- At the beginning of September, Italy's Ministries of Health and Defence reached a historic agreement: to charge the military with the task of growing cannabis. In addition to producing medicines used in the treatment of pain and other therapies, Mafia operations exploiting the scarcity of therapeutic cannabis in Italy could be dealt a serious setback as of 2015. At least that is the hope of the national government, which has permitted the cultivation of cannabis in the country's inland, subject to strict control by the Army. Even mayors, like that of Naples, have begun to publicly support the legalization of cannabis.
The Military Pharmaceutical-Chemical Plant (Florence) is preparing to begin to produce medicinal marijuana in a legal, controlled and safe way, with the objective of getting the product to the thousands of Italian patients who hitherto have been forced to turn to other countries to acquire it, as in Italy the costs were very high and cultivation prohibited.
It is still not known whether the marijuana will be grown using clones, or if they will begin growing medicinal marijuana with feminized seeds, or even with autoflowering ones. What is clear is that it will be the first legal production of medicinal cannabis in Italian history.
The decision is part of a pilot project supported by medical professionals that aims to demonstrate that it is possible to produce affordable and legal marijuana for those in need. This unexpected news has triggered high hopes, not only because one of Europe's countries most intolerant towards and opposed to cannabis has decided to finally produce marijuana for a good cause, but also because the entity in charge of controlling production will be the Army. However, there's an explanation for everything.
Firstly, the military will foster an atmosphere of responsibility and trust when dealing with what is a very delicate and much-criticized issue in the country. In addition, although the military plant cited above has been used since its origins to meet the primary health needs of the country's Armed Forces, it has always collaborated with other institutions for the production of sensitive drugs and medical materials.
Moreover, the military personnel collaborate closely with numerous universities in Florence, Siena, Rome and Pavia - among other cities - to promote research and training activities and to produce medicines that, although usually of great clinical value, are not often developed or made available to the public through private pharmaceutical groups, as their commercial viability is very limited.
Civil society is also supporting steps taken in this direction. One of the main figures supporting the legalization of soft drugs is the mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, who has asked for a possible referendum on this issue, arguing that "the idea of legalizing cannabis will have to be considered by the country sooner or later." And he has solid grounds to think so, after years of work as a public prosecutor heading up investigations focused on the ties between politicians and the Mafia.
To fight the Mafia
Until a little over a year ago marijuana could only be grown in Italy for research purposes, after which it was destroyed. Then its therapeutic use was legalized, but no legal cultivation system was implemented to produce the product. Thus, the new legislation created a vacuum, and even unintentionally encouraged the growth of illegal street trafficking in marijuana.
Thus, the decision to grow medical marijuana inland, and with the help of the Army, was essential, especially to keep patients from coming into contact with dealerswho sell patients unhealthy products, aware that they are almost forced to buy them, as they cannot afford the prices of medicinal marijuana imported and legally sold in pharmacies.
The prices offered by street dealers are very attractive: an average of 5 euros per gram, seven times cheaper than the price for legally sold marijuana. As Dinafem previously reported, the present initiative would make it possible to slash the price to 1.55 euros. Production at the Military Plant would even make it possible for the government to stop subsidizing prices. Medicinal cannabis for all patients who need it, for free, and of good quality.
In fact, as of today - though the measure will not be implemented for a few months - of 20 Italian regions half have already agreed to provide the medication for free. This is the best way to stop trafficking in such a problematic product.
Italy's Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin believes that the unsafe situation and the proliferation of mafias will turn around in the coming months, provided that the Army is able to produce at least half of what Italians normally buy.
Control and, above all, therapeutic safety
The country's civil servants, meanwhile, have made a point of underscoring that this decision does not mean Italy is following in the footsteps of some US states which, after legalizing medicinal marijuana, also legalized its recreational use.
This type of initiative, in high demand by civil society, also has its critics, just like anything else. It has been mainly the country's most Catholic and conservative sectors which have staunchly opposed this measure, a reaction which has been viewed as to be expected given that Italy is a country with a patent Papal influence and a place with strict regulations with respect to the production and consumption of marijuana. Several months ago Pope Francis rejected out of hand what he called "replacement drugs," those to be used "to surrender to health problems."
Nevertheless, the current Army's current involvement could mitigate opposition among these groups, as they perceive this sensitive issue as having been placed in good hands. The mayor of Naples has also stated that "an open, secular and honest debate on the legalization of soft drugs is necessary, as it is already happening in many places around the world, transcending the general concept of criminalization. My personal opinion, not as mayor, is that Parliament should legislate in this respect, and I am in favour of legalization. This has always been my position, even when I was a magistrate."
It will take a few months to gauge the real consequences of this solution and to verify if the Italian Army is able to produce enough cannabis for Italian patients to completely abandon the Mafia and the foreign market.
In any case, everything seems to be off to a good start, above all because Italy has realized the importance of regulating marijuana-related aspects, due to all the problems that this can avert for the country. Bravo Italy!