Italy has traditionally had an inconsistent approach to cannabis policy. In 2006, the Italian government under President Silvio Berlusconi implemented cannabis laws that were far harsher than those previously in place, but in 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the law was invalid.
Legal aspects concerning consumption, possession and cultivation of cannabis
Cannabis possession & consumption
In Italy, use of drugs has never been a criminal offence, and although possession is illegal, personal quantities are not subject to criminal penalties. Cannabis possession for personal use is therefore decriminalized in Italy, but is still illegal under international law.
The recent history of cannabis legislation is turbulent. In 1990, the Iervolino-Vassalli law defined non-criminal penalities for ‘soft’ drugs including cannabis; then in 1993, the Italian public voted by referendum for the decriminalization of personal possession of all drugs.
In 2006, the passing of the Fini-Giovanardi law by Berlusconi’s government saw the distinction between hard and soft drugs abandoned, and the penalties for soft drugs including cannabis increased in line with those for hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. In 2014, the Constitutional Court found that the Fini-Giovanardi law was unconstitutional, and the law reverted back to the older Iervolino-Vassalli model.
Currently, individuals found in possession of cannabis in Italy are liable to receive a simple warning. Minors or individuals under public guardianship may be subject to compulsory treatment orders at the behest of their guardian; drug users deemed a danger to the public may be hospitalized as a security precaution during an investigation or trial.
Sale of cannabis
Sale and traffic or cannabis is illegal in Italy, although penalties are lighter than for ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Under the Fini-Giovanardi law, cannabis sale or trafficking could be punishable by up to twenty years’ imprisonment and fines of up to €260,000; now, the penalty for sale or traffic of cannabis stands at two to six years’ imprisonment and fines of up to €75,000.
Currently, the only sale of cannabis that is legal in Italy is that of medical cannabis imported from the Netherlands, which is available from authorized pharmacies to patients in receipt of a valid prescription, and costs up to €38 per gram (almost ten times as much as cannabis bought illegally on the street).
In July 2015, 218 Italian lawmakers from several political parties, both right- and left-leaning, signed a bill calling for full legalization of cannabis, allowing for recreational use, retail sales, possession of up to fifteen grams, establishment of social clubs, and cultivation in personal quantities. This bill is arguably the most progressive in the history of Italian drug legislation, and if passed, will make Italy the second nation after Uruguay to legalize cannabis on a national level.
Cultivation of cannabis
Cultivation of cannabis is illegal in Italy, and individuals found to be cultivating cannabis are subject to criminal penalties equivalent to those for sale and trafficking. However, the cultivation of a single cannabis plant is technically not illegal, following a 2011 ruling by the Supreme Court, provided that it is for personal use and provided that the defendant’s conduct in committing the offence was not ‘offensive’, i.e. harmful to public safety.
As awareness of the darker side of the black market in cannabis increases, more and more Italian smokers are cultivating their own cannabis — both to avoid buying from criminals, and to ensure their product is safe, high-quality and free from contaminants.
Cultivation of cannabis has been occurring in Italy for millennia; in the warmer southern regions, the bulk of the crop is grown outdoors; in the cooler north, high-potency cannabis is usually grown indoors, while outdoor hemp cultivation is widespread.
Currently, individuals found to be cultivating more than one cannabis plant may be subject to criminal proceedings, even if it can be demonstrated that the plants were intended for personal or medicinal use. However, there have been cases of individuals being acquitted in such circumstances.
Medicinal cannabis in Italy
In January 2013, Health Minister Renato Balduzzi signed a landmark bill allowing the medicinal use of cannabis to those in possession of a valid prescription from a licenced physician. Patients are now permitted to obtain a legal supply of medical cannabis from licenced, state-run pharmacies, but to date, the only cannabis available has been that imported from the Netherlands, and its cost is prohibitively high at up to €38 per gram.
In response to this problem, the Italian government last year revealed its surprising plan to commission the Army to cultivate cannabis intended for distribution to pharmacies across the country. Currently, the first crop is under cultivation, in a secure location in a military pharmaceutical plant in Florence, and is reportedly not far from completion.
The operation is expected to produce up to 100 kg of cannabis annually, which will be distributed to Italy’s various regions with the intention that it be provided to the patient for free or at minimal cost. Already, half of Italy’s twenty regions have agreed to supply the medicine to their patients for free or at low cost. If charges must be levied, it is estimated that the price per gram would be in the region of €5 – €15.
Cannabis seeds & grow equipment
Sale of seeds and grow equipment is legal in Italy, although seeds are often sold with the label ‘collector’s item’ and may include warnings that cultivation is illegal. Grow shops are more commonly found in and around major cities, and number one or two hundred throughout the country.
Most grow equipment and seeds sold in Italy are imported from other European countries such as the Netherlands and Spain, or from the USA and Canada.
Industrial hemp in Italy
Italy has cultivated hemp and cannabis for millennia. However, as with the rest of the Western world, cultivation of hemp fell out of favour during the 20th century, and had all but disappeared by the 1950s.
In 2011, a new piece of legislation passed permitting Italian farmers in possession of a valid licence to legally grow industrial hemp. Since then, the industry has taken off in leaps and bounds, and now occupies a total area of 2,000 acres. This pales in comparison to the approximately 200,000 acres under cultivation in pre-20th century Italy; however, production and demand are both on the rise, so the total area under cultivation is likely to significantly increase in coming years.
Italy has a flourishing hemp industry, which is primarily focused on the production of materials for construction purposes, such as hemp bricks and prefabricated hemp slabs; these may either be exported abroad, or used domestically by one of several Italian companies currently building houses entirely from hemp.
Italy’s political parties & cannabis
Democratic Party (Partito Democratico)
Currently the largest party in the Italian Parliament, the PD is in favour of cannabis legalization, and was vocal in its support for the proposal to legalize cannabis that is currently passing through Parliament.
Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle)
The populist M5S is in favour of cannabis legalization, and several members were signatories to the bill currently making its way through Parliament.
Forward Italy (Forza Italia)
Formed from the PDL (People of Freedom), the party of the now-disgraced former president Silvio Berlusconi, FI is strongly against the legalization of drugs including cannabis.
New Centre-Right (Nuovo Centrodestra)
The right-leaning NC is generally opposed to legalization of drugs, and leader Carlo Giovanardi has stated that it is necessary to “tell young people about the irreversible damages that the use of drugs, especially at a young age, will have on them”.
Left Ecology Freedom (Sinistra Ecologia Libertà)
Party leader Nichi Vendola has stated that prohibition favors the drug trade and that he supports a change in current drug regulations in favour of more progressive policies.
A new party formed in June 2015 with the intention of unifying the Italian left, Possible is in favour of cannabis legalization as part of its general tolerant approach to civil liberties.
Italian Radicals (Radicali Italiani)
A party formed in 2001 as a continuation of the Radical Party formed in 1955, the Radicals have been strongly in favour of cannabis legalization since their current inception, and when operating as the Radical Party were instrumental in the passing of many progressive drug laws.
Civic Choice (Scelta Civica)
Civic Choice are a member of the current ruling coalition in Italy, and are in favour of cannabis legalization.