In Italy, patient Walter Benedetto was recently acquitted for growing marijuana in his house solely to treat his crippling rheumatoid arthritis. He has a prescription but the government can’t supply him with enough of the right type, so he grows it with a little help from a friend.
It was just the latest in a series of judicial decisions in that country chipping away at prohibition in favor of compassion. The highest court ruled that an adult growing Cannabis at home in a low-intensity manner solely for one’s self was not illegal, regardless of prescription status. Marijuana flowers and oils are sold to patients through a handful of pharmacies in the country, by prescription available from a handful of doctors. If the right doctor writes it, the prescription is paid by the national health service. If not, it’s about 12€ ($14.50) per gram for flowers.
The pharmacies are supplied by Bedrocan and others, plus the Army (Carabinieri), trained to kill, grows only about 80 kg annually under lights in Tuscany. The system is severely inadequate to meet patients’ needs, so the mafia-controlled black market is large. Thus bed-ridden Walter grew it at home. A neighbor narced him out instead of minding his own business as to what a profoundly-disabled neighbor was doing, and the police arrested him instead of being compassionate in what is the most-obvious case of it they would ever see, and the prosecutor prosecuted him instead of seeing why it was cruelly hopeless to do so, and after days of trial the court did the only thing a court made of human beings could do and acquitted him. But while it never should have gone that far, it helped the legalization movement massively by highlighting the profound cruelty of Cannabis prohibition.
Legalization of adult-use Cannabis in Italy (and elsewhere) is a foregone conclusion. Maybe not next month, maybe not next year, but certainly within a few years. With as many Cannabis smokers as the nation has (like in the U.S. 10-15 million, out of 60 million total population), and as much money they allow the mafia to make satisfying the market, and as much harm prohibition hath wrought, and as many other nations are moving that way, it is inevitable. One organization doing a great job at moving the discussion forward there is Meglio Legale (“Better Legal”).
The discussion needs to start now on what patients and citizens want to see as the process and the supply chain model. Like Thailand, or like Ontario? Like California, or like Uruguay? Or a different style altogether, based on Italy’s specific needs and strengths?
Regulatory Capture is an issue in Italy, the mafias will want in on the new scheme. As we saw in California, Colorado and elsewhere in the US, corrupting politicians and regulators was easy. And as we saw with the Carabinieri in Piacenza, corrupting national police (the nation’s highest regulators) was as well. Regulation breeds corruption, the more the regulation then the more the corruption. Is that an acceptable outcome in Italy? If not, then tight regulations with thousands of pages of new laws is not the right path. Society has to admit the actual harm of the law transcends the potential harm from the plant. You Prohibitionists had a good run, but it’s time now to do the right thing instead.
One alternative could be to have a decriminalized, decentralized model. Neighbors grow for neighbors like they do pomodori and vino. Let old farmers sell it at the weekly street market, grown next to the carciofi. Obviously not likely to be hash and concentrates, but certainly flowers and edibles. That was essentially the model in Switzerland in the late ’90s when it legalized sales of marijuana in little packs, sold as sachets for scenting the boudoir. It was a legal fiction and everybody knew it, but the sky didn’t fall in and no zombies roamed the streets. It worked with few if any problems.
Another could be to let the current “Cannabis Light” shops handle it like they do hemp now. That system worked and no one got hurt, so why not? The range and product forms are similar and the only difference between the two is THC percentage, so it is like letting breweries get into spirits or letting wine bars serve cocktails. They even figured out the Good Manufacturing Practices, testing, and cannabinoid disclosure issues with no help or push from the state.
Sales via traditional pharmacies is another, but that puts it back into the erroneous mindset that it’s so dangerous only the pharmacies can dispense it and only the Army can grow it. Most of them do not have sufficient storage space for the volume and range of products needed, plus the issue of Cannabis odor in these small shops. Perhaps a handful of products if merchandised like other prepared OTC meds, but they’ll likely want to keep it under lock and key. Or perhaps a Cannabis-specific pharmacy, say 100 in each Province (there are 107 Provinces in Italy, thus a similar ratio of shops per-capita as Colorado), which can then provide patient support with advice and counseling, product recommendations much like Italian pharmacies already do today. That is a great model for the patient. Allow all doctors in Italy to prescribe Cannabis from that pharmacy and the national health service pay for it, if so.
Sales only through tobacco shops will be an epic fail, for many reasons: insufficient space and security, inability to adequately serve patients and curious naïve consumers, lack of focus on proper customer service for Cannabis, association with addictive and deadly tobacco, most want loose buds not cigarettes as they mix Cannabis with tobacco so they’ll just be breaking up the stick anyway. Tobacco manufacturers are not the answer for the same reason, plus a lack of expertise in Cannabis and use of production practices most Cannabis consumers would object to.
The worst model in terms of Regulatory Capture would be sales only through vertically-integrated dispensaries and grows regulated by each Region, with a small number of licenses. That’s how it is done in most states and Canada. It’s the worst model for patients and consumers, it drives up prices, and reduces quality and selection. With the huge amount of dollars at stake, corrupting pressure at the local level can be massive, involving millions. It encourages corruption of officials and regulators and rewards the wrong kind of people (venture capitalists and other chads). In order to protect the “legal marijuana” monopoly the state still arrests thousands of people, 5,000 in Colorado and 6,000 in California annually. Therefore it’s not really legal there. It encourages corruption even in the investment markets, look at what happened in Canada with stock market losses as high as 95%.
It might even take a mixture of all of the above to do it justice, and spread around the volume. That works best for patients and consumers, with convenience, quality, advice and service, and range and types of products. By all means allow homegrow and caregiver grows so that patients can grow what they need, with generous limits if any.
As for mandating analytical testing and Good Manufacturing Practices, it’s hard for the state to suddenly after all these years of prohibition to credibly pretend to only now care about our well-being and safety. If they threw us to the mafia and smuggler wolves on a daily basis for decades, then letting the vendors figure out quality control instead of the state should be fine. One way to protect consumers is to let them submit samples for testing themselves, direct to the labs at a subsidized price.
Of course, all currently incarcerated Cannabis prisoners should be released, and all those convicted must have their records expunged.
The U.N. Drug Treaties? Do what US states, Canada, Uruguay, Jamaica, and Mexico are doing: ignore them as irrelevant and against human rights.
Italy (and every other country) has the luxury of learning from the plentiful mistakes the other nations have made in ending the dark ages wrought by Prohibition. It has no reason not to do it right.