Italy’s government has taken aim at CBD once again, issuing a new decree set to class CBD oil as a narcotic substance.
It marks the latest blow to the country’s CBD industry following efforts to clamp down on ‘cannabis light’ in June.
The Meloni administration’s fresh efforts to crack down on CBD oil, one of the most popular CBD products in the country which is currently sold openly as a food supplement, has already been met with a vocal backlash from lawyers and industry stakeholders.
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).
The decree would cancel the suspension of an original decree from 2020, issued by then Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza.
On October 1, 2020, a decree, now infamous with the Italian cannabis industry, was passed which sought to include ‘compositions for oral administration of cannabidiol obtained from cannabis extracts’ in section B of the table of medicinal products, alongside THC.
Effectively, the inclusion would classify CBD oil as a narcotic substance, and the substance would only be accessible through pharmacies after it had been prescribed by a doctor.
A day after it came into force, the decree was suspended in light of a considerable pushback from the Italian CBD industry.
Italian cannabis industry association Canapa Sativa Italia (CSI) says that, since 2020, it has been ‘fighting so that the decree that would classify CBD as a drug does not pass’.
This decree will essentially overturn this suspension, seeing these original efforts to re-categorise CBD come into force, and the industry take another major blow from the Meloni administration.
Unsurprisingly, this move has already garnered a significant pushback from the industry, not least from the CSI, which says it is ‘not only devoid of scientific foundation, but will also have serious repercussions for Italy’.
“If it were to enter into force as it is, this provision will certainly have a great impact on all companies involved in the production, processing and marketing of natural origin CBD-based hemp extracts, because contrary to WHO recommendations, the sale will require a rigorous system of registration as a drug with the Ministry of Health, a procedure absolutely unsuitable for a substance without risks such as CBD,” the organisation said.
Others have pointed out the inconsistencies in policy, given that an Italian court overturned an ‘absurdly restrictive’ decree that meant hemp leaves and flowers were considered narcotics in February this year.
However, the political context of the decision must be taken into consideration. As Business of Cannabis reported in June, the Italian government attempted to implement legislation that would extend tobacco legislation to cover ‘cannabis light’, low-THC hemp flower commonly sold throughout Italy.
While the plans to establish a restrictive regulatory framework on cannabis light were withdrawn a day later, it followed numerous efforts from Meloni’s government to clamp down on the industry.
In February 2023, the ‘Canapa Mundi’ festival, which reportedly saw some 25,000 attendees and 230 cannabis light and hemp brands showcase their businesses, was raided by police, who carried out searches and handed out fines.
In March, Ms Meloni’s government revealed that these growing checks were part of a new initiative, which it suggests was aimed at ‘raising awareness of commercial operations’, but which campaigners argue is a thinly veiled effort to repress the industry.
The CSI has said it is now calling for a ‘revision of the decree’ and a ‘working table based on scientific evidence’ to address the issue.
Italian hemp federation Federcanapa similarly has said it will now ‘evaluate the most effective actions to be taken with the economic operators of the sector to obtain guarantees from the government on the not only pharmacological use of CBD extracts but for all the uses permitted by the law on industrial hemp’.
The group went on to point out that despite the commercial ban, the government will not be able to prevent the free circulation of CBD foods and cosmetics produced in other European countries in Italy, meaning it will damage only local producers.
Speaking to Fanpage.it, Viola Brugnatelli, neuropharmacologist and co-founder of Cannabiscienza, mirrored this, stating that while she ‘can be happy’ that the products are now as safe as possible, the product was likely to become much more expensive and much harder to find for those who need it.
“The decree will have the result of once again choking the sector’s economy, because it effectively means banning the sale of the substance to many hemp companies, blocking instead the possibility that cannabis can finally be used medicinally. Many patients start with CBD, and finding positive effects, they then turn to doctors. And at that point maybe they start a real journey with a therapeutic plan and benefit from it,” she explained.
“Right now, there aren’t enough doctors capable of prescribing, because they aren’t trained enough in this world.”
Industry lawyer and drugs policy expert Carlo Alberto Zaina went further, calling for the industry to take the necessary collective legal action to fight the decree.
He told Dolce Vita Online: “When an entire sector sees its rights to free enterprise violated, it is necessary to stand together and take action to ensure that the necessary legal actions are taken in the appropriate forums, in order to safeguard the countless companies linked to the sector and all the related employment that drift.
“It is certain – continues lawyer Zaina – that the only way to contrast this unacceptable drift is that of a new, open-ended legal battle in which all the interested activities can become consortium members; their very existence depends on it.”