Meglio Tardi Che Mai

‘Better late than never’. Nicholas looks at the recent news of Italian drug reform where next year, Italy will host a referendum on whether its citizens will be allowed to grow cannabis plants for personal use.

Italy is set to become the first European country to allow its citizens to personally grow up to four cannabis plants in their homes.  This comes after reform was approved by the lower houses’ justice committee on Wednesday the 8th of September. It states that the growth of up to four female cannabis plants at home is to be decriminalised in a decision that puts Italy at the focal point of European cannabis legislation.  Conversely, the reform has increased the penalties for crimes linked to the trafficking and dealing of cannabis from up to six to ten years.  This is a major development in cannabis reform as Italian politicians look to give their citizens more control in the matter.

The nationwide referendum is set to take place early next year in what many hope will cause a domino effect across Europe.  While it’s wishful thinking to assume the reform will pass, it is looking likely that it will with 57% of Italians expected to vote in favour of the referendum. As seen in the U.S the proposal will induce a myriad of financial and economic benefits with Italy’s market for recreational consumption worth close to €8 billion, as estimated by Piero David of the National Research Council.  Once legalised and taxed at the proposed 75% (similar to cigarettes), it is looking to add €6 billion a year to Italy’s economy with much of it coming from the savings incurred from fewer trials and jail detentions.  As it stands, cannabis is legal for recreational use in small quantities and consumption for medicinal purposes is allowed.  However, the selling and production of the plant is illegal.  The petition for a referendum called for the abolition of the Presidential Decree n.309 from 1990, essentially eradicating all cannabis-related criminal penalties.

The petition was significantly driven by online signatories, following a recent law that now allows people to sign through a digital platform, and as a result the internet and digital stratosphere now have an increasingly powerful impact on policy areas.  Due to a judge’s ruling amidst the covid pandemic, the petition was allowed to collect signatures online for the first time in Italian history and so the 5,000 signatures needed to trigger a referendum on the issue was reached.  The Italian government holds the production monopoly for legal use but cannot meet the demand as medical consumption alone rose 30% in 2020. 

By allowing new producers to deliver cannabis for multiple uses, 35,000 new jobs will be created according to supporters of the reform.  It’s not far from reality as American jobs linked to the legal cannabis industry doubled to 321,000 in 3 years according to cannabis marketplace Leafly. Italy looks to also gain an edge in the stock market as Canada’s 2018 legalisation of recreational cannabis prompted an initial public offering frenzy, but this has yet to be seen in Europe.  Having private use openly legal would give Borsa Italiana (the Italian stock exchange) an advantage over others in the European markets.  Antonella Soldo, a coordinator of Meglio Legale, a non-profit organization fighting for drug decriminalisation said:

“It will be hard for institutions and big parties to ignore us.  The extraordinary response of hundreds of thousands of people who have signed the petition in the span of a few hours proves just how important this topic is. If the yes side wins, we’ll start working towards a necessary reform programme.  All cannabis-related penalties would be removed, cultivation would no longer be a crime, and the most common sanction to date – the revocation of driving licences – would be abolished.”

If the campaign succeeds, Italy will be on par with the likes of the Netherlands and Spain, with one of the most liberal cannabis legislation in Europe.  This has still resulted in pushback from conservatives that see it as a threat to the country’s social fabric and are looking to fight the movement.  From the recent reform in America, experience shows once a state legalises cannabis, the economic rewards are felt by all in a domino effect that has benefited America as a whole. With Italy being the first to take the plunge, we can only hope it has a similar effect on Europe where neighbouring countries can no longer sit back and watch a fellow E.U member rake in the benefits of what many would consider to be a public health initiative.  Cannabis use is more prevalent than ever and by subverting the black market in favour of a regulated industry that provides citizens choice. 

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