Italian Cannabis Reform in Question Following Prime Minister’s Resignation

Published on January 2, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Italian outgoing Premier Matteo Renzi, right, waits for new Premier Paolo Gentiloni prior to the handover ceremony at Chigi Palace Premier's office, in Rome, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. (AP)

More than 60 percent of eligible voters in Italy rejected a package of proposed constitutional reforms last month, pushing Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to resign from his post and throwing into question the fate of a cannabis legalization bill being considered by the country’s parliament.

Italian lawmakers had been debating the pros and cons of an adult-use legalization bill—Europe’s most wide-ranging cannabis legalization proposal to date—for more than a year. A vote on the cannabis bill was set to follow a yes vote on the Dec. 4 constitutional reforms, but that yes vote didn’t materialize. Cannabis advocates are now wondering if the political mess could throw a wrench into the national legalization effort.

Lawmakers in Germany have an adult-use cannabis legalization bill in parliament, though a medical cannabis legalization bill is garnering most political support there. In the Netherlands and the Czech Republic lawmakers are drafting bills to legalize commercial and home cultivation, respectively.

In the aftermath of Renzi’s resignation, Giovanni Paglia of the country’s Left party said he doubted the departure of the prime minister, a cannabis opponent, would actually help the legalization bill’s progress in parliament.

Roughly 60 percent of voters said no to Renzi’s proposed constitutional changes, which some said would weaken the country’s system of governmental checks and balances.

The strong vote in favor of preserving the current constitution could, paradoxically, be a good sign for change in terms of cannabis. Renzi’s center-left opponents, after all, favor cannabis reform. Yet it remains unclear whether there now will be early elections ahead of the next scheduled vote in 2018. The current leadership vacuum could end up overshadowing efforts to secure a vote on the cannabis initiative.

Cannabis could find a friend in the Five Star Movement, an upstart, anti-establishment political party that supports cannabis legalization and is currently leading in polls (though no party is expected to reach an outright majority). Many members of the Left party also support cannabis legalization, as does a minority of Renzi’s Democrats party.

According to several observers, the weakening of Renzi’s party could bring cannabis reform closer to the center of the government’s priorities if the Democrats open themselves to cooperation with their Left and Green counterparts in order to stay in power through 2018.

Yet the Five Star Movement is calling for new elections without delay. If snap elections are called in the country of 60 million people—which already has legal medical cannabis—the Five Star Movement, Left party, and some rebel Democrats could unite under promises to keep the constitution mostly unchanged. It’s still unclear if such an alliance could muster a majority in the fractured Italian Parliament, doing so would bring a pro-cannabis group into power.

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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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