Right-Wing Group Forces Delay in Italy Vote on Colorado-Style Pot Legalization

Update: While public support for cannabis legalization in Italy remains high, the Italian Parliament has postponed a vote on the issue until September. Last week, a cross-party group of lawmakers proposed a bill that would have legalized marijuana, but that effort was derailed by a right-wing parliamentary group that introduced more than 1,300 amendments to intentionally delay the vote.

The original legislation was co-sponsored by 221 members of the Chamber of Deputies, including the Deputy Speaker of the Chamber; they plan to re-introduce it next month. If it passes the Chamber, it will move on to the Senate. And if the Senate passes it, Italy will become the first European country to legalize marijuana.

Our original story from July 25:

The Italian Parliament is gathering today to discuss a proposal for marijuana legalization. If passed, the bill on the table — similar to the proposal Colorado voters passed in 2012 — would allow the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana. Italian citizens over the age of eighteen would be allowed to grow as many as five plants for personal use, have up to fifteen grams of marijuana in their homes and possess a maximum of five grams in public. It would also authorize "cannabis clubs," where up to fifty people could gather and smoke together.

Cannabis would be taxed at a rate of 5 percent; the government would issue licenses allowing the cultivation of marijuana for the purpose of selling it to recreational customers. The tax would be used to fund Italy's effort to crack down on illegal drug trafficking.

The proposal was organized by Senator Benedetto Della Vedova, MP for the People of Freedom Party, who brought together senators and representatives from different parties to write a draft that was signed last September by a third of Parliament, or 294 representatives.

Support ranged across the political spectrum, with signatories joining the effort from both liberal and conservative parties.

"Prohibitionist policies have failed in their impossible aim to eliminate the use of drugs and have not reduced the illegal market for cannabis," Della Vedova says in a statement. "Instead, organized crime has controlled the whole chain: production, processing and sales. By legalizing cannabis, the State would cut off substantial income from organized crime and transfer the illegal profits to the State budget."

Italian citizens support legalization: A recent survey conducted by IPSOS Public Affairs showed that 83 percent of Italians believe the current prohibition laws are ineffective, with 60 percent agreeing that the Italian Parliament should consider policy alternatives. The survey also showed that more than 70 percent believed the country should implement a regulation model similar to the one we have in Colorado.

If Parliament passes the bill, Italy would be the first European country to legalize marijuana for non-medical use — but it would join a growing list of countries that have recently enacted new marijuana reform laws.

In addition to the 25 states that have legalized medical marijuana in the United States, Jamaica has decriminalized marijuana, and both Colombia and Puerto Rico have issued executive orders legalizing medical use. Chile allows people to grow marijuana for medical use. The issue of medical marijuana is currently under debate in Argentina and Canada.
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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.