Italy has been on the cusp of significant reform for at least the last three years. Given the fact that Germany just passed full medical reform, the issue is front and centre in the French national election this year, Great Britain just moved to regulate CBD and the Spanish are on the edges of greater legalization in some hybrid form, look for 2017 to see the push for legalization Roma style as well.
Four million Italians already use cannabis on a regular basis and most people here support some kind of change in the law. Italy’s stance on the criminalization of cannabis, which is relatively new (adopted only in 2006) has never been widely popular, to begin with. 73% of Italians support some kind of drug reform with 83% saying that they find the current drug laws ineffective. Since 2014, Parliament has continued to whittle away at the criminal sanctions for possession and use which has proportionately affected youth and groups that are in some way marginalized. In addition, about a third of all national legislators have sponsored if not actively support additional drug law reform and the mafia has come out against legalization, saying that it would be a major blow to their own black market profiteering.
The government has clearly been moving to decriminalize the drug – particularly for medical use. As of last January, the government eased punishment for growing the plant for medical use. That said, the fines and punishment are still hefty. Such individuals face up to a year in prison and a fine of four million euros.
What is in the cards?
The Italian army, after several setbacks, began to produce the first crops in Italy last year that it also shipped to pharmacies across the country. Like Germany, there is also a huge call for more research and funding for the same to understand the medical impact of cannabinoids.
For that reason, reform here is more than likely to be enshrined into law – at least at first –for medical use. However, even that is not entirely predetermined, particularly given the close links to organized crime and the drug trade.
For that reason, Italy remains one of Europe’s largest wild cards when it comes to cannabis reform. When it comes, it could be medical only – or it could be the first country in Europe to completely change the legalization discussion.
The January resignation of the country’s president Matteo Renzi along with the rejection of a package of constitutional reforms has thrown the entire legalization question into further confusion. The Italian Parliament was supposed to debate Europe’s most liberal adult use law in early January following adoption of the proposed constitutional changes in early December. When those hit the skids, so did the legalization debate.
Activists, as a result, are worried that this political flurry will further obscure if not delay the overall legalization question for the next year. That said, given the ongoing tenure of the debate all over Europe, it is unlikely that Italy will entirely sit by and do nothing.
The Future of Cannabis Tourism in Europe?
Italy along with Spain, and potentially even the Netherlands, could still surprise the world and completely legalize the drug, albeit as a highly regulated and taxed industry. The impact of cannabis tourism across Europe is as stigmatized presently as it is in the United States. However, this could change and fast, particularly given that European state approvals will probably move faster to create a cross-continent legal industry faster than federal reform will come in the U.S. That means that, particularly with cross-border health insurance agreements in place, patients may treat countries that legalize the drug even for medical use as destination spots for medical tourism.
Italy and Spain, both popular with European tourists seeking cheaper “foreign” getaways, may also capitalize on this aspect of reform to significantly boost not only revenue from the recreational trade, but bring in foreign money as well.
In both discussions, the legalization and impact of both the Canadian and California state market are likely to play a significant role in such debate. European countries are all watching what is going on in other places as they consider their own drug reform laws – particularly with regard to cannabis.
And In The Meantime…
The locals are still betting on the side of reform, particularly since the departing Prime Minister was a staunchly anti-reform politician. This includes the opening of the country’s first vape lounge (for medical patients only) in Rome.
The idea of legalizing an industry with all the potential upsides that it entails, including medical and recreational tourism, also has huge appeal in a country whose debt is 33% higher than its GDP.