The Italian Cannabis Sativa Affair

About Italy’s difficult relationship with Cannabis

About Italy’s difficult relationship with Cannabis

It’s been three years since Cannabis Sativa became legal in Italy thanks to the 242/2016 law, thus contributing to the birth of a brand new business sector. Indeed, after its approval, Italy opened nearly 800 Canapa Shops with a turnover of 150 million euros only in the year 2018. However, on May 31, the Supreme Court of Cassation issued a press release which stated: “The commercialization of Cannabis Sativa L and, in particular, its leaves, inflorescences, oil, and resin obtained by processing the plant, is not part of the law […] unless these products are concretely without any doping effectiveness.”

What does it mean? Will something change for all of these shops? It’s hard to say. According to Nicomede Di Michele, president of UniCanapa Fracta Sativa Association, the Cassation simply pointed out a legal vacuum in the law: it doesn’t specify whether Cannabis by-products are legal, even if the plant itself is fully legal. That point becomes more clear by the judgment 4920 of January 31, 2019, which declared that, even if the law refers only to farming, Cannabis trade should be considered a logical corollary. So, it seems like a good thing: even if there is a vacuum, nobody should be afraid of that.

So why is everyone so worried? Why did some shop owners decide to close, even if anything won’t change? I suspect that we are facing something more layered. First of all: right after the diffusion of the press release, the police started up a grid research in major cities: only in Turin, on June 1, more than 20 shops have been inspected. That scared a lot retailers and farmers who could now potentially face disciplinary actions (which, according to the Radical Movement won’t lead anywhere) and a drop in production. And that’s not all. A month ago, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, supported by the Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni and other politicians, released a directive against these shops: “We reject any kind of drug and all for safe amusement.” Which brings us right to the harsh debate that we currently have in Italy.

Soft and hard drugs

When it comes to drugs, we must start from the roots of the issue: what’s considered a soft drug and why? Since the ’70s, it has been classified as “soft” those psychotropic substances whose effects and addiction are low (like marijuana, some mushrooms, and hashish), while hard drugs are those that cause – by the very first use — brain damage (such as heroin, opium, methadone and so on). Some, like the same members of the Radical Movement, consider this distinction crucial to decide which ones can be used for recreational porpuses, and what is actually harmful to the citizens. In fact, they consider them on a par with cigarettes and alcohol. In opposition to them, we have a conservative wig according to which all drugs equal (a law against drugs was already issued in 2006: the Fini-Giovanardi law, which however was declared unconstitutional by the Cassation Court), because all of them lead to addiction, and because a huge quantity can be very harmful to the people.

Basically, nothing changed after 2016, as the country is still divided on these two views. However, fighting against legal drug trade has a double effect: if on the one hand we fight against something that can be addictive (similarly to cigarettes), on the other hand we lay drug trafficking open to organized crime, which to be defeated should be fought not only through police work. By allowing those who look for soft drugs (some people, in fact, advocate themselves for all the drugs, but they are a minority) to buy them safely in a law-regulated shop, we could fight it and collect taxes from the trade.

In conclusion, why has this Cannabis Sativa affair scared everyone? Because of the political implications of the debate itself and for the presence of a detractor in the government who took the leap to fight back against something he, and his voters, consider morally wrong and unsafe, even when, legally speaking, nothing will change. Probably, this issue will evolve in a new political war between two large factions, based on nothing besides a light read of a more complex statement of the Supreme Court of Cassation. As Nicomede Di Michele said to the newspaper Il Mattino, we hope that that vacuum outlined by the Cassation won’t eventually lead to an enormous economic loss for shopowners and farmers that invested in that market.