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Cannabis Advocates in Italy Down but Not Out After Disappointing UN Summit

The takeaway from April’s United Nations meetings on international drug policy, at least in Italy: We’re ready to culturally embrace cannabis and other recreational drugs, but we’re bureaucratically hamstrung when it comes to making it happen.

Marco Perduca, Italy’s permanent representative to the U.N. from the Radical Party, said that while many countries are calling for sensible policy and seeking to regulate and legalize cannabis, other countries continue to violate human rights in the suppression of the cannabis trade — and thus stymie progressive efforts worldwide.

“The result therefore represents a weakened consensus. The final 24-page document (summarizing the final agreed position of the entire U.N. delegation) contains a series of vague declarations of intent that marks a certain distance from past attitudes, but continues to focus on demand and supply reduction,” Perduca said.

Perduca spoke earlier this month at a gathering of Italy’s drug-reform activists in Florence earlier this month to discuss the future following the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drug policy in New York. In Italy, calls for action and the long-sought establishment of sensible rules regulating cannabis and other controlled substances are only getting louder.

There appears to be a three-year window of opportunity to make progress. The next edition of UNGASS is proposed for 2019. After that, nothing is planned before 2030. 

Italy used to be a leader in Europe in offering harm-reduction facilities to drug users, but recent conservative governments have made those efforts more difficult. 

Italian Justice Minister Andrea Orlando told representatives in the U.N. plenary that now is the time to establish drug policies that really work, and to cut away from demagogic approaches on the road to the 2019 summit. 

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Perduca, a former Italian senator, noted that the most interesting part of the April summit were the discussions that took place in the underbelly of the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan. Topics ranging from cannabis regulation, harm reduction policies or the necessity to reduce or end the criminalization of the drug users created an atmosphere more like a symposium than a decision making event.

Perduca said that the Italian people need to raise their voices above those of the nation’s political dawdlers if Italy hopes to build on its drug-policy successes, such as the nation abandoning its drug-policy alliance with Russia and Japan, two nations that have always opposed the decisions and policies of the European Union.

“The government should start carrying out policies that really work and review existing laws and policies,” Perduca said. “It's time to promote what really works.” 

Policy developments in the United States, Canada and elsewhere — leading to regulated cannabis markets with a strong emphasis on safety—should continue to serve as models for best practices in Italy and the European Union, Perduca added.

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