In an under-cover-of-darkness decision, the Italian Supreme Court made a clarification about Italian cannabis laws that verified it was not illegal for residents to grow their own cannabis for personal use. But how has this decision changed things?
On December 19th the Italian Court of Cassation, called on by the Supreme Court to interpret a long argued over provision of the Consolidated Law – the legal framework for dealing with drugs in Italy, gave a final interpretation of the law that stated personal cultivation of cannabis in small amounts is legal.
More interesting than this fact, is the fact that this decision, which should have made front page news, didn’t get reported on for an entire week. Why? Well, it could be because of the impending political storm that blew up once the news was finally released.
Italian drug laws
In Italy, though drug use is not specifically mentioned, the possession of it is, with personal possession being punishable by small administrative penalties like a suspended driver’s license, or passport. Since 2014, the law has provided for a distinction between harder drugs (schedules 1 & 3), and softer drugs (schedules 2 & 4). Personal possession of softer drugs incurs administrative punishments of 1-3 months, while for harder drugs the penalty is 2-12 months. First time offenders are rarely subjected to these sanctions. There is no set limit for what counts as personal possession vs drug trafficking, and each case is at the discretion of law enforcement officials.
Medical marijuana was legalized in 2013, but requires a doctor’s prescription.
Cultivation, sale, and transport of drugs is also punishable according to the same system of harder (or more dangerous) drugs vs softer (or less dangerous) drugs. Supply-related crimes for harder drugs can lead to 8-22 years in prison, while for softer drugs (like cannabis) it’s 2-6. For minor offences related to either drug grouping, imprisonment can be 6 months–4 years.
The Consolidated Law of 1990 illegalized the cultivation and sale of cannabis, however, over the years as different legal cases have come through the system generating contrary decisions on the topic, it was finally brought before the Supreme Court – and subsequently the Court of Cassation – to make a designation about the meaning of the law. The case that forced the decision was based on an offender who was caught with two cannabis plants. As stated, the court returned a decision that in the case of the cultivation of small amounts of narcotic drugs for personal use, it is, in fact, not illegal.
The news of the ruling was released in a very peculiar way in that it wasn’t released at all right away. The news didn’t break until after Christmas, and was not reported on until then. When the story broke on the 26th – a full week after the decision – it started quite a storm with advocates pushing for legalization, and opposers lining up to find ways to tear it down.
Opposition to the clarification could be felt by Maurio Gasparri, a Forza Italia senator who vowed that if the center-right coalition with the League gained power, that the first order of business would be repealing the verdict. Perhaps delaying the verdict in the news was meant to push off this whole debacle so that the country could have a nice Christmas before going at each other’s throats again.
A 2016 update to the Consolidated Law for the cultivation and regulation of hemp, meant to rev up the once abundant hemp growing industry, had another interesting effect, the increased smoking of low-THC cannabis. According to Italian law, via the EU, hemp strains and cannabis products can contain up to .2% THC and still be legal. This applies to growing hemp plants as well as buying products like CBD oil. The update to the law started a whole new fad in Italy called ‘cannabis light’.
Cannabis light is hemp. According to the legal update, the law does not actually permit consumption, with the outward idea pushed that it can be bought as a collector’s item. This is really just a joke though, and smoking these low-THC strains has taken off since the law, as of 2016, permits the legal sale of it in stores. This, of course, has drawn the ire of politicians like Gasparri and now-former Minister of the Interior, and current senator, Matteo Salvini who has sworn to have cannabis light taken out of stores.
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A new cannabis light?
Right around the same time that the Supreme Court made its clarification on the personal cultivation of small amounts of narcotic drugs, the Italian parliament voted to legalize a slightly stronger form of cannabis light that contains up to .5% THC, even despite Salvini putting up quite a fight against it. This broke with the EU standard of plants and products not containing more than .2% THC, though Italy isn’t the first EU or EU-related country to do so.
The amendment to the 2020 budget which housed this legalization provision was offered by Five Star Movement senator Matteo Mantero. However, only days later it was ruled inadmissible by Elisabetta Casellati, the president of the senate, and member of center-right party Forza which is allied with outspoken cannabis illegalization advocate Salvini and his party, the League.
The Five Star Movement currently heads parliament in a coalition with the center-left Democratic party, a union that has done much to cut out Salvini, and which raises the question of whether this last minute change on ‘technical grounds’ by Casellati was possibly an orchestrated ambush on a law that Salvini never wanted passed.
The Five Star Movement
The Five Star Movement is an interesting party. An anti-establishment party started in 2009 as an opposition to standard politics, beginning at a time when the Eurozone was experiencing a financial crisis, it definitely seems to have struck a chord with the Italian people. It wasn’t until 2013 that the party first showed up publicly in the Italian national elections, winning second place.
By 2018 the party won the most seats, but at 222, not enough to win a legal majority. The Five Star Movement has been considered many things, like: populist, environmentalist, anti-establishment, anti-globalist, Eurosceptic, and pro-cannabis legalization. As the movement has now gained a large amount of popularity, and holds a majority of seats in parliament (even if not an outright majority), the ability to push cannabis legalization efforts further is more likely.
Into the future
It should always be remembered, however, that political situations can quickly change. Earlier this year, Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio resigned due to tensions in the party, and was replaced by Vito Crimi, with expected supporter numbers dropping by half. Since midway through December, the party has lost an education minister, and six senators for various reasons.
These kinds of party shake-ups don’t convey the idea of peace and calm within a party, and the tensions therein have already gotten to a boiling point. While the Five Star Movement is a great bet for cannabis legalization in Italy, it’s quite possible that the whole thing will fall apart before getting to the finish line.
As of right now, the Supreme Court clarification stands and Italians are free to grow their own weed for personal use. Whether opposition parties will find a way to reverse it remains to be seen, as does any future legalization of higher THC flowers and products.
It’s hard to say what will happen in the wake of the Coronavirus, what with the current state Italy is in, trying to re-balance itself and its economy. And while weed legalization might not be the primary topic right now for the country, it’s sure to come up again soon enough.