Italian legislators met on July 25 to discuss a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.
The bill is backed by members of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party (PD), including Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Benedetto della Vedova, who says that legalization would undercut the mafia and allow police to focus on more important issues... like the mafia, we assume.
"Legalize cannabis to take profits from the mafia, free police to do other work, control substances that are in circulation, fight consumption among adolescents, move money from traffickers' accounts into the state's coffers," Reuters reported Della Vedova saying on Facebook.
The proposal has also received support from 294 members or roughly one third of the Italian parliament as well as prosecutors working for the country's anti-mafia and anti-terrorism offices.
The bill would allow Italians to carry up to five grams of marijuana on their person and keep up to 15 grams at home. Italians would also be allowed to grow up to 5 plants, but selling cannabis without a license would remain prohibited.
Smoking cannabis in public would also be prohibited -- except for cannabis clubs, which would be capped at a maximum of 50 members.
The state would license legal retailers and charge a 5 percent tax on cannabis sales. Isla Binnie of Reuters says that Italy's cannabis market is estimated to be worth between 7-30 billion euros. We have a feeling that number could be even greater if you consider the gelato stands and restaurants that could benefit from tourists getting the munchies.
If passed, Italy would become the first European country to legalize recreational cannabis use. Even though countries like The Netherlands are lax about enforcing marijuana prohibition, cannabis remains illegal elsewhere on the continent.
The Vatican will likely become a major stumbling block
But don't get your hopes up about having a puff on a gondola just yet. Before the legislation was officially presented for debate in parliament, more than 1,300 amendments were proposed by political opponents. The biggest adversary may be Pope Francis, who has a reputation as a reformer given his progressive views on homosexuality, climate change and The Big Bang Theory (the actual theory, not the show).
However, he's staunchly opposed to legalizing cannabis or any other controlled substance. In June 2014, the pope made headlines by categorically denouncing the legalization of recreational drugs - including cannabis - in a speech made to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.
"Let me state this in the clearest terms possible," he declared, "the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!"
Pope Francis referred to cannabis and other recreational drugs as a "scourge" that "continues to spread inexorably, fed by a deplorable commerce which transcends national and continental borders."
Any argument surrounding the economic advantages of legalization are unlikely to sway His Holiness, who also said that legalization is defeatism disguised as progress. At the 2014 conference, he referred to legalization as "a veiled means of surrendering to the phenomenon [of the drug problem]."
Pope Francis' comments are consistent with his ongoing crusade against drug addiction, which dates back to his days of ministering to addicts in the slums of Buenos Aires. In the past, he has condemned illicit drugs in general as an"evil" and "the seeds of suffering and death." But his opposition appears rooted more in professional experience than scripture. Still, with approximately 57 million Italians (roughly 95 percent) of the country's population identifying as Catholic, the Vatican will undoubtedly be a major hurdle in the way of repealing prohibition in Italy.
But maybe things will change over the summer. The bill won't be debated again until September, according to Reuters.