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Italy Blocked Cannabis and Psilocybin Referendum

Italy referendum
Written by Sarah Friedman
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Referendums are a big thing in many countries, and for good reason. A referendum allows a population of residents to vote on what policy they prefer, instead of having the decision made by the government. So, it’s almost a slap in the face, to not allow, or cancel, such votes. This is what just happened in Italy, where the country’s court system blocked a cannabis and psilocybin referendum, from going to the public.

A high court of Italy blocked a cannabis and psilocybin referendum which the public would have voted on. Doesn’t seem very fair… We are a news publication specializing in the independent reporting of the cannabis and psychedelics industries. Be a part by following along with the THC Weekly Newsletter, and also get access to offers on a a wide selection of cannabis products like vapes, edibles, and smoking paraphernalia. You can check out our deals on cannabinoid compounds as well, like the super popular delta-8 THC. We advise, *cannabinoid products should only be used by consumers who are comfortable with them.


What happened?

It wasn’t the government of Italy that blocked the referendum, but a top court in Italy that did the deed. This happened back in mid-February. The referendum was based on hundreds of thousands of signatures that were collected, and validated by a different high court in January. How many signatures? 630,000 were collected and turned into the Supreme Court of Cassation.

That’s actually a pretty large amount, and it was done in a relatively short period of time. The reason for so many signatures was related to a policy change. In the past, signatures were only collected in-person. But now, they can be collected online, making for a much expedited service, and the ability for more people to have immediate access.

This referendum was for the legalization of cannabis, as well as to allow the personal cultivation of entheogenic plants like magic mushrooms. The Supreme Court of Cassation, upon receiving the signatures, announced that enough were collected for the citizens of Italy to have this referendum. But that was only one half of the needed approval, in order to make it happen.

cannabis referendum

The second half comes from a separate Constitutional Court, which decides on the legality of the provisions of the proposal up for vote. This Court is responsible for investigating whether a referendum conflicts with the constitution, fiscal systems, or international treaties of which Italy is a part. The referendum was crafted in such a way that proponents thought it would satisfy requirements, but the Court and its 15 judges, did not agree.

What did the Court say?

The Constitutional Court came back with a decision that the provision was not okay by the constitution, and rejected its placement on the ballot for voters. So, even though an adequate number of signatures were collected, and even though it managed to get that far without an issue, the Constitutional Court of Italy put a kibosh on the referendum that would have let residents decide if they wanted legal weed and mushrooms.

In response to this decision, the referendum committee put this post on Facebook: “This is not a defeat of us and of the hundreds of thousands of citizens and citizens who signed up for legal cannabis. Today’s first and foremost is a defeat for the Institutions that are no longer able to comprehend a major part of this country.”

They went on to make the point, “Only the mafia wins today.” And to state that “Now we’ll take a few days to figure out how to relaunch the fight for legal cannabis and we promise you: we won’t stop this time either!”

According to the Court’s president, Giuliano Amato, one of the issues was the multi-drug allowance, which he said might “make us violate multiple international obligations which are an indisputable limitation of the Constitution.” He went on to say, this “leads us to ascertain the unsuitability of the aim pursued. The referendum was not on cannabis, but on drugs. Reference was made to substances that include poppy, coca—the so-called hard drugs.”

Perhaps it makes more sense in these cases, for the Court to make edits with the committee pushing for the vote, rather than kill a referendum that the people have made clear they want. A large amount of signatures in a short period of time says quite a bit, and by denying this, rather than making it compliant, it means the Court rejected the desires of the population.

What were the specifics of this referendum?

Italy cannabis laws

The referendum that was denied by the Court is a strange piece of legislation in a few ways. Had it been allowed on the ballot, the referendum would have meant that Italian citizens could vote on whether to legalize the cultivation of a range of plant-based drugs. It wouldn’t have legalized processing, though. This means anything like weed or mushrooms, which can be grown, picked, and used, would be legal. However, it means that something like hash, which requires minimal processing (and without chemicals) would’ve still been illegal.

That’s not the only strange part, though. Italy currently has a decriminalization policy which comes with a fine for possessing weed. The referendum would’ve done nothing to remove this fine, which very much puts to question how much of a legalization measure this was in the first place.

And last, it included a pretty wide range of possible drugs, or at least the implication that it could. Now, as a person into plant medicine, and who is understanding of the standoff between big pharma and the world of natural medicine, I know that even coca plants are perfectly fine. It’s making them into harder drugs that might be an issue, but the plants themselves don’t contain strong enough chemicals to do more than give a slight energetic buzz. This, however, isn’t reflected in most drug policy.

Realistically, when trying to pass a law to legalize something, or get it closer to that point, it makes much more sense to introduce a narrower bill, focusing on what can be done. I’m honestly confused how those pushing the referendum, thought this would go through if language indicated that other drugs are included.

On the other hand, if there wasn’t confusion on this matter, this might have been the Court trying to find a reason to halt the measure as a way for the governance of Italy to stop a vote that it never wanted its people to have. Though not a true legalization measure, this move would have opened the door for the cultivation of lots of different plant drugs, which is a huge move considering the current legal state of these drugs in the country.

It’s reminiscent of South Dakota’s referendum to legalize cannabis in 2020. That actually passed, but was then vetoed by way of a court ruling. The basis for the veto was that two referendums had been active, violating the state’s one-topic referendum policy. In both situations, it seems like those pushing the referendums perhaps were not as up on policy as they should have been, considering these are controversial topics, and with much government pushback.

marijuana light

Italy and cannabis

Recreational cannabis possession is illegal in Italy, but use technically is not. Italy also has a decriminalization measure in place for small amounts. First time offenders are given light sentences, while repeat offenders generally have administrative punishments, like the loss of a license. Punishments increase for sale and supply crimes, and can reach about six years, since its considered a light drug. This is in contrast to drugs like heroin, which can land a person in prison for 20 years when caught selling.

It’s legal to cultivate hemp in Italy, as per a December 2019 clarification by the Court of Cassation related to Italy’s Consolidated Law. According to the clarification, cultivating small amounts of narcotic drugs, is decriminalized, so long as the THC amount does not exceed EU standards. As a result of legal hemp sales in the country, ‘cannabis light’ became big back in 2016, as smokable hemp cigarettes.

Italy has a medical marijuana program which was passed in 2013, and requires a doctor’s prescription. At the time of passage, due to a lack of local growing, all medications had to be imported, making it very expensive to receive medication. By 2014 it was announced that the Italian military would begin domestic cannabis growing. Since that time, domestic production has increased greatly, making for a more accessible medical system.

Much like many other countries, legalization measures have been attempted over the years in Italy, though none have made it through. The main effort was in 2016, when legislation was proposed to legalize the plant by several parties. The arguments at the time were based mainly around prohibition laws not working in terms of curbing consumption, and that legalizing would allow the control of things like products, circulation, and in allowing law enforcement to focus on more important things. Italy has a strong conservative right, which has thus far stopped this from happening.

Conclusion

Governments tend to forget (or not care to remember), that though they are elected, they don’t always represent our beliefs and desires. A referendum stands out as a way to allow residents themselves to have a direct say, and this is important. Because otherwise, its like a government saying that the opinions of its people don’t matter. This is kind of what Italy is saying now by blocking this referendum on cannabis and psilocybin. That the country is more concerned with the upkeep of the very laws in question, than listening to the voices of its population.

Italians should be very angry right now. And although there doesn’t seem to be a massive backlash to this decision, in the future, this may very well change.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I am a US born writer, travelling the world and doing the digital nomad thing.

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