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Could Medical Cannabis Be Italy’s Next Great Opportunity?

Gilda is the founder and CEO of technology solutions and compliance consulting services company PQE Group.

In recent years, cannabis has risen as one of the most talked-about potential medical treatments for all kinds of diseases and ailments. Though undoubtedly much more research needs to be done to properly determine its true level of effectiveness, it’s still becoming more and more popular around the world and is generally accepted to at least have possible medicinal properties that could impact how we care for cancer patients, those suffering from PTSD, people living with epilepsy, anxiety and more.

Many people are unaware that the final product of cannabis is a pharmaceutical and treated as an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API). As someone who has worked in the life sciences consulting sector for over 20 years, I can tell you that it doesn’t change anything from a regulatory standpoint and procedure. The laws, be it FDA, EMEA or HRA, have stayed the same for many years, but the techniques for interpreting them have changed.

As it pertains to Italy, I believe medical cannabis represents one of the greatest business opportunities for us as a country if we begin to produce our own here at home. As medical cannabis continues to become more prevalent and more widely studied, the industry could radically impact everything from our economy to our exports and agriculture if we take the time to do it right.

The Information Gap

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When it comes to medical cannabis, there are a great deal of misconceptions that have to be addressed. According to research, only 29% of Italian citizens are aware that it’s legal to treat certain diseases with medical cannabis and that it can also be purchased from a pharmacy with a valid prescription. In my experience, younger people are generally more informed about medical cannabis than older generations, but many people don’t know how it affects the body’s endocannabinoid system. Before medical cannabis cultivation becomes a possibility in Italy, we have to do more to educate people on what it is, its potential and how it works.

A Growing Demand

Even with this lack of public knowledge and awareness surrounding medical cannabis, there is a growing demand for it to be produced and a general consensus among people that its use for medical purposes should be expanded. Researchers found that 78% of Italians surveyed agreed that cannabis should be expanded for medical use, though as it stands now, we don’t produce nearly enough of it.

The growth in demand is currently being curtailed by a lack of cultivation of medical cannabis in Italy. Currently, the only place (paywall) where medical cannabis can be legally grown is at a military facility in Florence, where production levels are minuscule compared to what’s being asked for. As only the military is allowed to cultivate it, we’re forced to import medical cannabis that’s grown abroad for much higher prices than it would be to grow it ourselves.

With a nationwide referendum expected to take place in early 2022, Italian voters have the opportunity to vote in favor of the legalization of cannabis. Working with the top global experts in the medical cannabis sector is the way to support and better understand the rapid regulatory changes.

Potential Drawbacks

While there is a significant demand for medicinal cannabis cultivation and manufacturing, one disadvantage is the amount of energy and water required to cultivate and maintain it. The majority of energy used in cannabis growth is attributed to lighting, as well as water and air circulation in indoor and mixed-light systems. The rising manufacturing of medical cannabis may endanger the ecosystem.

With the rapid expansion of the medicinal cannabis sector comes a slew of new hurdles for businesses. Compliance with global and national regulations will be difficult. Raising cash to fulfill future development and demand may also be a challenge for some firms due to a lack of access to fundamental financial services. As a result, enterprises may face difficulties raising cash and, in some cases, increased interest rates.

Opportunity For Italy

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Italy stands to benefit in many ways if we choose to expand our production of medical cannabis. It’s a $20 billion market opportunity that’s just waiting to be explored. With a similar climate to the state of California, another leading producer of medical cannabis in the United States, it stands that our country would be a great candidate for cultivating enough to satisfy demand in Italy as well as exporting abroad. It would also inevitably provide high-quality jobs and have an overall positive effect on the economy of southern Italy.

Medical cannabis manufacturing is still prohibited in Italy. However, the legge sulla canapa (law on hemp) no. 242, which went into effect in January 2017, contains principles for supporting and boosting the cultivation and production chain of a low-THC hemp strain. This regulation focuses on the growth and transformation of semi-finished hemp products for use in food, cosmetics and even energy production using biodegradable and raw industrial components.

Good manufacturing processes (GMPs) are designed to ensure a high level of quality throughout the development, manufacture, control and distribution stages of a product. The examination of these processes ensures that the product is protected from any alterations and that each stage of production complies with international law. Every step in the development of cannabis, including the products that will be subjected to analytic tests ranging from microbiology to heavy metals and pesticide detection, must be verified on a regular basis.

As cannabis is already legally allowed to be sold in Italy for medical purposes, I think we’re leaving a huge opportunity for growth on the table by not producing more of it ourselves domestically. With proper protocols, regulations and governance framework in place, it could be a valuable addition to our economy and healthcare system, and we could come together to address any misconceptions or concerns from the public. Medical cannabis has a lot of untapped potential, and I think it’s time for Italy to get ahead of the curve.

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