Selling & Growing
Cannabis in Italy
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 use is illegal, and though many expected a 2021 referendum to change that, the referendum was ultimately blocked — and recreational cannabis remains illegal.
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.
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Growing Cannabis in Italy: A Historical Overview
Italy’s history with cannabis is, to understate it drastically, complex. This overview strives to capture the most salient points of that complex history.
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.
# 1 Recreational/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.
#2: Industrial Hemp
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.
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#3 Medicinal Cannabis
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.
A Growing Market
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.
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Nothing within this article should be construed as legal advice.