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Italian Cannabis Legalisation Vote Delayed But Reform Potential Remains

The Italian government has postponed a vote on cannabis legalisation to September after a right-wing parliamentary group purposefully derailed it, but public support for reform remains high.

On Monday July 25, a bill was introduced in the Italian Chamber of Deputies to legalise and regulate the cannabis trade. Currently, the cultivation or sale of cannabis may result in a prison sentence, while possession is likely to garner a fine.

The bill, put forward by the Inter-gruppo Parlamentare Cannabis Legale (IPCL), a cross-party group of parliamentarians, was postponed after opposing politicians introduced hundreds of amendments. Over three-quarters of the amendments – around 1,300 of 1,700 – were introduced by the Alleanza Popolare (Popular Alliance), a right-wing splinter group of Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.

Marco Perduca, former Italian senator and coordinator of the Legalizziamo (Let’s Legalise) campaign, claims that many of the proposed amendments were spurious and deliberately time-consuming. Requests to “delete paragraphs or move words around” were made with “the intent of delaying or derailing the process”, Perduca told TalkingDrugs.

The derailing attempt was somewhat successful, as mere hours after its introduction to parliament, the vote on the bill was postponed until September.

The bill’s introduction was co-sponsored by 221 of the Chamber’s 630 deputies, including the Deputy Speaker of the Chamber, indicating it already has wide support. However, the potential for the bill’s eventual success is ambiguous. It may be postponed further, as September’s parliamentary calendar is already clogged with other major reforms that may dominate the agenda. Additionally, even if the bill were to be ratified by the Chamber, it must still pass the Senate – the parliament’s upper house – which has a more conservative political composition.

Despite this resistance among certain parliamentarians, cannabis law reform enjoys significant support among the wider public.

A 2015 survey found that around 85 per cent of Italians agreed that the "repression of the light drugs market is ineffective, and that alternative strategies, such as decriminalisation, must be developed", and 73 per cent supported a regulated legal market for cannabis. The survey, undertaken by Ipsos for IPCL, also inquired as to which political party individuals voted for in the last election, and found support for reform to be above 50 per cent across the political spectrum.

Among the benefits of cannabis legalisation, Perduca claims, is that "it would free up [state] resources, ease the burden on the courts, curtail money flowing to the mafias, and provide the government with a new revenue stream".

If passed, this legislation would put Italy at the forefront of Europe’s cannabis reform movement. Although some countries, such as the Netherlands, tolerate the sale of cannabis, and others, such as Spain, allow for personal cultivation, no European country has fully regulated their cannabis trade. The only country in the world to do so is Uruguay, although Canada is expected to implement a legal and regulated cannabis market in 2017.

In a 2014 survey by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, almost one in 20 Italian adults claimed to have used cannabis in the previous month, while around one in three reported having used it at least once in their lives. This high prevalence suggests that legalisation could earn considerable revenue for the state; a considerable benefit in the context of Italy’s economic stagnation.

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