Selling & Growing
Italy’s relationship with both selling and growing cannabis has been long and varied, and finding consistent information on legislation can be difficult and frustrating without professional assistance.
However, Italy remains a highly-anticipated market for the cannabis industry — and right now is the perfect time to begin taking advantage of Italy’s gradual embracing of cannabis.
Italy & Cannabis
Italy has a rich history with cannabis. With cannabis cultivation dating back to Roman times, and evidence of cannabis being on the peninsula since the Late Pleistocene era, cannabis is about as Italian as spaghetti.
Fast forward a couple thousand years, and the Italian cannabis landscape is much changed.
Recreational cannabis is legal only in its “light” form — a form with so little THC that it’s been dubbed by the Chicago Tribune as “the decaf coffee of marijuana.”
Still, Italian medical cannabis use remains alive and well. In fact, Italy’s potentially highly lucrative cannabis market may pose the country to be one of the largest cannabis suppliers on the European continent.
cannabis in Italy?
Growing Cannabis in Italy:
A Historical Overview
This overview strives to capture the most salient points of that complex history.
The Decline of Hemp —
and Rise of Regulation
During the second half of the twentieth century, the practice of growing cannabis in Italy declined. After the advent of synthetic fibers, significantly fewer farmers were interested in growing cannabis for its industrial properties, and Italian hemp production decreased drastically.
Recreationally, the prevailing attitude in Italy has always been positive. The first law regulating drug use, n. 396, was passed in February of 1923 and only punished drug use when it became a “vice” and threatened public order.
Over the next several decades, however, Italy would have a fluctuating, hot-cold relationship with drug use — sometimes it was barely regulated, sometimes it was somewhat regulated; sometimes punishments leaned heavily on the user, and sometimes they leaned heavily on producers.
The Golden Age of Hemp
During the Roman era, growing cannabis was quite common in Italy. Cannabis, specifically hemp, was used to create some of the strongest and most resilient fibers possible. The Romans used hemp fibers for ropes, fabrics, and other materials that were used to construct the Roman empire.
Hemp use in Italy continued throughout the Middle Ages and well into the late nineteenth century.
The First Law Regulating
Growing Cannabis in Italy
In 1954, the “Law on Narcotics” set in place the first laws focused on growing cannabis in Italy as well as on using, producing, and selling it. However, this law was only one of myriad legislative pieces passed over the decades as Italy struggled to land on a comprehensive, functional regulative system for drug use, cultivation, and trade.
By 1990, these myriad pieces needed to be brought together into a comprehensive, again-updated document: the Presidential Degree, or law n. 309. This legislation is the base of all drug-related regulation in Italy. Simply put, it organized the categorization of all drugs into categories that were more or less “hard” or “soft.” Cannabis fell into the “soft” category.
In 2006, the Italian government instituted the “Fini-Giovanardi Law 49/06” which dissolved the legal distinction between soft drugs, like cannabis, and hard drugs, like cocaine or heroin — making punishments for cannabis possession or use much harsher.
Ironically, later that year in 2006, Italy legalized medicinal cannabis, and in 2014, under Law n. 79, it again reduced penalties for recreational cannabis possession and simplified the lengthy process previously necessary for would-be patients to gain a prescription. But despite its early acceptance of medicinal cannabis, for recreational cannabis, Italy now lags behind other European countries that have fully legalized cannabis for personal use.
Contact Us to discuss cannabis
Licenses in Italy
If you are looking to attain a license for hemp or cannabis in Italy Higher Yields Cannabis Consulting can help. Our team of cannabis licensing consultants and technical writers has had great success helping newcomers and experienced operators attain licenses all over the world.
Current Laws for Selling
& Growing Cannabis
Today, Italian laws divide cannabis laws into essentially three different categories, with each category having different degrees of legality. Those three categories are: 1) recreational/personal use cannabis; 2) industrial hemp; and 3) medicinal use cannabis.
Personal- Use Cannabis
Recreational cannabis in Italy is illegal. Personal-use and possession of small quantities of recreational cannabis have been decriminalized, but if users are caught with cannabis without a prescription, they could still be subject to fines, or they might lose their driver’s licenses or passports.
