ROME – Weed advocates in Italy said on Saturday they had gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum on liberalising the use of cannabis, setting the stage for a nationwide vote on the issue early next year.
The referendum proposal seeks to legalise the growing of weed for personal use and ease sanctions on other cannabis-related crimes, with offenders no longer risking prison sentences for selling small amounts of the drug.
Organisers of the petition gathered the required 500,000 signatures in seven days, far more quickly than usual due to a law approved in July that allows signatures to be collected online. Previously, only in-person signing was allowed.
“This is an extraordinary result but it’s not surprising,” said the referendum’s organising committee, which is made up of a raft of pro-weed advocacy groups.
“The speed of the support shows the desire for change on cannabis,” the committee added in a statement.
The signatures will now have to be officially verified, and the organisers called on people to keep adding their names before an end-September deadline to avoid any risk of the referendum being rejected if some of them are deemed invalid.
Antonella Soldo, from the “Better Legal” cannabis pressure group, said almost half of the signatories were aged under 25.
Organising referendums in Italy has been made much easier by the new law allowing online signatures.
A campaign for a popular vote to legalise euthanasia, launched before the pro-cannabis drive, has already gathered more than 900,000 signatures.
Italy’s main political parties in Mario Draghi’s national unity government are divided over cannabis.
The 5-Star Movement favours liberalisation, which is staunchly opposed by the right-wing League and Brothers of Italy. The centre-left Democratic Party generally takes a cautious, non-committal line.
Pro-weed groups received a boost in 2019 when Italy’s top appeals court ruled that growing cannabis for personal use was legal, but that verdict has not yet been reflected in new legislation, leaving the issue unclear.