A top Italian court on Tuesday blocked voters from being able to decide on a referendum to legalize marijuana in the country, despite the fact that activists turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures that were validated by a separate court last month.
Late last year, activists turned in about 630,000 signatures for the measure—which would have also legalized personal cultivation of other psychoactive plants and fungi like psilocybin mushrooms—to the Supreme Court of Cassation.
That court announced last month that there were enough valid signatures for ballot placement, but the referendum still needed to be reviewed by the separate Constitutional Court, which was tasked with determining the legality of the proposal’s provisions.
On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court announced that the cannabis and psilocybin initiative did not meet constitutional standards and, therefore, will not be placed on a ballot for voters to decide. It also rejected a separate measure related to the right to euthanasia.
“This is not a defeat of us and of the hundreds of thousands of citizens and citizens who signed up for legal cannabis,” the referendum campaign committee said in a Facebook post after the court’s decision was announced. “Today’s first and foremost is a defeat for the Institutions that are no longer able to comprehend a major part of this country.”
“Only the mafia wins today,” they said. “Now we’ll take a few days to figure out how to relaunch the fight for legal cannabis and we promise you: we won’t stop this time either!”
The Constitutional Court is charged with looking into whether referendums will conflict with the Constitution, the country’s fiscal system or international treaties to which Italy is a party. While advocates were confident that the limited the scope of the proposed reform would satisfy the legal standard, the 15-judge court disagreed.
Quella di oggi prima di tutto è una sconfitta per le Istituzioni che non sono più in grado di comprendere una parte importante di questo Paese. Adesso ci prenderemo qualche giorno per capire come rilanciare la battaglia, noi non ci fermeremo! #referendumcannabis #CannabisLegale pic.twitter.com/5N2H4G1E2L
— Legalizziamo! (@parliamdidroghe) February 16, 2022
The referendum was fairly unique compared to U.S. ballot initiatives that have been enacted. While the proposal as drafted would have legalized the cultivation of several plant-based drugs, it would leave in place the prohibition on processing them. Marijuana and certain entheogenic substances like psilocybin don’t require additional manufacturing, and thus would effectively be made legal. By contrast, even hashish would be banned because it does require processing raw marijuana to some extent. Meanwhile, a current decriminalized fine on possessing and using cannabis would have also remained in place if the referendum were approved.
Giuliano Amato, the president of the court, argued at a press conference on Wednesday that the measure’s broad multi-drug scope could “make us violate multiple international obligations which are an indisputable limitation of the Constitution,” according to a translation.
This “leads us to ascertain the unsuitability of the aim pursued,” he said. “The referendum was not on cannabis, but on drugs. Reference was made to substances that include poppy, coca—the so-called hard drugs.”
Advocates argued that the court’s justification for blocking the referendum was partly due to a misunderstanding about which sections of the country’s drug code the proposal would amend.
Giuliano Amato ha affermato il falso dicendo che il #referendum non toccherebbe la tabella che riguarda la #cannabis. Non sono stati nemmeno in grado di connettere correttamente i commi della legge sulle droghe. Un errore materiale che cancella il referendum.
— Marco Cappato (@marcocappato) February 16, 2022
Activists initially faced a September 30 deadline to turn in signatures to make next year’s referendum, but complications related to the processing of signatures at the local level led to an extension being granted.
Part of the reason activists were able to gather so many signatures so quickly is a policy change that allowed them to collect signatures online instead of in-person only.
Separately, Italy’s House Justice Committee advanced a separate reform last year that would decriminalize small-scale home cultivation of marijuana for personal use.
Italy already missed out on being the first European country to legalize cannabis after the smallest EU member, Malta, enacted the reform in December.
The new coalition government of Germany has also recently unveiled some initial details about its marijuana legalization plan, even if the reform is taking a back seat to efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
In Luxembourg, the ministers of justice and homeland security last year unveiled a legalization proposal, which will still require a vote in the Parliament but is expected to pass. For now, the country is focusing on legalization within a home setting. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in early 2022, and the ruling parties are friendly to the reform.