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A Missed Opportunity: Italy’s Supreme Court Shoots Down Cannabis Referendum

Cannabis activists in Italy have worked hard over the course of many years to end prohibition. Legalization has become a top priority for citizens and legislators as they realize cannabis prohibition is a failed public policy in Italy, just as it is in every other non-legalized nation.

All of the hard work of countless activists over multiple generations in Italy culminated in a major milestone being achieved late last year.

Activists in Italy gathered over 630,000 signatures in an attempt to put a cannabis legalization referendum before voters.

For a brief time, it appeared that the effort was going to be successful. However, the referendum was recently blocked on a technicality.

The Referendum Process

The initiative/referendum process is a particularly helpful one for cannabis activists, as referendums have led to cannabis legalization in individual states, as well as countries around the globe. 

The process involves ordinary citizens collecting a required number of signatures in order to put an issue in front of voters. Many jurisdictions have legalized at the local level in the Western Hemisphere this way. 

Whereas lawmakers may drag their feet when it comes to pursuing meaningful reform, voters are much more likely to approve a measure when given the chance. 

Although the initiative process doesn’t exist everywhere, it does exist in Italy.

A Tale of Two Courts

Initially, activists turned in their signatures to Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation for validation purposes.

Activists only needed 500,000 signatures to move along in the referendum process, and the Court of Cassation deemed that enough of the overall signature count was valid.

The effort hit a dead end when the referendum went before Italy’s Constitutional Court, which was tasked with determining if the referendum was legal.

Specifically, the Constitutional Court looked for any conflicts related to Italy’s Constitution, the country’s fiscal system, and/or international treaties that Italy has signed and determined that the referendum did not fit the requirements for being a legal document. 

The Court’s decision to block the referendum is ultimately a tough pill to swallow. However, activists should not hang their heads. Their effort still sends a clear message to lawmakers that they need to pass sensible legislation.


  • Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference and has blogged about cannabis since January 2010.

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