Enlisting in the U.S. Army means you stand a chance of serving your country as an international drug cop. For decades, soldiers have spent at least part of their enlistments traveling to exotic locales like Afghanistan and Humboldt County, California to discourage marijuana farming—at times, violently. But if you join the Italian army, you might end on the other side.
In Italy, the job of growing, processing and packaging cannabis for your fellow citizens’consumption is solely that of the military. Whether this is a job that the army is equal to, however, is another, open question.
As the Washington Post noted, Italy is like most of Western Europe in allowing sick people to access cannabis with the central government’s imprimatur (Congress: take note, please).
Unlike the other weed-friendly western democracies, in Italy, the military has a “monopoly” on domestic cannabis production. A “heavily guarded” army installation outside Florence produces the Italian medical marijuana supply—all 220 pounds of it, which heads to pharmacies before reaching patients’ hands.
That’s not exactly a flood of cannabis—you could find home grows in California with greater production capacities—but a trickle is soon to become a torrent.
The Italian army’s Military Chemical Pharmaceutical Plant’s production could triple within a year with a proposed $2 billion boost in funding, the newspaper reported, weed it could then send to the Pope. (Sort of—a plan to export cannabis to the Vatican is in the works, according to Italian Army Col. Antonio Medica, who runs the military growhouse).
“$2 billion for a few hundred pounds of pot? That’s rank inefficiency—I could do better on a brief trip to Colorado,” you’re telling yourself.
Maybe you’re right—but, you see, you’d be paying for your pot. Under the Italian plan, medical cannabis would be supplied to eligible citizens free of charge.
Free medical attention is a concept that other western democracies have mastered that continues to elude Americans. Free weed—well, that’s the American dream, for some of us. But would you believe? Not everyone in Italy is on board.
The chief beef is with quality. This is something to which Americans can relate.
In the U.S., the only federally approved supplier of “research-grade” cannabis is a farm at the University of Mississippi. The weed produced there bears little resemblance to the cannabis available to millions of Americans in legal (and illegal states). That is, it is terrible, and what little bunk weed there is is exceedingly difficult to obtain for research purposes. You might as well not bother. (That, unfortunately, may be the intent.)
Italy legalized medical marijuana in 2007, but the country made it nearly impossible to obtain thanks to an epic bureaucracy. With private enterprise drowned in paperwork, and still stuck with fulfilling its promise to citizens, the Italian government dumped the job of growing pot onto the army in 2014—because handling drugs was already part of its mission.
In Italy, “health is a matter of national security,” a defense official told the Post.
Most any grower will tell you that it takes a few years to get one’s setup dialed in. Things were no different at the heavily guarded grow site near Florence. Even now, there’s room for improvement.
Italian soldiers produce a single strain of pot, called FM2. FM2 is low in THC—clocking in at about eight percent, or enough for a mild, giggly buzz for most marijuana-smoking Americans—and ergo not useful to cannabis patients with certain symptoms, including MS. These sick people must import their pot from elsewhere in Europe. It can be done, mind you—and legally—it just takes a long time and is exorbitantly expensive. Imported cannabis can cost more than $80 a gram, compared to the military’s $7 a gram stuff.
But supply is also an issue, as in the army isn’t fulfilling demand.
“The army alone is just not enough,” said Andrea Triscuiglio, a 39-year-old who suffers from multiple sclerosis. “We need to make it easier for others to grow medical cannabis.”
In 2012, Italian cannabis patients unsuccessfully pushed for government allowance to grow their own. Domestic medical marijuana consumption in Italy is as high as 1,000 pounds a year.
Even with a sharp uptick in production, there’s still a sharp deficit that leads cannabis consumers pursuing other, less-legal means—like sourcing their product from the illicit sources their counterparts in the U.S. Army stamp out.