Cannabis activists in Italy recently announced that they had gathered enough signatures for a petition calling on Italy’s government to end cannabis prohibition. According to a post by advocates behind ReferendumCannabis. They gathered the necessary 500,000 signatures in just one week. The (hopefully) successful signature drive is thanks in large part to a recent change in Italy’s petition law.
Back in July, a new law took effect in Italy that dramatically altered how citizens could petition their government. Italy already had a petition process in place in which citizens could gather signatures to petition the government on a particular issue. However, all signatures previously had to be collected in person. The law changed in July, allowing for signatures to be gathered electronically.
Prior Supreme Court Decision On Cannabis Cultivation
In late 2019, Italy’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in which they struck down prohibition on personal cannabis cultivation. The Court ruled that “small amounts grown domestically for the exclusive use of the grower” should be legal.
Prior to the decision, cultivating cannabis typically resulted in a prison sentence of between 2 and 6 years in Italy. However, it’s definitely worth noting that there were cases in which judges dismissed charges when the defendant pointed to the cannabis being cultivated for personal use alone. That course of action was obviously entirely up to the judge’s discretion and was far from guaranteed to occur.
Lawmakers in Italy are still working to fully implement the Court’s decision via legislation and to clear up some of the confusion left over after the landmark ruling. The most obvious question that came out of the Court’s decision is what constitutes a small amount of cannabis? Also, what is considered personal use? What does someone do if law enforcement disregards the Court’s decision?
Those are just some of the many questions that need to be cleared up by lawmakers in Italy, in addition to lawmakers setting up a regulated adult-use industry.
What Does Italy’s Cannabis Referendum Call For?
According to the petition’s website, the official language of the Referendum is (translated from Italian), “Referendum eliminates the crime of cultivation, removes prison sentences for any conduct related to cannabis and cancels the administrative sanction of the withdrawal. Of the license.”
People need to keep in mind that the signatures still need to be verified and that petition backers are encouraging people in Italy to continue to provide signatures to make up for any signatures that end up being non-verified. Since most of the signatures were gathered electronically, it’s quite possible that the validation rate could be much lower compared to petition efforts involving in-person signatures.
It’s also quite possible that the Referendum may prove to be moot in that it may force lawmakers in Italy to finally pass adult-use cannabis legalization legislation. It’s a common political phenomenon for lawmakers to drag their feet for a long time on cannabis reform, just to move at warp speed when a citizen action is pending. Only time will tell if that proves to be the case in Italy.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Berlin (August 25-27), Zurich (August 31-September 1), and Barcelona (October 7).