp. By the 1940s, Italy was one of the largest producers of hemp in the world. However, hemp production became out of favour in Europe in the late 1900s due to alternative materials being easier to make, and cheaper to produce. However in the 2000s cannabis came back in fashion. In 2014, law 79 claimed that cannabis was a less dangerous drug than the harder drugs: cocaine and heroin. This officially decriminalized cannabis use. In addition, in 2016, the Italian government began regulating hemp production, which allowed for cannabis products with a very low percentage of THC to be sold in shops. But let’s delve into the specific laws in Italy on cannabis.
In Italy, cannabis is not a current completely legal drug. There are some loopholes here and there, but ultimately, cannabis is not a legal drug.
Possession of cannabis in Italy is illegal, unless you have a small quantity. If you have a small amount of cannabis for personal use, then you won’t be prosecuted. ‘A small quantity’ is defined as 1.5 grams-ish. This doesn’t mean your cannabis won’t be confiscated by a moody police officer, but it does mean you won’t be sentenced or fined. This ‘small amount’ policy is more progressive than some of Europe.
In addition, ‘light cannabis’ is now legal to sell and purchase in Italy from specific shops. This has been since the 2016 law change that we mentioned earlier. But what is ‘light cannabis’? Well, light cannabis is any substance that contains no more than 0.5% THC. These substances can include edibles, oils, drinks and even buds. This means that CBD flower in Italy is legal to purchase, but in the UK it is not.
Selling cannabis in Italy is not legal. Whilst there may be leeway with possession, selling is definitely punishable. In fact, some have received fines of up to 75,000 euros. In Italy, the usual sentencing for selling hard drugs like heroin or cocaine, can result in 22 years in prison. However, selling cannabis is more likely to be 6 years maximum (and that would be in unfortunate cases). However, there has been evidence where courts have been lenient towards those selling cannabis. If the situation is considered to be moderate…
“The prison sentence is limited to a maximum of four years and could be as little as six months. When passing sentence, the Italian judicial system takes into account the mode of sale, the offender’s character, their conduct and the motives for selling”
Cultivation of recreational cannabis is illegal in Italy. However, hemp cultivation has been legal since 2016. Businesses have enjoyed using hemp to make materials and even pasta. After this law change, there was a parliament debate to see whether Italy should legalize the power for an individual to grow 5 plants for personal use. However this suggestion was quashed. Whilst medical cannabis and hemp are both grown in Italy, growing high percentages of THC in Italy is illegal. However, in 2019, Italy legalized the growing of 1 cannabis plant per household. But, this plant cannot contain more than 0.5% THC. You can see how tricky and contradictory cannabis laws can be.
What about medical cannabis? Well, since 2013 medical cannabis has been legal in Italy. This was essentially 5 years before it was legalized in the UK. However, much like the UK, prescriptions are expensive and hard to access. In addition, the state owns a monopoly on the production of medicinal cannabis which means there is no competition and incentive to lower prices. The only place that currently grows medical cannabis is a Ministry of Defence-led location in Florence. It sounds as if the military are the ones growing the cannabis. Whilst medical cannabis is legal in Italy, many patients are forced to find a cheaper and often more illegal way to get their medicine.
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So, what will the future hold for cannabis legalization in Italy? There’s no doubt that Italy is more progressive than the UK, but perhaps it still has a little way to go before it can fully compete with the likes of the Netherlands. Well, funnily enough, next year a nationwide referendum to legalize cannabis will take place due to more than 500,000 Italian people signing a pro-weed document. This is exactly what happened in many US states before cannabis was legalized; so it looks positive. According to the Pollstret Sondaggi Bindimedia, 57% of Italians are likely to vote in favour of cannabis legalization. Not only would this lead to a pro-cannabis country, but also could make the government 8 billion euros in taxes, and perhaps 35,000 new jobs through cannabis production. Let’s hope that 2022 see’s Italy competing with the Netherlands in Cannabis law.
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