Coltivazione marijuana

Cannabis light against the illegal market

The law that allowed the sale of light cannabis was enacted in 2016 and has been in force since January 2018. Law 242/2016 legalized the production, transformation and sale of cannabis sativa, with THC levels initially ranging between 0.2% and 0.6%. Containing a very low percentage of THC as an active ingredient, this type of marijuana is completely free of narcotic effects; on the contrary, the massive presence of CBD makes the product very relaxing , useful for letting go of stress after an intense day and for helping you fall asleep.

Everything was fine for about a year. Then came Matteo Salvini and his declaration of war on light marijuana. The politician's proclamations put even more spotlight on the already controversial issue, and on May 30th something changed. The Court of Cassation, in its joint sections, had to decide to find a meeting point between two provisions, one issued by the Fourth criminal section, the other by the Sixth, which gave opposing opinions on the cannabis trade.

In essence, the ruling prohibited the sale of oils, resin, inflorescences and leaves of marijuana sativa, because the cultivation law does not include them among the marketable derivatives. Those who sell them therefore do so illegally, unless these products are actually " without drugging efficacy". 

Cannabis light: what was changing?

In the 2015 annual report, the DNA - National Anti-Mafia Directorate - stated that the cancellation of the crime of production and sale of soft drugs - which represents more than half of the drug market - could have generated savings of almost 800 million euros , in following lower expenses between the judiciary, detention institutions, public order and security. This is a huge amount of money (millions of euros per year), which could be used to combat hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and synthetic drugs.

There is another very important data, and it is an estimate of the "turnover" of the black market in cannabis: according to the National Anti-Mafia Directorate it amounts to around 30 billion euros a year , equal to around 2% of the national GDP. More than half of this amount is linked to the sale of marijuana and its derivatives alone .

Furthermore, the sale of legal cannabis (inside a specialized shop) would make the quality of the products and the stages of their production more certain. In Italy, every year, around 5 million people use hashish or marijuana and buy it on the black market. In a 2016 study, the University of Bern analyzed 191 marijuana samples seized by law enforcement on Swiss territory. The discovery was worrying: 91% of these products are "cut" with various types of substances, with the aim of increasing the weight of the grass and having more profits, but also to increase the psychotropic effect or to make the flowers more beautiful .

Ammonia, lacquer, glass wool, lead, aluminum, iron, chromium and cobalt were found in the samples. Obviously smoking these products can cause serious harm to the unaware consumer; these damages would be avoidable if cannabis were legal and the state monitored its production and controlled its sale.

Cannabis light and the illegal market

On paper, light cannabis on sale in Italy can only be used for "technical" or "collecting" purposes. In fact, most of those who buy it do so to smoke it . Light cannabis is mostly purchased by adults, mainly in the 35-50 age group, above all because it offers the advantage of avoiding unpleasant narcotic effects and not having to turn to the illegal market.

And here a question arises. How big is the cannabis light turnover? And how much damage has been done to organized crime? Three Italian researchers tried to answer these questions, completing the first study on the topic.


Researchers Vincenzo Carrieri and Francesco Principe , from the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Statistics of the University of Salerno , and their colleague Leonardo Madio, from New York University , cross-referenced the data provided by the police on seizures of illegal cannabis with those illustrating the presence of grow shops . The data was weighted on the basis of factors that can influence the quantity of drugs seized: presence of ports, where the largest seizures take place, and environmental conditions that favor the cultivation of cannabis and therefore supply, starting from the presence of courses of water.

“Italy is an interesting case study due to the presence of a strong organized crime” which derives most of its earnings from the sale of narcotics, the study underlines. Marijuana and hashish account for 91.4% of the total substances sold on the illegal market, for a turnover of 3.5 billion. Even more interesting, the researchers add, is that light cannabis is an "imperfect substitute" for psychoactive cannabis but has nevertheless managed to reduce the number of drug dealing in a country that has among the highest consumption in Europe.

The researchers underline, however, that the real data could be much more significant, since the seized marijuana represents only a minority part of that available on the market and that light cannabis is a "rather imperfect substitute for the marijuana available on the illegal market", having a minimum percentage of THC .

Estimates indicate that even a mild form of liberalization can fulfill the goal of reducing the amount of marijuana sold and the related revenues of criminal organizations. There is therefore an unexpected "substitution effect" in the demand between light cannabis and street cannabis, whose THC content has increased in recent years, with an average of 10.8% and peaks of 22%.

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