By: Benedetta Raboni – Hofstra Law School – Law Student Contributor
“I don’t even smoke, let alone marijuana. Now is the time to give up joking about Cannabis and face the reality. Actually it is already legal: you can find it anywhere easily” says Sergio, 50 years old, roman entrepreneur in the telecommunications field.
Sergio, one year ago, while talking with some business friends, came up with an idea: testing the potential marijuana market. He is obviously aware that all activities involving the cultivation and use of marijuana for recreational purposes are still illegal. “Today. But you never know about tomorrow” he stated. “I belong to a generation which saw, over time, illegal activities turn into totally legal ones”. “When I was young, for example, I used to play slot machines secretly, in very dangerous places. Today the situation has changed: slots are fully legal. Therefore we are wishful that, sooner or later, also this market will be legalized”.
On January 11th ,2016, the first Italian brand for the sell of cannabis was officially born, in order to grab a market that still, so far, is illegal. It was born after a one-year study on the markets of countries where cannabis is legal also for recreational use.The name chosen for the brand is “Nativa, fatta per essere buona” which literally means “Native, made to be good”. That brand name recollects the concepts of genuine, high quality and controlled products. Nativa has a website (http://www.cannabisnativa.it/), but not an office, of course.
The mission of the enterprise is to understand “the market’s interest in this business proposal”, but also “to anticipate other players and thus to enter first in imagination of consumers with a strong brand, elegant and in the tradition of excellence that has always characterized our country in the eyes of the whole world”. Nativa’s plan is to open one brand franchise stores in major Italian cities, organize crops outdoors in areas such as Chianti, Salento, Cilento and to create a product that is 100% natural. The model Sergio and the other managers refer to is “Eataly”, for what the concept has managed to do with food products.
“I don’t smoke” Sergio explains “but I don’t exclude that some of my sons do it sometimes. For me that’s not a problem. But as a liberal such I am I would rather that this market was controlled and regulated, with also quality certifications. I would like to make sure about what I buy”.
To date twenty business partners are involved in the project: Romans, Milaneses, Apulians, some foreign partners as well. They have utilizes only some tens of thousands euros, so far, since in the first phase they just wanted to launch a marketing campaign on the brand’s website.
The potential business partners are required to provide an initial investment amounting to 50.000 euros, furniture, scale system, cash system, training courses, as well as facilities of at least 40 cubic meters (around 1412 cubic feet). In just two weeks after the website http://www.cannabisnativa.it was launched online, over 600 people contacted Nativa. A lot of farmers offered to use their fields for the enterprise.
Sergio says that he is not seeking an easy advertisement and, for this reason, he and the other business partners opt not to appear publicly. “Our battle – he states – is also a cultural battle on a front where politics got a little bit more active over the last years”.
The offer that you can find on Nativa website is not yet complete, as it is being updated. However the management of the brand announced that the idea will offer “experiences”, meaning different types of marijuana for different activities that the clients are engaged in during the day. “One for when I’m at the stadium, one for when I watch a match, when I play videogames, one to hang out; one light variety to work, another one to smoke only after the sunset in order to sleep, one that makes me hungry and one other that does not affect my hunger”. That concept was sent to experts who are developing different products for these purposes.
Nativa’s online shop window displays its first product line, all labeled with female names: Violetta, Susanna, Carmela, Bianca, Jacqueline. Nativa has also carried out a poll among 500 current users. 65% of the polled say that they are forced to content themselves with the current marijuana products that they have access to. However, if they could, 85% said they would rather choose what to smoke as is the procedure in other countries where marijuana is legalized. 76% said that they are free from guilt and 85% stated they find the current Italian law meaningless. Those polled agree on the point that mass media passes bad information on the subject (92%).
Nativa’s concept is absolutely brilliant, because it takes advantage of Italian fields, good weather conditions and know-how, while also combining tradition and innovation, making a 100% natural product. But is this positive prospective realistic? Is Sergio’s optimism based on something concrete?. At this point it is necessary to take a look at Italian legislation.
Currently the use of marijuana for recreational purposes is illegal in Italy, and its medical use is legal, but subject to several limitations that make almost impossible for ill patients to get access it.
In 2006 the Italian Parliament enacted law n.48/2006, better known as Fini-Giovanardi. That law was very strict and increased a lot the penalties. It equated soft drugs with hard drugs, introducing criminal punishment for personal use, with sentences ranging from 6 to 20 years of prison. The Fini-Giovanardi law was struck down and declared unconstitutional by Italian Constitutional Court in 2014. That implied the return of the former law, that is the Iervolino-Vassalli law, entered into force in 1990. The law brought back the previous distinction between soft and hard drugs, establishing less severe penalties for the use of light drugs.
In practice, for two years, Italy has been implementing a 25 years old law, which means that, for some aspects, there is a substantial legal vacuum, since the law doesn’t fit the social and legal situation anymore. A door to the legalization, or better to decriminalization, opened recently when the Justice Commission of the House of Representatives proposed the decriminalization of some minor crimes. Among them is the unauthorized cultivation of cannabis. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm that welcomed the news was soon dampened, because was later specified that the decriminalization will affect only the cultivation of medical marijuana.
So far nothing changed, but the Nativa managers are still betting on a close legalization. Will they be right?