- 1.55 euros is what an Italian patient from the Apulia region will have to pay for each gram of therapeutic cannabis he needs. 20 times less than usual. Activists in Italy have managed to take a step forward in the struggle for legalization: this region will be able to produce its own marijuana for medicinal use, without having to import it, something never permitted in the country before. The State will also produce marijuana for clinical use. And, in a historical paradox, the Italian Army will grow it.
The Health and Defence Ministries have reached an agreement that involves putting the military in charge of operations to grow cannabis and produce medications used in the treatment of pain and other therapies. Responsible for doing so will be a military pharmaceutical plant in Florence, which currently produces medicines for Italy's Armed Forces, to achieve a strictly controlled production and limit the prices of the medications. The news became official in early September, and it is possible that by 2015 the cannabinoid drugs will be available in Italian pharmacies.
Italy is one of the countries where everything related to cannabis is the most criminalized, but its citizens are also some of those who most insist on changing things. Now their demands are focused not only on consumption, but also on production, particularly regarding crops for those suffering from diseases and needing to consume doses of marijuana to alleviate their symptoms.
One of the associations which has fought the most over all these years for normalization, and which has most demanded that the situation of some patients be taken into account, is the Club Social de Cannabis in La Racale (Lecce), also known as LapianTiamo. Its years of dedication, effort and work seem be bearing their first fruits.
On July 22, the Health Committee of the Regional Council of Apulia (a region located in the south of the country), unanimously approved a bill - drafted by professionals in the healthcare field and industry experts - that will allow the production of cannabis for medicinal use.
The decision represents a giant leap forward for the patients’s rights; it means that the region will be initiating pilot projects to experiment in this area, in collaboration with a pharmaceutical plant in Florence and other institutions with experience in the field of medical marijuana.
Reducing the cost was essential
In a statement the Regional Council announced that it planned to monitor production thanks to the support of universities in the region, professionals and researchers, as well as the collaboration of associations of users and other entities interested and involved in this field.
It also stated that "to reduce the costs related to the purchase and preparation of medical cannabinoids", the Regional Council was considering the possibility of centralizing the procurement, storage and distribution of pharmacies that provide the product to users (those who have permits) three months after the law's entry into force. With the project underway, Apulia becomes the first Italian region allowing legal production of marijuana.
According to LapianTiamo - most of whose members suffer from multiple sclerosis, the cost of the product would be 1.55 euros per gram. One of their main objectives was to ensure that the price would be affordable for everyone. And this was achieved, as it will be twenty times cheaper than normal, as indicated by the initiative's promoter, Sergio Blasi. Until now, as they were unable to cultivate in Italy, they were forced to import it, paying more than 35 euros per gram.
The passage of the law will allow patients to benefit from the measure in public and private hospitals as well as in their homes. In addition, both to ensure those prices and to control production, in recent months it has been concluded that there is a need of companies capable of growing, packaging and distributing medical marijuana in a controlled manner to patients. Blasi also believes that Apulia will in this way become a model in the field of health and medical research.
United in defence of the patient
This is one of the few occasions on which Italian politicians have stood united, in favour of patients and with regards to marijuana. The LapianTiamo Association has recognized that "the unanimous approval of the Council consists of more parties, flags and colours united in favour of a common goal–something that happens very seldom. At this time the business plan and all the documentation related to this topic have been delivered to the institutions.
Councillor Blasi, the promoter of the law, believes that "Apulia once again has challenged the prejudices of society and overcome political mistrust." Thanks to this region’s work and the support its activists have provided to ALS patients, the first social clubs in the country began to develop.
The politician also believes that this measure could become "the law of a great civilization," and is sure that it is a sign that will make the national government see that this is an issue that affects thousands of patients, so it is necessary for "anyone who needs it, to have access to the product."
The case of Apulia was made possible by the fact that regions and local authorities in Italy have some autonomy over health issues, although this region has proven uniquely active with regards to the cause, as demonstrated by the approval of the bill.
When ALS patient Magdalena Migani learned about what happened, she launched a petition on Change.org to ask for the liberalization of cannabis laws throughout the nation. She has collected over1 58,800 signatures so far and she's not the only one who thinks that it is possible to change things through small steps.
Parma did so a few months ago, when its mayor and the 5 Star Movement decided to support an anti-prohibition event, despite criticism. Or when the Constitutional Court nullified a 2006 law through which Silvio Berlusconi's government compared cannabis to some hard drugs. Thus has a glimmer of hope been spotted by those who thought that in Italy any aspect related to the normalization of cannabis–in any area–was impossible.
With information from Consiglio.puglia.it, Dolcevitaonline.it, Greenstyle.it, bari.repubblica.it y droghe.aduc.it.