Italy’s Supreme Court has ruled that growing small amounts of cannabis at home isn’t illegal, which has caused a large debate over the future of marijuana in the country. In December 2019, the Supreme Court, known as the Court of Cassation, made a final ruling on previous contradictory rulings that small amounts of marijuana could be grown at home as long as it is for personal use.

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The ruling attracted massive attention and controversy as politicians in the country decry and applaud the new law. Some politicians see the ruling as a chance to further legalization efforts in the country, which has legalized “cannabis light,” however, opponents have promised to try and squash the ruling if they get into power. 

New Opportunities

After clarifying previously confusing and contradictory laws on growing marijuana at home, the Italian Supreme Court has opened the door to growing small amounts of cannabis at home.  The Court of Cassation declared that the crime of growing narcotic drugs should exclude “small amounts grown domestically for the exclusive use of the grower”.

This ruling has not come quietly however, with conservatives in the country decrying the new development and advocates saying now is the time for further legalization. “The court has opened the way, now it’s up to us,” said Matteo Mantero, a senator from the co-ruling 5-Star Movement. Mantero previously tried to get an amendment added to the upcoming 2020 budget to get marijuana legalized, but it was struck down by the senate speaker from Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia party.

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In Italy, cannabis with THC under .6 percent can be sold legally in shops and is popular among the citizens, however, many conservatives have decried the shops and say they are nothing but a problem. In response to the ruling, Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League Party said in a statement that “drugs cause harm, forget about growing them or buying them in shops.” Salvini, who was previously the Interior Minister, also previously pushed for the closing of the legal weed shops in the country.

Meanwhile, Maurizio Gasparri, a senator from the conservative Forza Italia party, said the first law the center-right coalition would approve if it came to power would be to “cancel the absurd verdict of the court.” The 5-Star Movement party, which is a mix of both liberal and conservative ideals, has held liberal views on marijuana, calling for legalization. The other centrist and liberal parties in the Italian government, however, are not as firmly pro-legalization, meaning there may not be any quick moves toward putting legalization into law.

Confusion with the Ruling

In 2008, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that homegrown marijuana was illegal, but the debate didn’t stop there. Over the next dozen years, different courts at different levels ruled contradictory rulings over whether it was legal to grow your own marijuana at home and what the perimeters of that ruling were. Long story short, no one knew whether or not it was legal to grow your own marijuana.

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So, when a 29-year-old Naples man brought his case to the Court of Cassation after he was sentenced to a year for having grown two cannabis plants with which he made a joint, the court made the final, landmark ruling on the issue. Under the ruling, it is still illegal to grow marijuana plants, but if it is for personal use, then no law has been broken.

While it does open the door for more advancements with legalization, it is not the final stance of the issue, as other courts do not always follow the rulings set by the Supreme Court and the issue has caused reservations. Since 2016, “cannabis light” has been legal in the country and has caused not only a large influx of money but controversy as well. 

What is Cannabis Light?

Cannabis light is considered marijuana that has less than .6 percent of the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, which was legalized in Italy in 2016. The legalization of cannabis light opened the door for a booming legal industry, with cannabis light become popular in the country. The hemp-based product has opened the door to a large industry in the country and the first steps to full legalization.

In 2015, a poll showed that 73 percent of Italians approved of some form of legalization, while another 83 percent saw the laws on “light drugs,” which marijuana falls under, as ineffective. Italy is one of the few European countries that have legalized cannabis in some form, with the country having the third-highest marijuana usage rate on the continent.

While the hemp-related products have been a massive seller in the country, technically, the products are not legal for smoking or eating, and are sold in a sense as “collector’s items” or for “technical use.” Despite the technicality, the market for cannabis light has been huge in the country, with many calling it “the green gold rush” amid the large amounts of profit coming from the light drug.

While cannabis light is like a decaf version of marijuana, as the 0.6 percent or lower THC amount is way lower than the 15 - 25 percent average THC of regular marijuana, it is still met with ire from conservatives in the country who want the drug gone entirely.

"It is neither possible nor acceptable that in Italy there are 1,000 shops where there are drugs legally, in broad daylight. This is disgusting," said Matteo Salvini, a high-ranking conservative politician, who was previously the Interior Minister.

Salvini and others like him have said that the new industry will create nothing but problems for the country, while Salvini previously released a memo citing a zero-tolerance policy on cannabis light and cannabis light shops during his time in power, which lead to shutdowns and seizures of the product across the country.

Still, it seems that it may be too late for the ball to stop rolling in the country, as the popularity of cannabis light and the recent Supreme Court ruling made it known that cannabis is going to stay in the country for a while longer.