Print Edition - 2018-04-23 | MONEY
Cannabis legal in Italy, but just can’t eat or smoke them
- alternative medication
Apr 23, 2018-For the past year, small jars of cannabis flowers have been flying off the shelves of Italian specialty shops: a phenomenon that’s described as a “green gold rush.”
The hemp flowers—with names like K8, Chill Haus, Cannabismile White Pablo and Marley CBD—are sold under the tag “cannabis light” because their level of the psychoactive compound that makes people high is a tiny fraction of that typically found in cultivated marijuana.
But there’s a catch. The aromatic hemp flowers must not be smoked or eaten. Seeds, should there be any, must not be cultivated. As the jars’ labels sternly specify, the products are for “technical use” only and “not for human consumption.” Instead, they are sold—as countless salesclerks will explain with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink smile—as “collectors’ items.”
Such is the current, perplexing status of legal cannabis in Italy.
Italy’s cannabis mania, as it has been called, exploded after a December 2016 law regulating hemp production went into effect, a series of norms meant to help revive a crop that was once widely cultivated in the country. In the 1940s, Italy was said to be the world’s second-biggest producer of industrial cannabis, after the Soviet Union. (Statistics for China, also a major producer, do not exist.)
The law was created for farmers growing industrial hemp, which has commercial uses like food, fabrics, clothing, biofuel, construction material and animal feed, but has minute levels of a psychoactive compound. But it did not regulate the use of cannabis flowers, also known as buds, and an entire economy emerged from the legislative void.
In the past year, companies packaging cannabis light have blossomed, dozens of shops selling cannabis products have opened, franchising brands have taken off, and many farmers have rotated fields to produce one of the 64 varieties of industrial hemp certified by the European Union. Farmers’ associations see wide-scale hemp production as one solution to Italy’s agricultural slump.
“We created an awesome phenomenon,” said Luca Marola, who is widely credited with kick-starting the cannabis-light boom, thanks in part to extensive media coverage of his company, Easyjoint Project. As of February, he said, he had sold 17,000 kilograms, over 37,000 pounds, of flowers—a project that Marola, a longtime activist for marijuana legalisation, calls a “form of civil disobedience.”
In the past century, marijuana and cannabis became associated with the word drug, effectively wiping out generations of tradition, said Gennaro Maulucci, the main organiser of a hemp-based trade fair in Rome. “We want to dismantle that defamatory reputation,” he said.
“It’s a new economy, it feels like Silicon Valley,” he added during the fair, Canapa Mundi, which drew more than 30,000 visitors over three days in February. And in this process, he said, “even cannabis light can contribute to the normalisation of cannabis.”
The level of tetrahydrocannabinol—or THC, the compound that makes people high—is under 0.2 percent in cannabis light, a small fraction of the 15 percent to 25 percent or more that is typically found in cultivated strains of marijuana, whose street-level quality can be significantly lower in Italy. It has varying levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, which proponents say has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, without the psychoactive effects.
Some aficionados working for marijuana-promoting magazines have described the effects of cannabis light as a taking-the-edge-off kind of buzz, without actually getting stoned.
Easyjoint’s website specifies that its products must not be burned or eaten, and that they are not medicinal. But in an interview, Marola said cannabis light had properties that could be effective in various instances.
The scientific community is still out about the medical properties of cannabis light. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, has been increasingly popular in Italy since it was approved in 2006, and demand now greatly dwarfs supply.
— © 2018 THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: 23-04-2018 07:35