Before closing out the year for 2019, Italy made a landmark decision on cannabis. The announcement that home-grown cannabis for personal use is legal has created controversies. Although the Supreme Court has issued a conflicting ruling with previous decisions, some leaders view this as a new dawn in cannabis legalization. But the court’s decision has not come without criticism in one of the most conservative countries. Both proponents and opponents of domestic cannabis legalization for personal use in Italy have their point of argument.
In its clarification of conflicting judgment in previous cases, the Court of Cassation ruled that crime of growing narcotic drugs should exclude growing of small amounts of cannabis for the sole use of the grower. Although the decision was made on 19th December, it took a few days before it was made public.
Where is Italy Coming from in Cannabis Legalization?
Before we talk about the current debate about domestic cannabis legalization in Italy, it is important to understand where it all started.
Currently, medical use of marijuana is legal. However, it is under strict regulations which make access quite a challenge. Until recently, possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use was punishable by suspension of personal documents such as passports. However, undocumented cultivation of cannabis could warrant imprisonment.
In 2006, parliament passed a law that removed the distinction between soft and hard drugs. The new law led to a surge in imprisonments which led to overcrowding in prisons. However, in 2014, the Constitutional Court struck down the Fini-Giovanardi Law 49/06.
In 2008, the Supreme Court had issued a ruling that cannabis was illegal, whether for commercial or private use. However, there were contradictory decisions which brought to light the loopholes in cannabis regulations.
In 2016, there was a renewed push for cannabis legalization in Italy. However, the ruling party deemed cannabis legalization as a non-priority in a period when Italy was pushing for constitutional reforms. Another cannabis wave came in when the law of “cannabis light” was introduced. The new regulation sought to remove any authorization requirement for any cannabis seeds with THC levels below 0.2%. However, field inspection for THC levels between 0.2% and 0.6% continues.
The cannabis light law led to a loophole that led to conflicting court decisions for individuals found in possession of cannabis for personal use. Though the current ruling by the Supreme Court does not warrant similar decisions for future court decisions, it is a major statement in cannabis legalization. According to Independent, the case came to court after a 29-year old Neopolitan lodged a complaint over Naples Court of Appeal that gave a verdict of 1 year imprisonment because of growing two cannabis plants. The current ruling overturned the Naples Court decision.
What Proponents Have to Say
Some leaders had joined the push for legalization and decriminalization of domestic use of cannabis in Italy. Matteo Mantero was one of the frontrunners in pushing for cannabis legalization. The ruling party (5-Star Movement) leader could not hide his elation on the decision and he had this to say, “The court has opened the way, now it’s up to us”. Previously, though without success, the senator had put forward a motion which aimed at budget provision for cannabis legalization and regulation. However, the motion was shot down before it hit the floor of the house by the senate speaker, who termed it inadmissible.
Another prominent leader that offered his support for the ruling is Benedetto Valla Vedova. The current secretary of Piu Europa Party said that the decision makes sense. He reiterated that it would help in curbing illegal cannabis dealings. Vedova said that the move would help in nabbing cartels that run cannabis businesses as well net revenues lost in underhand cannabis trade.
Though the ruling party supports cannabis legalization for domestic use in Italy, it is not easy to push the agenda. The government comprises of coalitions that differ in cannabis decriminalization as well as legalization. Therefore, the success of the push is in doubt because of conservative parties domination in the country’s politics.
Cannabis shop operators were also in support of the ruling. They see the decision as a dawn to their dwindling fortunes and layoffs in the cannabis industry. Workers had shown dissatisfaction with some leaders intentions to block legalization of domestic use of cannabis in Italy.
Domestic Cannabis Legalization Opponents in Italy
Those opposed to cannabis legalization came out with guns blazing over the Supreme Court verdict. Matteo Salvini, the League Party Leader, said, “Drugs cause harm, forget about growing them or buying them in shops”. The statement was in response to the legal “cannabis light” which is widespread in Italy. Italian law allows use of psychoytropic cannabis with THC levels below 0.6%.
Maurizio Gasparri from Forza Italia was also in support of Salvini. The senator said that nullifying the court legalization of domestic cannabis in Italy would be the first task of his government if they came to power. Maurizio stated that the court’s decision was absurd.
The Livatino Study Centre did not shy away from criticizing the court verdict. In a statement, the study center argued that cannabis was one of the most abused drugs among the young people in Italy. Lavitino called the move dissociation from reality, hypocrisy and blamed the court of insensitivity over the harms caused by cannabis.
The Roman Catholic church plays a critical role in cannabis legalization in Italy. It has a strong voice in opposing attempts to legalize or decriminalize cannabis in Italy. The vocal contribution of the church has always influenced policy makers when it comes to cannabis debates and policies.
The Supreme Court is paving the way for a more researched and sober debate on domestic cannabis legalization in Italy come 2020. We expect the debate to go a notch higher with Italy having one of the highest numbers of cannabis users in Europe. Some leaders are also seeing cannabis legalization as a good opportunity to bring cannabis into the economy equation. Projections show that the cannabis industry could make a contribution of more than $5 billion towards the economy annually.