Luxembourg made headlines recently when the nation’s government announced that it would implement adult-use cannabis legalization next year. Many international cannabis enthusiasts hailed the move as making Luxembourg the first country to legalize cannabis for adult use in Europe. That claim is only partially correct.
In late 2019 Italy’s Supreme Court determined that cannabis prohibition as it pertains to personal cultivation was unconstitutional, paving the way for adult-use legalization in Italy, at least to some extent. Luxembourg’s approach is better in that it will codify legalization and set out specific parameters, whereas Italy is currently relying on case law alone, and many details are still unclear.
Since the 2019 ruling, lawmakers in Italy have tried to pass a comprehensive adult-use legalization measure. However, the passage of such legislation has remained elusive. Adult-use consumers are still at the mercy of arresting authorities when it comes to personal cultivation, and it’s quite possible that without a specified limit that law enforcement could determine that a person is out of compliance with the Court ruling, it will be up to the consumer to fight for their freedom. Fortunately, help may be on the way.
Signatures Turned In
Late last week, cannabis activists in Italy turned in roughly 630,000 signatures in an attempt to get limited cannabis legalization in front of voters. For that to happen, at least half a million of those signatures need to be validated. Activists must complete that validation process within 30 days.
Another hurdle facing the referendum effort is that even if the signature validation process proves favorable, Italy’s Constitutional Court still has to sign off on the referendum as being legally allowed to proceed. If that happens, voters should see the referendum in April 2022.
The signature drive was initially launched back in September, and activists were able to collect signatures very quickly, thanks to a change in Italy’s law. Previously, only hardcopy signatures were allowed to be gathered. However, a recent change in signature gathering rules now allows voters in Italy to submit their signatures electronically. That change has made a world of difference for this particular reform effort in Italy.
The referendum in Italy is very targeted as it applies to cannabis reform in that it seeks to eliminate penalties for cannabis cultivation. Possession would still be a punishable offense, albeit in a decriminalized fashion. Under current law, personal possession of cannabis carries a fine versus incarceration.
An Adult-Use Market In Italy Would Be Huge
Organizers behind the cannabis legalization referendum effort estimate that Italy is home to at least 6 million cannabis consumers. If so, that works out to about 10% of Italy’s population. That figure is much greater than what is reported by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction; however, the lower estimate is likely due to people being afraid to admit the truth about their cannabis use.
According to pollster Sondaggi Bidimedia, 57% of voters in Italy support adult-use legalization. According to the National Research Council, Italy’s adult-use market is worth roughly 8 billion euros, and legalization would create over 35,000 jobs, according to their report. Yet, the only way any of that proves to be useful is if voters get their chance and approve the measure.
If voters in Italy do indeed get a chance to vote on legalization, it’s looking very likely that the vote would be favorable. If so, it will hopefully send a message to lawmakers in Italy to get an industry creation measure moving. Every day that lawmakers in Italy continue to drag their feet, it creates opportunities for other countries such as Luxembourg to beat them to the punch, and in the process, reap the benefits of being faster to adopt full adult-use legalization.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Barcelona (March 10th), Berlin (July 19-20th), and Zurich (September 8-9).