The simple way to interpret recreational cannabis use in Italy is this: Regulations fluctuate. Cannabis “light” has been legal since 2017, and it’s how many Italians and tourists circumvent recreational cannabis prohibitions. Its levels of THC are so low that it technically falls within the industrial hemp allowance (0.2%-0.6% THC).
Also dubbed “ornamental cannabis,” this booming part of the cannabis market allows retailers to exploit a loophole in the industrial hemp legislation.
Many local retailers sell this ornamental cannabis in decorative packaging, including a label that warns its eventual purchaser not to crush, smoke, or consume the packaged ingredients.
Growing Cannabis for Profit
In the world of recreational use, unless you’re interested in opening up a retail location that sells cannabis in little more than name only, you may want to look at a different approach. Sales of recreational marijuana in Italy remain strictly illegal.
However, it’s worth noting two things. First: “Light” though this cannabis may be, it’s still a booming business. Second: Many still believe that Italy is likely to embrace recreational marijuana within the next few years. Though the recent referendum was blocked as of early 2022, the fact remains that Italians rallied in support of the full legalization of cannabis: The referendum gained over 500,000 votes in just seven days, according to Reuters.
If you don’t mind playing the long game, Italy holds promise as a solid investment — and you’re not alone in the journey. The professionals at HYC have experience understanding and navigating cannabis laws from around the world. Reach out today, and we’ll help you set up your long-term plan for selling and growing cannabis for personal use within the Italian market.
If you’re looking into growing cannabis in Italy with the intention to sell, industrial hemp is currently the only option.
In 2017, Italy passed a law that allowed the legal cultivation and production of industrial hemp. As mentioned above, industrial hemp is defined in Italy as cannabis with 0.2% or less THC.
Industrial hemp has become a huge job creator and bred a thriving industry. To boost the hemp industry, the Italian government has subsidized and offered tax incentives to growers.
But the Italian government still highly regulates the hemp industry, and the unauthorized/unlicensed cultivation or sale of hemp can land you in prison.
However, according to a report by the World Law Group, the 2016 Law 242/2016, provided a key loophole: Farmers who wish to cultivate hemp may do so without authorization from the Ministry of Health, “for the production of food, cosmetics, biodegradable raw materials and semi-finished products for industries acting in different sectors,” so long as the THC content remains below 0.2%. Hemp that is tested to exceed 0.6% THC will be confiscated by the government.
The most reliable method of breaking into the Italian cannabis market is to establish yourself growing cannabis elsewhere, then import it to Italy to feed its booming medical cannabis market.
In 2021, Italy granted its first authorization to a company to grow medical CBD from hemp and to extract components for pharmaceutical purposes. Italy also imports hemp products, and the Ministry of Health also handles some degree of cultivation.
For some time after legalization, Italy had to import its medicinal cannabis from abroad (mainly from Holland). This caused medicinal cannabis to become very expensive (about $50-60/gram) and supply was very limited. But that began to change in September 2014, when the Italian government enlisted the assistance of the army to begin cultivating and processing cannabis plants for medicinal purposes.
Located in Florence, the Military Chemical and Pharmaceutical Plant continues to be the sole domestic source of medicinal cannabis in Italy. All medical cannabis prescribed in Italy must be either produced by the Military Chemical Pharmaceutical Plant in Florence or imported.
Fortunately for those growing cannabis, Italy is open to accepting contracts with foreign companies to supply medical cannabis.
On April 4, 2022, the Ministry of Defense published an official notice seeking companies that are interested in entering the Italian market. If selected, these companies would be able to cultivate cannabis plants to be supplied to the Military Chemical and Pharmaceutical Plant in Florence for the manufacture of medicines and pharmaceutical raw materials.
The application is rigorous, and it subjects applicants to a four-phase process which applicants must satisfy to be selected. Though this most recent notice for bidders closed in July 2022, it serves to show anyone interested in the Italian market that there are opportunities on the horizon.
Italy is positioning itself to become one of the largest cannabis exporters in Europe in the near future, and with that positioning comes promise for any savvy cannabis entrepreneur who watches for the opportunity to take that leap.
Italy’s latest call for external producers was only the beginning — but only prepared producers with firm guidance will be able to take advantage of similar opportunities in the future.
At HYC, we have vast experience in opening new cannabis businesses throughout the world, and we can help you navigate this complex but promising market.
Contact the professionals at Higher Yields Consulting to start planning your cannabis business today.
Last updated: September 2022