ITALY has become the latest European country to explore significant cannabis liberalisation, coming just weeks after similar developments in Spain.
Last week saw the country, which was one of the first to legalise cannabis for medical purposes in 2007, begin debating a cannabis bill that would allow the use of home cultivation for personal use.
While a Government report appeared to suggest it was in favour of the decriminalisation bill, offering hope that a failed attempt to legalise cannabis in February this year could yet be reversed, the end of the week saw some parties come out in staunch opposition to the proposals.
The developments, however, provide hope for the country’s tens of thousands of medical cannabis patients, who continue to suffer from severe supply shortages, hampering their ability to access their prescriptions.
What’s Happening in Italy
On June 29, 2022 a cannabis decriminalisation bill, which had been in legislative limbo with the Justice Commission since 2019, finally reached the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament in Italy.
The bill, which was approved by the commission in September last year, would essentially seek to modify Italy’s ‘consolidated law’ on drugs, which is now 30 years old.
If passed, the change in law would allow any Italian adult to grow up to four cannabis plants for ‘personal use’, defined as the cultivation of a small number of plants with ‘rudimentary’ tools and techniques.
Alongside self-cultivation, the bill proposes to reduce prison sentences for distribution of small amounts of cannabis, and also to require penalties to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
It is understood that current legislation states penalties for those selling cannabis should be equal to those selling drugs such as heroin.
Furthermore, the bill proposes hosting a day at the beginning of each school year for both primary and secondary school students explaining the harm that can be caused by alcohol, smoking and the use of other drugs.
A core focus for the bill, however, will be to reduce the amount of money heading to the country’s black market and Mafia, while also going some way to rectifying the ongoing supply shortages in the country’s medical cannabis industry.
The bill is expected to be voted on in the lower Chamber of Deputies in the coming weeks, before moving up to the upper parliamentary Senate in September.
Days after the bill made it to the Chamber of Deputies, the Government released its annual report on drug addiction in Italy, authored by the Department for Drug Policies of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
The Government sent the report to parliament following a two-day national addiction conference attended by law enforcement, health officials and industry experts.
In the report, the Government appears to strongly support the bill currently being debated, pointing to the need to ‘review the current law passing from the repressive model to a model of government and social regulation of the phenomenon’.
While this suggested growing support for the bill, this was not universal across Italy’s political spectrum.
Its biggest proponent is M5S (5 Star Movement), whose deputy Mario Peratoni said: “The beginning of the debate in the Assembly on the bill that decriminalises the domestic cultivation of up to four cannabis plants represents a historic day for our country, which is still anchored in the old and failed repressive policies against drugs.”
Despite also having support from the centre left, the bill has received significant opposition from the right, with The League announcing on Friday that they ‘will do everything possible’ to block the legislative proposals.
The Current Situation in Italy
Italy has one of the oldest medical cannabis systems in Europe, after legalising for therapeutic purposes in 2007.
In 2017, an amendment to the law was approved allowing for medical cannabis to be prescribed on the national health service, making access relatively straightforward for patients, in theory.
However, as Dr Viola Brugnatelli, Scientific Director of Cannabiscienza, explained at the recently held Cannabis Europa London 2022, while medical cannabis is legal at the federal level, it is regulated at the regional level, leading to massive discrepancies in access.
‘Each region is completely different, so access for every patient, depending, for example, on whether patients are resident in Sicily or in the north-east in Verona, is completely different.
“Theoretically, from the law side, it’s pretty accessible. We have two main ways of access for a patient. Any doctor can prescribe medical cannabis privately for any condition where there is at least a single study available. And that would be a private prescription, so the patient pays for their own medicine.
“Then we have a reimbursed way for just a few conditions. And this is where the issue starts, because each region has completely different laws.”
Alongside the regulatory complexities for patients, supply is a major issue in Italy, leading to hampered market growth.
According to the latest figures from Prohibition Partners, 11 out of the 25 municipalities reported supply shortages in the last 60 days, meaning that ‘if you’re a patient in Italy, it means you can’t rely on a single product being available to you throughout the year’.
Though the production of cannabis for medical use was started at the Military Pharmaceutical Chemical Plant of Florence in 2014, this facility only produced 102 kilos of medical cannabis in 2021.
Dr Brugnatelli suggested that Italy is currently in a deficit of around 1,000 kilos a year.