Eoin Keenan, Content Director, Prohibition Partners
Last year, we discussed Italy’s progressive approach to cannabis legislation and investigated how the Military Chemical and Pharmaceutical Plant (SCFM) became the sole producer and distributor of medical cannabis.
As of September 2018, the system is struggling to meet patient demand. In 2017, 300 patients applied for medical cannabis but, a year later, nearly 10,000 patients are actively seeking medical cannabis prescriptions for a range of qualifying conditions including:
- Chronic pain
- Tourette’s Syndrome
- Spinal cord injury
To address this, the Italian government have demonstrated a willingness to relinquish the army’s monopoly on domestic cannabis production, issuing seven medical cannabis import licences. Most of these licences are being controlled by Canadian joint ventures. For instance, Toronto-based Nuuvera has acquired Genoa-based FL-Group, which holds one of these licences and Pedanios, the German subsidiary of Aurora Cannabis, has won an exclusive tender to supply 100 kg of medical cannabis to the Italian government.
Growing an Italian Cannabis Market Through Turmoil
Italy has had a turbulent relationship with cannabis over the past few decades.
Despite Berlusconi’s attempts to reclassify cannabis as a ‘hard’ drug, the Italian cannabis market has progressed, allowing medical cannabis prescriptions in 2013. Unfortunately, the lack of a formal system had halted growth until 2017 when a critical mass of patients began to access the drug.
In order to access medical cannabis, Italian patients must obtain both a doctor’s prescription and ministerial approval for products containing THC, although a formal medical cannabis access scheme is in the process of being established in the medium term. In some regions of the country, cannabis treatments can be covered by the national insurance but in some cases, patients have to pay in full. As the access scheme develops, patient numbers are expected to increase significantly and with the government looking to import supplies to meet rising demand, international market players, such as Aurora and Pedanios, are capitalising on the emerging Italian market.
A Budding CBD Industry
Italy’s CBD industry has experienced a substantial upturn. A reform implemented last year has boosted Italy’s fledgeling hemp industry, with an 80% increase in acreage of cultivated land. The new legislation has resulted in the removal of substantial red tape from hemp production. Any farmer can now grow legal cannabis containing a level of THC (0.6%) greater than any other European country (with the exception of Switzerland, which allows cultivation of hemp with THC content up to 1%).
The commercial potential for the Italian cannabis market can be derived from the current success of Easy Joint, a ‘cannabis light’ brand that contains a small amount of THC (less than 0.6%) that can be sold legally in Italy. In the first 8 months of operations, May 2017 to February 2018, the group had sold 17,000 kilograms of CBD flowers.
In Italy, nearly 1 in 5 young adults have consumed cannabis in the last 12 months. High consumption levels have contributed to a high value estimation for the recreational market in Italy, and, as we have witnessed in several US states, high consumption levels are indicative of a propensity to legalise adult use. California, Colorado and Washington legalised recreational cannabis partly in response to the high consumption levels and popularity of cannabis among its populations. With Italy showing similar trends and usage, they are likely contenders to legalise recreational cannabis within the next three years.
To understand the Italian cannabis market further, we spoke to Marco Perduca, the International Programme Coordinator at the Luca Coscioni Association, a non-profit which furthers civil liberties and human rights through encouraging scientific research.