Italy’s Cannabis Renaissance Taking Hold
By Bill Griffin, New frontier Data Special Contributor
Italy has a rich history and culture that has permeated many aspects of modern life across the globe. Despite being characterized by “political instability, economic stagnation, and lack of structural reforms,” it represents the world’s eighth-largest economy, making it the fourth-largest in Europe after Germany, the United Kingdom, and France.
With well-established acceptance of medical cannabis for therapeutic purposes, and having an excellent climate for cultivation of the plant, hemp offers a means for reinvigorating Italy’s depressed rural areas to the south. Recent changes to legislation in the country have kick-started a modern-day cannabis renaissance.
Italian doctors have been able to prescribe medicinal cannabis since 1990. In 2007, imports of products such as Bedrocan flower strains (i.e., Bedica, Bediol, Bedrobinol, Bedrolite) and GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex began. In 2014, the Italian Ministry of Defence started domestic cultivation of cannabis in Florence. Today, however, the country is unable to cope with more than 20,000 estimated medical patients, and has proffered tenders for import opportunities. The Dutch Office of Medicinal Cannabis has an ongoing supply agreement with the Italian Health Ministry, and Aurora recently won a tender. There are six authorised importers who can directly supply hospitals and pharmacies.
Beyond what is cultivated in Italy by the military, there is no domestic cultivation of medicinal cannabis. However, there is a pilot project proposed to the Health Minister (yet to be approved) whereby private enterprises could apply to cultivate on state-owned land near Turin, located in the north near the borders of France and Switzerland.
Patients are hopeful that such steps will grant them easier access to medicine. The price is capped at €9/gram, +10% VAT, plus the cost of the respective pharmacy to prepare. However, there are issues with supply. There can be a long wait for medicinal cannabis as pharmacies have to order. Not all pharmacies will provide it as they are unaware how to store, process and handle. The result is that, in some cases, patients must travel long distances to have their prescription honoured.
Training for medical professionals is offered by the private company Cannabiscenza, a Milan based startup. However, there are currently no medicinal cannabis training programs run by the Italian department of health.
The earliest evidence of hemp used for cloth in Italy emerged from the Bronze Age. Evidence of hemp used for rope can be dated back to pre-Roman times (the 6th-5th century BC) on the island of Sicily and in Pisa, over 1,000 kilometres away from each other.
Use continued and thrived until after World War II and the War on Drugs that transpired a quarter-century later. Hemp-use all but disappeared until recent years, when in 2016 a law was introduced allowing cultivation of hemp without a license, though it must comply with the EU catalogue of seeds, i.e., strains that do not exceed 0.2% THC. However, thanks to a 2017 law, it is legal to cultivate and sell crops with a THC content less than 0.6%.
This ruling fueled the emergence of “cannabis light” — characterized by high CBD and very low THC content — which is being sold across Italy by tobacconists, CBD shops, and cannabis-related head and grow shops. It likewise is being exported to Belgium to fulfill booming CBD demand there. The unintended liberalization of the market has seen some positive effects.
There are also examples of hemp being used as a raw product for construction, food additives, textiles, mattresses, plastics, and biofuels. Thousands of jobs have been created reviving this ancient crop, and the younger generation is turning to hemp to avoid unemployment and seek relocation in the country’s cities.
This backdrop provides a ripe landscape for investment opportunities. Italy has already seen substantial investment from LGC Capital, Canopy Growth, Canopy Rivers, and from the UK and Israel. Recent political uncertainty has had an impact, but a new coalition of a more moderate government is seen by many as a positive step forward.
“We are active in all emerging markets and are registering a high level of interest in the Italian one, hence the decision to organise Cannabis Business Italia 2019, bringing our b2b know-how exchange platform to the country,” explains Matteo Losito, Conference Manager for Manetch, organizer of Cannabis Business Italia 2019 in October.
New Frontier Data CEO Giadha Aguirre De Carcer will be presenting at Cannabis Business Italia 2019 giving a global perspective on developing cannabis trends, with special insights on Italy’s emerging market.