In Italy the cultivation and the industrial use of hemp has a long tradition and recent changes in law have led to a revival. While a law enacted in 2016 promotes the cultivation of hemp as a mean to preserve biodiversity, and to reduce the environmental impact in the agriculture, hemp-derived products for human consumption are still subject to restrictions. A recent judgment of the Italian Supreme Court, delivered in joint session, has the last word on the supposedly legal cannabis.
Traditional cultivation of hemp in Italy
The cultivation and industrial use of cannabis sativa L. ("hemp"), a particular genus of cannabis, has a long tradition in Italy. The plant's cultivation was favoured by climate conditions and strong demand in the manufacture of textile and ropes in the naval industry. In the 1950s, Italy was the second largest producer of hemp in the world (behind only the Soviet Union), with almost 100,000 hectares cultivated.
Yet the cultivation of hemp was almost abandoned further to Italy's ratification and implementation of the international conventions on narcotics. The invention of plastic materials that replaced hemp for several uses did the rest.
In the last few years, hemp's cultivation and use is having a revival to the point that the value of hemp business in Italy is now reported to be in the range of 150 Million Euros. However, the market is highly fragmented with more than 1,500 players in the sector.
Cannabis may be used also as medicinal product. Even that use has attracted considerable interest in the last years. Cannabis for medical use has a remarkably higher THC content and is subject to the medicinal products' regulation. This comment is however concerned with cannabis for non-medical uses.
Cannabis as a narcotic substance
The Italian legal landscape changed starting from the 1961 United Nations' Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol. The Convention included among the controlled substances the cannabis (meaning any genus of the cannabis plant) and certain products derived from cannabis. It is true that the Convention exempted the cultivation of the cannabis plant for industrial purposes (fibre and seed) or horticultural purposes. However, countries permitting the cultivation of the cannabis plant are required to introduce controls for preventing misuse.
In Italy, the matter is regulated by the Presidential Decree No. 309 of 9 October 1990 ("DPR 309/1990"), laying down a "consolidated text of the laws on narcotics...