On June 14, 2017, legal experts from the US and Italy gathered at the Law School of the University of Naples “Federico II” to discuss the challenges and perspectives of soft-drugs legalization, in the context of the inaugural colloquium of the international convention set up between the nearly 800-year old Italian law school and Denver University Sturm College of Law.
The European Drug Report 2017, published just a few days before the colloquium by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, an agency of the European Union tasked with monitoring the supply, marketing, and usage of drugs in Europe, revealed that cannabis is the most widely consumed type of drug in the Old Continent, with as many as one out of five young adults (15-34 years) making use of it over the last twelve months in certain European countries such as Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, and France.
Although the Report confirmed that the health problems associated with cannabis use are significantly lower than those associated with other drugs, cannabis remains the most commonly seized drug in Europe, accounting for over 70 % of seizures and for 57 % of both supply and possession criminal convictions. Following recent changes in the regulatory framework for cannabis in certain parts of the Americas, a lively debate on the legalization of soft-drugs has sparked off in several EU Member States, whose cannabis policies currently range from restrictive models to the tolerance of some forms of personal use.
In this connection, Professor Sam Kamin, Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, provided a detailed examination of the legal status of soft-drugs in the US, where an increasing number of states have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use, whereas federal law still criminalizes the production, sale, and possession of that substance, in keeping with the international commitments undertaken in the UN framework.
Professor Kamin, who served on Governor John Hickenlooper’s Task Force to Implement Amendment 64 and the ACLU of California’s blue ribbon panel to study marijuana legalization, described the legal status of marijuana in the US as “untenable” and emphasized the uncertainty it gives rise to for firms and users in relation to aspects of federal law ranging from banking regulations to federal benefits. Professor Kamin also expressed the wish that the US would draw inspiration from other countries, such as Uruguay and Canada, which embraced soft-drugs legalization in a more consistent and principled manner.
In this connection, Judge Massimo Perrotti, sitting on the Sixth Criminal Chamber of the Naples Court of Appeal, described the legal status of marijuana under Italian law, swinging from a soft-prohibition model (the Iervolino-Vassalli Law of 1990) to a stricter one (the Fini-Giovanardi Law of 2006, which placed soft and hard drugs on equal footing) and then back to lenient criminalization, as in 2014 the Constitutional Court struck down the Fini-Giovanardi law causing the previous law on controlled substances to come back into force.
Judge Perrotti, who previously served as advisor on legislative affairs to the Italian Ministry of Justice, then examined the challenges that patients face in securing access to marijuana for medical use and the various soft-drugs legalization proposals currently being examined by the Italian lawmakers, notably the Giachetti Bill, which seeks to decriminalize home cultivation up to 5 plants per person and personal possession up to 5 grams (about 0,17 ounces) and to set up a State monopoly for the production and sale of certified-quality cannabis products for recreational use.
In this respect, it is noteworthy that, unlike US federal law, EU Law strongly defers to its Member States‘ marijuana policies. Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA, in particular, only requires EU Member States to criminalize cultivation of cannabis “when committed without right”; also, that item of EU legislation expressly excludes from its scope cultivation for “personal consumption as defined by [Member States’] law”, yet it points out that such a carve-out “does not constitute a Council guideline on how Member States should deal with” the issue. Moreover, in Josemans, the European Court of Justice took the view that combating drug tourism constitutes a legitimate interest enabling Member States to impose restrictions on free movement within the EU internal market, thus upholding the legality of Netherlands municipal rules banning non-residents from coffee-shops where the sale of soft-drugs is tolerated.
In addition to law school students from the University of Naples “Federico II” and the University of Denver’s Study Abroad Program directed by Professor Celia Taylor, several attorneys, academics, and advocacy groups attended the colloquium, which received the patronage of the US-Italy Fulbright Commission, a binational entity funded by the US Department of State and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.