Activists in Italy say they’ve gathered enough signatures to qualify a ballot measure that would decriminalize personal cultivation and use of not only marijuana but also psilocybin mushrooms and certain other psychoactive plants for personal use.
The campaign behind the proposal announced over the weekend that it has collected the necessary 500,000 signatures to begin qualifying the measure in just seven days, thanks in part to a new law that allows petitions to be signed digitally rather than only in person. If the referendum clears its remaining procedural hurdles, the public is expected to vote on the nationwide reform in spring 2022.
“Here we are, here’s the number that makes it all true! More than 500,000 online signatures in one week for the #ReferendumCannabis,” the campaign posted on social media accounts on Sunday.
Supporters called the overwhelming response “an extraordinary but not surprising result.”
Advocates behind the push are calling on Italian voters to keep adding their names to the petition before the end-of-month deadline, with the goal of building a 15-percent buffer in case some signatures are invalidated.
If approved by voters, the proposal would eliminate prison sentences around most conduct relating to cannabis.
The ballot referendum would also delete Italy’s prohibition on cultivating psychoactive substances, although production and manufacture would still be forbidden. The campaign says on its website the change would not legalize all drugs, because most require further processing after cultivation.
“It is also worth remembering that with the exception of cannabis flowering plants (and mushrooms), all other narcotic substances necessarily require subsequent steps for the substance to be consumed,” says a translated version of the campaign’s website, “activities which continue to be punished.” The website does not appear to acknowledge other psychoactive substances that can be consumed after cultivation and harvest, such as peyote buttons or coca leaves.
The referendum would also remove a penalty that currently prevents people from legally driving or using a moped for up to three years if they’re found to have used drugs. Operating a motor vehicle while actually under the influence would remain illegal.
The proposal has been variously described in media reports as legalization or decriminalization of cannabis. Under Italy’s popular referendum process, advocates can only delete the nation’s existing laws, meaning supporters are unable to replace prohibition with regulations or oversight of sales and commercial production.
Once supporters submit their signatures by the September 30 deadline, the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court will both review the petitions. If they sign off on the measure, a vote would happen in spring of next year, on a date set by the country’s president.
The campaign behind the referendum comprises a number of pro-legalization groups, including the Luca Coscioni Associations, Meglio Legale, Forum Droghe, Società della Ragione, Antigone as well as Italy’s +Europa, Possible and Radical parties, according to Italian wire service Agenzia Giornialistica Italia.
“This is an extraordinary day, not only for the promoters but also for the citizens,” said Italian Radicals member Sen. Emma Bonino, the news agency reported. “The incredible participation of young people in the extraordinary mobilization on the Cannabis Referendum shows that when they are given a voice, they are ready to take action.”
Sen. Stefano Ceccanti, the deputy of the Democratic Party, which has not taken an official stance on the proposal, said the 500,000-signature threshold “would probably have been reached even without the digital signature” process offering a more convenient way to muster support.
Earlier this month, Italy’s House Justice Committee advanced a separate reform that would decriminalize small-scale home cultivation of marijuana for personal use.
As more jurisdictions across the globe move to relax restrictions on marijuana and related commerce, meanwhile, the drug division of the United Nations this summer urged a global ban on cannabis advertising “to ensure that public health interests prevail over business interests.” Some advocates have interpreted that as a sign the prohibitionist body is coming to terms with the fact that widespread legalization is inevitable.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos