Italy won’t be the first, but it might become the largest European country to legalize the use and possession of marijuana. At the moment, 250 out of the country’s 945 parliament members have signed bill that would legalize cannabis.
Surprisingly, the support comes across the political spectrum. The bill would, for the most part, decriminalize the distribution, production, consumption and sale of cannabis throughout Italy. Anyone over the age of 18 would be authorized to grow as many as five cannabis plants at home. Citizens also would have the option of forming “cannabis social clubs” where they could collectively manage up to 250 plants.
Larger-scale grow productions would be run by a state-controlled monopoly with the issuance of government licenses. Dedicated stores would be authorized to sell cannabis, similar to the cannabis coffee shops in the Netherlands. Outside of personal growth, individuals would be permitted to possess up to 15 grams of dried plant material at home, and carry as much as 5 grams. Medical cannabis patients would be allowed to carry more.
Those who violate the proposed regulations would be subject to fines rather than criminal charges. Additionally, the income from the fines would be dedicated to educational and rehabilitation programs.
Italy passed an anti-drug bill, about 10 years ago, that eliminated the distinction between various substances. Ultimately, that law significantly increased criminal sentences for cannabis and heroin. How did the country change its view of marijuana so quickly? Many industry experts point towards the prohibition model’s global crisis in terms of effectiveness.
In 2014, the London School of Economics released a report to the United Nations, asking it to revisit its approach to cannabis use due to negative outcomes, which include:
“Mass incarceration in the U.S., highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication, and the propagation of systematic human-rights abuses around the world.”
Law enforcement authorities from Italy’s National Anti-Mafia Directorate (DNA), an organization currently fighting Europe’s largest drug cartel, agree with this report. The 2005 crackdown seems to have exacerbated the government’s systemic drug problems and overrun the country’s already congested courts and jails.
Perhaps the biggest draw to the proposed legislation is the projected governmental income. According to a DNA report, as much as 3,000 tons of marijuana are sold in Italy on an annual basis. The estimated market value of illegal cannabis alone is $33 billion dollars, and this number is based on the amount of plant matter the organization seized in a year. DNA officials admit this is only a small fraction of the total amount of cannabis in the underground marketplace.
Even with the possible outcomes of helping the country recover from the global recession and reducing the strains on the legal system, supporters of the bill are not sure it will pass this year. Rome Luiss University professor and lobbying expert, Pier Luigi Petrillo stated,
“Our parliament’s recent history teaches that legislations proposed by the parliament without the backing of the government is very rarely approved.”
Prime Minister Renzi has not taken a stance on the issue, and the Vatican, still a powerful political force to the largely Catholic parliament, has also remained silent. Supporters, however, are still hopeful.