Back in April 2015, Italy’s Army did something that shocked many people around the world – it unveiled to the international community a cannabis farm that it operated. The unveiling came months after a government announcement that the project would begin operations, although seeing so many plants in full bloom received considerably more attention than the government’s initial announcement back then.
The concept of a government cultivating cannabis is not new. After all, for over 50 years a federal cannabis research cultivation project has operated at the University of Mississippi in the United States, and some of the cannabis from the research program is supplied to a very limited number of medical cannabis patients. However, Italy’s medical cannabis effort involving the military is much different in size and scope.
When Italy’s Army held its unveiling in 2015, the stated goal of the cultivation project was to cultivate enough medical cannabis to supply thousands of patients, to keep the cannabis secure throughout its lifecycle, and to lower medical cannabis prices for approved patients. Zoom forward to today, and the cultivation project operated by Italy’s Army will likely end up supplying nearly half of the nation’s medical cannabis program in 2023, with the remaining medical cannabis supply coming from imports. Leadership in Italy’s Army recently expressed publicly a new goal of eventually supplanting exports entirely with domestically produced medical cannabis.
Increasing Cultivation Output
Currently, Italy’s medical cannabis policy requires that 1,500 kilograms of cannabis be cultivated, harvested, and provided to registered medical cannabis patients in a year. The Italian Army’s goal for 2023 is to cultivate enough cannabis to fulfill 700 of those required kilograms. To put that figure into perspective, the Army’s cultivation operation, which is located just outside of Florence, yielded 50 kilograms in 2020 and 300 kilograms in 2022.
“The next step is self-sufficiency — that’s our ambition,” said Nicola Latorre according to Defense News. Latorre leads the Italian Defence Industries Agency in charge of the cultivation project. All of the domestically produced cannabis that is part of the Army-operated program is cultivated indoors. Apparently, the program started by utilizing two rooms, which has since expanded to ten. Presumably, the additional space required to increase production has already been identified and will be located at the same secure facility.
Part of the reported strategy to boost production also involves improved cultivation technology and techniques, including “perfecting lighting, watering, temperature and ventilation” as well as the use of a “blend of secret nutrients developed in-house.” The cannabis is cultivated hydroponically, and in addition to pursuing the goal of boosting overall production, Italy’s cultivation program will start providing patients with cannabis-infused olive oil at some point in 2023.
Expanding Safe Access To All Suffering Patients
It is great news, in general, that domestic medical cannabis production is increasing in Italy. With that being said, developing a nation’s medical cannabis supply in a way that gives the entire monopoly to the government and cultivating all cannabis under artificial lighting is far from optimal. For a medical cannabis program to reach its full potential, it needs to help as many suffering patients as possible, and that requires, among other things, a comprehensive approach to sourcing cannabis and providing safe access.
A landmark decision was rendered by Italy’s Supreme Court in late 2019 that provided some level of legal protection for limited home cultivation. The decision was significant to be sure, however, patients still run the risk of selective enforcement, and specified cultivation rights need to be codified into Italian law for all suffering patients. Furthermore, the list of qualifying conditions for Italy’s medical cannabis program needs to be expanded considerably.
In addition to sensible medical cannabis policies that pertain to individuals, Italy needs to expand who can cultivate cannabis on a large scale. The Army can and should continue to cultivate cannabis if it wants to, if for any reason to boost competition and keep prices low, however, domestic private sector and charitable organizations also need to be allowed to operate in a similar fashion to help ensure that Italy’s medical cannabis industry truly becomes self-sustaining for the long haul and that as many suffering patients get helped as possible in the process.
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Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Rovinj, Croatia (September 22-23, 2022), Barcelona (March 9, 2023), Berlin Global Investment Forum (June 27, 2023), and Berlin B2B Trade Show (June 29-30, 2023).