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Italian Army Pledges To More Than Double Medical Cannabis Production This Year, But Supply Issues Far From Over

THE Italian army, which continues to hold a monopoly over medical cannabis production, has announced plans to dramatically ramp up production this year. 

On December 30, 2022, General Manager of the Defence Industries Agency Nicola Latorre announced in an interview with Defense World that the army planned to increase its production by 75% compared with previous targets in 2023. 

This pledge, according to Mr Latorre, was the first step towards achieving self-sufficiency for medical cannabis in Italy, which has been plagued by undersupply issues for years. 

While this would mark a positive step forward for what is thought to be well over 20,000 Italian patients, the new government’s moves to quash plans for home cultivation mean supply issues are set to continue throughout the year. 

‘Next step is self-sufficiency’

Italy was one of the first countries in the EU to legalise cannabis for medical use in 2007, and moved to put its military in charge of production in 2015 in order to ‘fully meet the growing needs of Italian patients’. 

This is a target the military has so far systematically failed to achieve, with its ongoing monopoly over production failing to keep up with a patient population that has grown by double-digit percentage points for a number of years. 

In September 2022, BusinessCann revealed never-before-published figures from the Italian Ministry of Health, obtained by journalist Fabrizio Dentini, showing that despite some growth in 2021 the Italian army was producing a fraction of the estimated 1,400kg a year demanded by patients. 

These figures showed that while the amount of medical cannabis sold to pharmacies in Italy had grown consistently from 576kg in 2018 to 1,271kg in 2021, domestic production actually fell from 123kg to 108kg over the same period, the latter representing just 8% of the total cannabis sold to pharmacies that year. 

Mr Latorre has seemingly disputed these figures, stating that the army produced 50kg in 2020, rather than the 37kg reported by the Ministry of Health. 

Year Kg Sold to Pharmacies Kg Grown in Italy Domestic %
2014 59 0 0%
2015 119 0 0%
2016 138 0 0%
2017 351 56 16%
2018 578 113 20%
2019 861 123 14%
2020 1,123 37 3%
2021 1,271 102 8%

More importantly, he suggested that the army’s Florence-based growth operation produced 300kg in 2022, which, if accurate, would represent a near 200% growth rate. 

This was reportedly achieved by boosting grow rooms from two in 2016 to 10 this year, each hosting between 50 and 125 plants, each with six harvests a year. 

According to Mr Latorre, the facility will achieve triple-digit growth again this year, seeing production rise to 700kg in 2023, while production of ‘cannabis-infused olive oil’ will also begin. 

Furthermore, five unnamed private firms are reportedly being brought in to supply more mother plants from which cuttings will be taken, though Mr Latorre emphasised that the main growing operation will continue to be conducted by the state ‘to guarantee quality and price’. 

Co-founder and managing director of Italian medical cannabis company Revmed, Tommaso Martella, told BusinessCann that he believed the army’s aims to reach self-sufficiency were ‘not realistic’, as it has so far struggled to produce anything above 150kg. 

Mr Dentini added that despite the army ramping up its operations, it will still have failed in the project’s aim to cover all Italian demand more than six years after its creation. 

He continued: “Secondly, the system used to report regionally and yearly medical cannabis needs is not working, and nobody really knows the concrete medical cannabis amount needed for the upcoming year. Current estimates are based on speculation over previous years’ consumption.”

Alternatives to domestic production

In July 2022, BusinessCann reported that a cannabis decriminalisation bill, which had been in legislative limbo with the Justice Commission since 2019, had finally reached the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament in Italy. 

This bill, which if passed would have seen the law change to allow Italian citizens to grow up to four cannabis plants for personal use, was due to be voted on by the upper parliament in September last year. 

However, following the Italian election in late September, which saw Giorgia Meloni’s far-right government win an absolute majority of seats, this bill is understood to be all but dead. 

With that avenue now closed for patients, many are looking towards the Ministry of Defence’s proposals to issue tenders to private companies to begin growing EU GMP cannabis in Italy, putting an end to the monopoly. 

Despite the tender including a number of difficult conditions such as the use of sodium instead of LED lamps, a minimum cultivation area of several hectares and a minimum annual production of 500kg, more than the army’s own current capabilities, dozens of applications have reportedly been submitted. 

Mr Dentini explained: “At the moment the Italian army is evaluating 36 requests from companies that joined the tender to grow medical cannabis. We are waiting for the army to move on this matter.”

However, the fact that this process is dependent on decisions from the army, which is ‘closed’ and ‘not accepting of any criticism’, means there is yet another bottleneck in the Italian supply chain. 

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