Sicilian cannabis patients may be celebrating after news dropped yesterday that the region’s medical marijuana supplies would be free to certain qualified program participants. Sicily’s top health administrator Ruggero Razza signed a decree that patients with chronic or neuropathic pain, cerebral palsy, or multiple sclerosis will qualify for the government’s subsidized marijuana.
In so doing, Sicily joins national governments in the EU like Ireland and the Czech Republic who have made the decision to largely pay for some of its population’s cannabis treatments.
According to the Italian system, patients must obtain a prescription for cannabis from a doctor. With that script, they are able to buy cannabis from a licensed pharmacist, which gets its supply from either the Italian ministry of defense or from a list of certified importers.
At the moment, most of Italy’s medical cannabis supplies come from the Netherlands, via the Dutch Office of Medical Cannabis, though the country’s Stabilimento Chimico Farmaceutico di Firenze, an agency within the Department of Defense, is also allowed to produce medicinal cannabis supply. Medical marijuana has been legal in the country since 2013.
Canadian cannabis company Aurora is also one of Italy’s medical suppliers. It was authorized in June to import 400 kilograms into the country over the next two years — though part of that contract was canceled in November. Aurora is a popular choice among EU governments. The brand also has a contract with the government of Luxembourg and supplies one of only three authorized products that will be permitted in Ireland’s medical cannabis system, set to become operational within the next few months.
Sicilian subsidies are not the only recent news in Italy’s quest to widen cannabis access. Last month, the country’s highest court decided that citizens should be able to grow cannabis in their home, and that personal cultivation was not relevant to the criminal persecution of cannabis-related crimes. The court published a December 19 opinion stating that, “at home, small-scale cultivation activities are to be considered excluded from the application of the penal code.”
In so doing, the country joins only a handful of peers that have regulated home cultivation for recreational uses, such as Uruguay.
The court’s home cultivation decision was motivated by cases like that of a Torre Annunziata man who was sentenced to a year of incarceration and 3,000 euros when he was discovered growing a pair of cannabis plants.
CBD products — called “cannabis light” locally — are widely available in Italian stores and bring in around 40 million euro a year. Hemp grows well in the Italian climate, even helping to renew soil that has been exhausted by exhaustive wheat cultivation.
But hemp-based products have not escaped controversy, and have come under fire from the country’s conservative political parties. Raids on cannabis light stores last summer resulted in one business owner chaining himself to the doors of his store after it was raided by the police. In response, Italy’s parliament voted to legalize the hemp-based products, but the lawmakers were overruled by the Senate, which denied the plan in December.
As legal battles continue, the country’s scientists have been working to improve our understanding of the drug. Earlier this year, Italian researchers announced the discovery of two new cannabinoids, which they dubbed CBDP and THCP.
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