The discourse on cannabis as a business has been brought back to the top of the international financial agenda by California legalising its recreational use this year. However, the business itself (unlike the public discourse on it) had been flourishing for years in several parts of the States, as well as in Europe. The cannabis industrial cluster includes a variety of companies, from those involved with the plant’s medical use to e-commerce platforms, from the production of accessories connected with the use of this much discussed crop to the manufacture of products that contain different parts of the plant, from legal firms that navigate the complexities of cannabis sales to a recent influx of tech startups specialising in data analysis and eager to learn all that can be learned on this industry and sell that knowledge to the rest of the cluster. Europe, despite the fact that some states of the union had legalised recreational marijuana long before the USA, tags along and is developing its own cannabis-related industry. And, because agriculture is a fundamental part of such industry, Italy is at its forefront.
Cannabis-based products, that are not cannabis
The recreational use of cannabis is not currently legal in Italy, however, it has been approved for certain medical uses and it is legal to manufacture products that are either not meant to be consumed in any way or contain levels of Thc that are do not violate the current laws. None of these products can be thought of as remotely comparable to the recreational variety, but they do create the need for a whole productive system that includes plantations, warehouse management, transformation, branding, marketing, sales and data analysis. Farther away along the line we can trace a further boost for the economy, in the form of services that these companies will inevitably buy, from insurances to utilities, from IT to marketing, from accounting to HR management.
The new cannabis economy
An exhibition was shown this year in Milan, featuring the countless uses of cannabis. This was part of a trade show that provided one of the first opportunities for the Italian cannabis industry to gather and discuss the future of this budding economy. Over the past five years, marijuana farming has increased tenfold in Italy and it currently boasts almost 10.000 acres’ worth of cannabis plantations. The crops are being used to produce everything and anything from cheese to eco-friendly bricks, from plastic substitutes to cookies, from cosmetics to beer, from fabric to flour. Many of the companies and startups working in this industry are extremely innovative and work successfully around the existing restrictions – such as the ban on cannabis leaves and flowers from use in food and drinks. Moreover, the medicinal use of cannabis alone is responsible for its own market, worth almost 1.5 Bn Euros and currently employing around 10.000 people. At a time when unemployment is at the top of the Italian and European agenda, any industry that creates new jobs at such a quick rate deserves to be taken seriously and will raise the interest of investors and international firms.
Cannabis “light” and future developments
While there are no current plans or proposals to legalise the recreational use of marijuana in Italy for the foreseeable future, the current law – dating back to 2016 – states that no special authorisation is required for the cultivation of cannabis with Thc levels ranging between 0.2% and 0.6% Thc. These varieties, collectively known as “cannabis light” are at the heart of what promises to become a booming industry in Italy in the decade to come. While the market is growing exponentially, it has clearly not peaked yet, which means there is still plenty of room for new players to hit the field and for innovators to grow and succeed.