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Italy’s firebrand Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has promised to shutter every legal cannabis shop in Italy “one by one” and collapse the government should his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, not comply with the demand.
“From today, I’ll go to war on cannabis street by street, shop by shop, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, city by city,” Salvini said on Wednesday, May 8.
Salvini, who leads the ruling far-right Lega party, said the war on drugs was “a new national emergency”, and has demanded the government close “these places of mass miseducation”.
Legal cannabis retailers litter Italy’s high streets, and report an estimated turnover of €6.5m of CBD-related products. More than 300 additional stores were opened in 2018, up 75 percent from the previous year.
The retailers sell mainly CBD, which is derived from the cannabis plants, and contains less than 0.2 percent of the active substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), allowed by law.
Similar shops have appeared across Europe in recent years with little pushback from areas other than Austria. Italian lawmakers have only regulated the level of THC in weed, not the retail and marketing of CBD products. A judgement from the Supreme Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal in Italy, is expected at the end of the month.
A day after Salvini’s announcement, police closed three cannabis shops in the city of Macerata, in the centre of Italy. Products were seized, and it has been reported some contained THC levels exceeding the legal limit.
Salvini backed the “Macerata’s model” and said he will enact a directive in Italy allowing local regions to take the same action.
“We should not give wrong information, because cannabis shops don’t sell drugs,” replied Italy’s Health Minister Giulia Grillo, a member of the Five Star Movement.
She said the only current legal prohibitions the sale of CBD are linked to vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and minors, and that the cannabis extracts are not illegal.
“I can assess only the health aspect. However, it should be stressed that the concentration of the active ingredient in those products is not such as to have narcotic effects on consumers,” she said, adding there was no place for free drugs in Italy.
The controversy is the latest in a number of splits emerging between the far-right Lega party and anti-establishment group Five Star Movement, which govern Italy via coalition.
In a TV debate, Salvini said he would immediately topple the government if the Five Star Movement attempted to legalise cannabis.
Five Start deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio urged caution. “Enough,” he said in a note sent to the press. “We are all against drugs, but now Italian citizens are tired of these threats to the government,” Di Maio said.
In January, a Five Star senator, Matteo Mantero, filed a draft law allowing citizens to grow up to three marijuana plants for recreational use. The hardline Salvini said he expected the draft law to be iced.
The minister also wants to stamp out hemp or cannabis fairs. “They’re havoc, this must be stopped,” Salvini said, adding he was “not the minister of a drug-dealer state”.
In response, organisers of the hemp festival Sativa Torino Expo have cancel their event expected to take place from 17 to 19 May in Turin.
“Now it is difficult to make people understand that our expo is not a party that aims to promote soft drugs but to make clarity and divulgation over these new products,” said Claudia Ottone, marketing director of the agency behind the event.