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Italian Court Temporarily Blocks Reclassification of CBD as a Narcotic, but Industry Warns It’s ‘Just the Beginning of a Long Struggle’

Italy’s CBD industry claimed another ‘important success’ last week as the recent ministerial decree that threatened to reclassify CBD oil as a narcotic substance was temporarily suspended.

On October 05, 2023, the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio (TAR), the same regional court responsible for overturning a similar decree making hemp flower a narcotic in February, announced that the decree had been suspended until October 24.

While campaigners have welcomed the move, they cautioned that this was ‘just the beginning of a long struggle’, and demonstrated the ‘importance of unity and commitment to protecting the legal cannabis industry’.

In another twist just a day after the suspension was granted, the Italian Ministry of Health announced that it planned to appeal the court’s ruling and join as a civil party, demanding the suspension be reassessed in an unprecedented and telling move.

What happened?

Business of Cannabis reported recently that on August 21, 2023, the Italian Ministry of Health published a new decree in the Official Gazette (Gazzetta Ufficiale), setting the ball rolling for the change to officially be brought into force 30 days later (September 21).

This decree sought to revive a separate, now infamous, decree within the Italian cannabis industry from 2020, which would class CBD ‘compositions for oral administration’ alongside narcotic substances, meaning it would only be available via pharmacies with a prescription.

A day after it came into force in 2020, the decree was suspended in light of a considerable pushback from the Italian CBD industry, with the Health Minister stating that ‘the issue needs further investigation’.

The August 21, 2023 decree effectively removed the suspension issued in 2020, and it subsequently came into force on September 21, 2023.

Immediately after the ban came into force, indiscriminate raids were reportedly carried out by authorities, and the seizure of goods present at these shops was also ordered.

According to local media, many of these raids saw products such as CBD flower and cosmetic products, which have nothing to do with the decree, also seized.

Almost immediately, Italian cannabis associations made an ‘urgent request’ to the Ministry of Health to repeal the bill, highlighting three key points.

First, the associations noted the potential economic and social impact on Italian CBD businesses, highlighted by the indiscriminate raids conducted in the aftermath of the decree being enacted.

Second, they highlighted the absence of scientific evidence suggesting that CBD should be considered a narcotic, citing recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) from 2018 that ‘CBD preparations should not be included in the International Narcotics Control Conventions’, a stance later taken up by the United Nations.

Third, to this point, the groups also highlighted the decree’s violation of principles under EU law, after the European Commission officially stated in 2020 that CBD ‘should not be considered as a drug within the meaning of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961’.

Legal challenge

One Italian cannabis association, Canapa Italia Entrepreneurs (ICI), hired law firm Prestige Legal & Advisory to bring legal action ‘technically challenging’ the decree.

On October 03, 2023, this appeal was filed at the TAR, arguing that the decree failed to follow the proper legal procedures and violated wider European laws.

It also contested the ‘inspections and investigations to the detriment of the economic operations… and the seizure of goods’.

Two days later, on October 05, the court accepted the request for a suspension of the decree until October 24, giving Italian CBD businesses some temporary respite.

Italian lawyer Giacomo Bulleri, who is an expert on matters relating to hemp and medical cannabis, told Dolce Vita: “The suspension is necessary, also in light of what happened after it came into force, with indiscriminate seizures of everything, flowers, oils and products, without distinction.

“It is certainly confirmation of the fact that it is an anti-scientific measure, because it made no sense to include CBD in the list of narcotic medicines even though it can be considered a drug, and then anti-legal, given that community legislation must be respected.”

What now?

In a further unexpected development in this complex saga, the Ministry of Health announced in a note that it plans to testify in the upcoming court hearing to determine the future of the decree.

Speaking to Business of Cannabis, Cannabiscientia’s Viola Brugnatelli said this is a ‘particularly peculiar decision in a country where (the Health Minister) tends to be slow on fighting such decisions’.

She pointed out that there have been countless health cases, some dealing with controversial subjects such as abortion law, that ran for years with the ‘Health Ministry saying nothing’.

“Then here we’re talking 24 hours and the Health Ministry wants to take legal action against this repeal… It seems extreme.”

“What’s really happening at the moment is that no investment is going in the direction of any company in Italy that is doing CBD, this is the reality because even if things change, obviously no one can budget.”

However, with synthetic CBD not included in the current ban, the Italian industry is taking a sharp turn towards isolate and non-naturally sourced CBD so as to avoid the legal uncertainties.

While it is understood that no court date has yet been set for a final decision to be made, the next inflection point will be on October 24 when this temporary suspension comes to an abrupt end.

Furthermore, Business of Cannabis understands that both economic and scientific cases are being prepared, and that advocates may consider repeating the same strategy which secured them the initial suspension in 2020 before it was removed by the Meloni government last month.

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