Italy, home to some of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe, is also home to some convoluted and controversial cannabis laws. As a tourist looking at the Colosseum or travelling Italy’s countryside, you may be wondering if you would get in legal trouble for consuming cannabis.
Drug laws in Italy
Drug use is not a crime in Italy. Drug possession for personal use, however, is a crime punishable by administrative sanctions such as fines or the suspension of the offender’s driving licence.
In May 2014, Italy’s Parliament passed a law that makes a distinction between less dangerous drugs and more dangerous ones. The administrative sanctions vary depending on the type of drugs a person possesses. As you can imagine, the sanctions are harsher for those who are caught with more dangerous drugs.
But the 2014 law also introduced another new important notion — first-time offenders may receive a warning instead of an administrative sanction, and socio-rehabilitation or therapeutic programs may be ordered instead of administrative sanctions.
Drug supply, production, transportation, distribution and sale are completely illegal in Italy and may be punished with up to 22 years of imprisonment. Dealing with more dangerous drugs leads to harsher penalties than dealing with less dangerous ones, but the penalties are determined on a case-by-case basis.
The character of offenders, their conduct during and after the offence, as well as their circumstances and social conditions are taken into account when determining their sentence.
Cannabis laws in Italy
Cannabis is considered a less dangerous drug in Italy, so the sentences for cannabis possession or even trafficking are more lenient. Administrative sentences for cannabis possession are usually restricted to the suspension of the offender’s driving privileges for up to three months, and first-time offenders may receive a warning.
Cannabis supply is usually punished with up to six years of imprisonment, depending on the case’s circumstances. The prosecutors first evaluate whether the offence is minor or not, depending on the quantity of cannabis, mode of action, possible criminal motives, connections to criminal organisations and more.
If the offence is considered minor, the prison sentence is limited to up to four years. Lenient sentences for cannabis supply can be as short as six months of imprisonment, while harsh prison sentences may exceed six years.
A 2016 law amendment changed things up when it legalised and regulated the production of hemp. The new law allowed the commercialisation of low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabis or, in other words, cannabis that has a THC concentration of up to 0.6 percent.
The amendment led to an explosion of ‘cannabis shops’ all over the country, but especially in tourist areas. Italian entrepreneurs would sell low-THC cannabis or ‘cannabis light’ in small envelopes as ‘collectors’ items’. Most envelopes even mention that the cannabis flower is not intended for recreational use, a fact most salesclerks would enthusiastically explain with winks and crafty smiles.
However, cannabis that has a THC concentration of 0.6 percent is far from the legal cannabis adults in the U.S. and Canada can buy from licensed dispensaries. In fact, this is such a small concentration that it’s incapable of producing a psychoactive high.
However, even this small quantity of THC was too much for the majority of Italian lawmakers. In December 2019, the Italian Senate decided to block the Parliament’s decision.
But despite this small argument between Italy’s Parliament and Senate, Italian cannabis enthusiasts still got an unexpected present for Christmas in 2019. The country’s highest court declared that small-scale, at-home cannabis cultivation for personal use is not illegal.
Now, the Italian Supreme Court has yet to determine how much cannabis can be legally grown in ‘small-scale cultivation’, but the case that led to the Court’s historic decision involved a man who had two plants of cannabis, so that may become the maximum limit allowed.
CBD in Italy
Cannabidiol (CBD) is legal in Italy, and you can purchase it online, from pharmacies or headshops without a prescription. The CBD products have to contain less than 0.6 percent THC to be considered legal, and they can only be sold as food supplements. Sellers are not allowed to claim that CBD produces any medical benefits.
Italians can also purchase cannabis oil from pharmacies if they have a doctor’s prescription. There are ten cannabis oils Italian doctors can recommend as treatment. Prescription cannabis oils can have THC concentrations of up to 22 percent.
Medical cannabis in Italy
Italian lawmakers legalised cannabis for medical purposes back in 2013. However, from 2013 to 2017, the only cannabis product doctors could prescribe was Bedrocan, a product many Italians considered too expensive to buy.
In 2014, the Italian government legalised the production of medical cannabis, but only one institution — the Institute of Pharmaceuticals in Florence — was allowed to grow cannabis for medical use. This allowed Italian patients to access cheaper cannabis treatments, but the Institute’s supply of just 100 kg of cannabis per year is not enough to cover the current demand.
As a result, many Italian patients are turning to black-market suppliers instead of buying legal medical cannabis.
The future of cannabis in Italy
Italy has a relatively liberal stance towards cannabis. The Supreme Court’s decision to allow citizens to grow their own cannabis, as well as the lawmakers’ acceptance of ‘cannabis light’ shops, make Italy one of the few EU countries that have a relaxed attitude toward cannabis.
Even though there are several NGOs arguing for cannabis legalisation, they are opposed by those who call for cannabis to be made illegal again, such as conservative groups and, more notably, the Roman Catholic Church.
At the moment, there’s no reason to believe that Italy will legalise recreational cannabis anytime soon. However, the country’s military-operated cannabis-growing Institute promised to double its yearly production, which means that Italian patients should be able to access cannabis treatments easier in the future.