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Is Legalization Coming to Naples, Home of Mafia-Controlled Cannabis?

Published on June 21, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Cannabis activists gathered in the Southern Italian town of Salerno, near Naples, earlier this month to form a new federation in favor of regulating cannabis in Italy. There are even hopeful signs the effort will find traction — Parliament is scheduled to have a debate on the subject on June 27.

The passing of a joint, besides still being illegal in Italy, can be especially dangerous in Naples. The local Mafia, the “system,” does not tolerate third parties selling or distributing cannabis outside its monopoly. It’s a fact often denounced by the powerful DIA, the District Anti-Mafia Direction, which last year proclaimed the utter failure of prohibition and urged the government to start regulating cannabis. 

Local media also perpetuate the widespread urban legend of dealers mixing cannabis with battery acid or other poisonous substances. The result, the so-called Mafia-manipulated amnesia, is one of the many worn-out myths that send a cloudy message to lawmakers.

Some of the questions on the agenda in Salerno: Will the Neapolitan mayor, former Mafia prosecutor Luigi De Magistris, use his prerogative as the highest defendant of public health to introduce special rules on drug issues to curb the Mafia and protect public health in the next election turn? What kind of impact will the foundation of a cannabis federation with strongholds in Sicily and Naples have on the formation of collective, non-profit cannabis-grow coops, or so-called Cannabis Social Clubs, inspired by examples in Spain and Belgium? 

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Neapolitan Director Enrico Caria choose legalization as the subject of his 2011 mockumentary Legal Era, in which the character Mr. Amore (Mr. Love) runs for mayor of Naples and decides to legalize drugs. Although it’s a work of fiction, the film considers the cannabis regulation in the words of judges, politicians, and actors such as Isabella Rossellini. A very important general attorney declares that “If we don't close the tap of the drug traffic we will never end fighting money laundering and our democracies will end up like in Mexico,” another key character says. 

In short, Legal Era testifies that when cannabis is legalized, the sky won’t fall like ash from Mt. Vesuvius. 

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Five years after the release of Legal Era, Massimiliano Derviso, the main organizer of the meeting in Salerno, is hopeful that real change is coming soon to Italy. “The project we started here could be an example for the whole of Europe,” he told Leafly. “It could improve the lifestyle and well-being of many people. There are so many really needy, sick people that I personally know, the victims of a disastrous and corrupt legal system who have had or are still having serious legal problems. 

“Adult people would like to use cannabis responsibly but run a high risk of buying products of very low quality at inflated prices.” 

The newly named FEDERC, the Federation for Regulation of Cannabis in Italy, promotes research, responsible growth and consumption, political organization, and the spread of information. FEDERC will join Encod, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies. Encod representative Richard Rainford was a special guest at the meeting.

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Enrico Fletzer
Enrico Fletzer
Born in Venice, Enrico Fletzer began work as a journalist in the free radio movement and has gone on to write for newspapers and magazines in Europe and North America. He has translated books and films on cannabis and has participated in research in Bologna, Europe's former hemp capital, that led to the Italian Army's cannabis program. He is a member of the Steering Committee of Encod, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies.
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