Italy’s pro-cannabis organizations and political parties are in a race to collect 500,000 signatures in record time.
Update—it only took one week for Italy to collect enough signatures.
In a referendum to decriminalize cannabis cultivation and remove penalties for cannabis possession, around 100,000 Italian citizens have already joined the ballot campaign, but proponents need to collect at least 400,000 more verified electronic signatures by September 30 to proceed with the ballot campaign. The announcement of the referendum comes three days after the Italy’s Chamber of Deputies green lit a new proposal to decriminalize cannabis cultivation, to the tune of four plants per hoursehold.
If all 500,000 signatures are collected, the Constitutional Court will ensure that the referendum question is in line with the Italian Constitution the Supreme Court of Cassation will verify the legitimacy of all signatures. Once all signatures are validated, Sergio Mattarella, the president of Italy, can issue a decree setting up the date of the referendum. On that date, Italian citizens would be able to vote “Yes” or “No” for removing the articles of narcotics law that criminalize cannabis cultivation and personal possession.
This is not Italy’s first decriminalization-by-ballot effort.
This is not the first time that Italian cannabis activists are trying to decriminalize the recreational use of cannabis through a ballot. In 1993, a referendum spearheaded by the Italian Radical Party led by Marco Pannella successfully decriminalized criminal penalties for the personal use of cannabis. Successively, cannabis activists tried to decriminalize or legalize cannabis several times over the years but were unsuccessful.
While Italy was one of the first European countries to legalize cannabis for medical use in 2007, recreational cannabis is still illegal. As a result, the Italian cannabis prohibition policy has followed the same pathway of other countries in which the war on drugs has failed. Cannabis prohibition has indirectly allowed organized crime networks to earn around 6.3 billion Euros annually through illicit cannabis sales. The restrictive measures adopted by the Italian government have overwhelmed the criminal justice system and overcrowded prisons. Furthermore, the lack of cannabis regulation threatens public health security by allowing unregulated cannabis products to circulate in the country.
Political inaction blamed for Italy’s unintended cultivation of a “grey market” for hemp and CBD products.
Italian cannabis consumers previously tested its politicians’ positions on cannabis when parties had to clarify the regulation of hemp cultivation in 2017, around the time that Canada was readying its own legal industry. However, under-regulation of hemp flower sales (flower with a THC level below 0.2%) created a grey market in Italy that left many commercial retailers vulnerable and at-risk for criminal prosecutions.
Although it is too early to forecast how political parties will react when (and if) the referendum campaign is adopted, the path followed by Italian cannabis activists fills a gap created by the previous political inaction over ending cannabis prohibition. Several courts’ judgments have already stated the legality of growing recreational cannabis for personal use. Even the Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate recently supported cannabis decriminalization due to the failure of the war on drugs.
By decriminalizing cannabis for personal use, Italy would join other European countries that have decriminalized recreational cannabis, including Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal.
However, the hurdles to decide over cannabis decriminalization on the ballot are not so easy to overcome. In the past, Italian political parties have often found loopholes to block the road to cannabis decriminalization. The use of the democratic tool of the referendum may force the political class to confront the new green wave of the worldwide normalization of cannabis use.
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