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Italy Accidentally Legalized Pot and Now the Mafia Is Losing Big Money

A regulation meant to legalize industrial hemp inadvertently included marijuana with just enough THC to get you high. Legally.


In December 2016, Italy unintentionally approved the production and sale of industrial canapa, which contains low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Molto bene, Italy. The law left room for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the market by selling low-THC cannabis flower, known as C-light. Making matters more difficult for the government was C-light's distinction as a technical product rather than one meant for human consumption. This loophole allowed minors to buy C-light even though they could not yet legally purchase tobacco products.

Alvise Armellini | Getty Images

A June 2018 analysis conducted by the Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) sought to understand the consequences of the unintended liberalization of "light cannabis" and its impact on organized crime in the nation. HEDG's analysis found that the unintended measure severely cut into the mob's black market drug earnings. Calculations suggest that Italy's crime syndicates stand to lose at least 160 to 200 million euros per year thanks to C-light.

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Furthermore, the disruption on the black market could provide an economic boom for the country. With the nation continuing to struggle financially, the lure of additional tax revenue could convince even the staunchest Italian cannabis detractor to have a change of heart. As the study went on to note, the potential impact is likely to be felt by multiple canapa-related products beyond flower.

In addition to stifling the mob and generating revenue for a staggering country, the study confirmed that cannabis was, indeed, Europe's most popular drug -- with 13.9 percent of Europe's young adults consuming it. Such figures provided parents with concern across the EU for generations. Those fears, however, appear unfounded. HEDG's findings indicate that the possible adverse effects related to academic success and THC-heavy cannabis were unlikely to arise in canapa and other low-THC substances. The results led HEDG to suggest that such evidence may provide lawmakers the data needed to consider a mixed approach to legalization with future regulations.

Another understated, yet significant, point made by the study is the potential for destigmatizing drug abuse and the misuse of such substances. Likewise, with Italy's lone medical cannabis producer struggling to meet a rising demand, canapa may provide a solution for some patients in need.

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The findings lay the groundwork for additional research in the years ahead. The team of researchers suggests that topics like the effects of liberalization on violent and non-violent crimes could be another area worth examining. The analysis also recommended a study into legalization and the country's potential forgone tax revenues stemming from the C-light liberalization.

Much remains to be discovered from Italy's unintended liberalization. HEDG's findings do, however, show that C-light cuts into mob profits and expands low-THC cannabis access to consumers. Despite the major gaffe by Italian lawmakers which led to this outcome, the benefits are already making a case for themselves.