Italian court blocks referendum on cannabis laws

Italy's constitutional court on Wednesday rejected a request to hold a referendum on legalising cannabis cultivation despite a corresponding petition garnering a large number of signatures.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.
Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

The referendum proposal sought to legalise the growing of cannabis for personal use and ease sanctions on other related crimes, with offenders no longer risking prison sentences for selling small amounts of the drug.

Constitutional court president and former prime minister, Giuliano Amato, told a news conference that the referendum would have been sufficient “to make (Italy) violate multiple international obligations.”

The ruling came on the same day the court blocked a referendum bid to decriminalise assisted suicide, judging that it would not guarantee the “minimum protection of human life in general, particularly with reference to weak and vulnerable persons.”

READ ALSO: Is smoking and growing cannabis at home now legal in Italy?

One of the advocates for liberalisation, Benedetto Della Vedova of the centrist +Europa party, countered that the court’s ruling would “deprive Italy of a public debate and of a process of electoral reform on freedom and responsibility.”

The organisers of the planned referendum had garnered more than 630,000 signatures, arguing that cannabis was no more than dangerous than other legal substances like tobacco or alcohol.

And liberalising the law would have eased overcrowding in prisons, they said.

Currently, the penalty for growing cannabis is a prison sentence of between two and six years.

Opponents of the referendum, including the head of the anti-immigration far-right League party, Matteo Salvini, argued that liberalisation would encourage the use of both soft and hard drugs.

Cultivation and sale of marijuana has been illegal in Italy under legislation dating back to the 90s but inconsistent court decisions since then have caused confusion around the law.

READ ALSO: Why farmers in Puglia have turned to cannabis

In late 2019, Italy’s parliament voted to legalise the production and sale at tobacconists and other specialist stores of a weaker form of cannabis dubbed “cannabis light”, containing less than 0.3 percent of the psychotropic compound THC, only for the Italian Senate to block the legislation a few days later.

A December 2019 Cassation Court ruling also established that cultivation is not a crime if it is “of minimal size and carried out in a domestic form, through rudimentary practices and on a scarce number of plants” – but did not specify exactly what constitutes small-scale cultivation or how many plants could be considered legal.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Italy since 2013. In 2020, the region of Sicily passed a decree making it available free of charge to all patients who had been prescribed the drug to treat conditions such as chronic pain, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.

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Italy plans to stop ‘revolving door’ between judges and politicians

Italian lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a planned reform aimed at stopping the 'revolving door' between justice and government, as part of wider changes to the country's creaking judicial system.

Italy plans to stop 'revolving door' between judges and politicians

The proposed reform, which still has to be approved by the Italian Senate in the coming weeks, imposes significant limitations on the number of magistrates, prosecutors and judges looking to go into politics – a frequent move in Italy.

Under the submitted changes, a magistrate wishing to stand for election, whether national, regional or local, will not be able to do so in the region where they have worked over the previous three years.

At the end of their mandate, magistrates who have held elective positions will not be able to return to the judiciary – they will be moved to non-jurisdictional posts at, for example, the Court of Auditors or the Supreme Court of Cassation, according to local media reports.

Furthermore, magistrates who have applied for elective positions but have not been successful for at least three years will no longer be able to work in the region where they ran for office. 

The reform is part of a wider programme of changes to Italy’s tortuous judicial system. This is required by the European Commission to unlock billions of euros in the form of post-pandemic recovery funds.

Public perception of the independence of Italian courts and judges is among the worst in Europe, according to the EU’s justice scoreboard.