“In recent decades, hemp flower has proven to be a compound of extraordinary value, due to the fact that science has gradually discovered the therapeutic and healthful value of many non-psychotropic cannabinoids, such as CBD and CBG”

President Croce, on  4 February this year in Rome, you presented a Dossier on the state of the art of the Hemp Sector in Italy. Which are the priorities to act on?

The key priority is to clarify and to complete the regulations. And the crucial point is the acknowledgement of the possibility to make industrial use of the ‘entire’ plant, included the flower.

As we’ve written in the Dossier, the hemp plant is subject to a dual regime: on the one hand it is an agricultural and industrial plant, legitimately cultivable and transformable, and on the other hand it is a source of drugs, subject to criminal justice on narcotics.

It’s interesting to note that the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the one signed in 1961 in New York and still in effect today, defines ‘cannabis’ (just to be clear: the plant as a source of drugs) “the flower or fruiting tops of the plant” and excludes the seeds and leaves, as long as they are not attached to the apexes of the plant.

Hence, the Italian and European lawmakers were convinced that the dual regime could work, because they thought that the ‘industrial’ application of hemp was still the same as at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, limited to the fibre or to the seeds for food use, while the flower could be ignored or relegated to the drug regulations, regardless of its THC contents.

However, in the past decades the hemp flower proved to be a compound of extraordinary value, due to the fact that science gradually discovered the therapeutic and health value of many non-psychotropic cannabinoids, such as CBD and CBG.

Today, without the use of the flower, no huge perspectives of income for farmers exist. Maybe in future, if we are able to produce high-quality textile fibre with advanced technologies. In any case, the use of the fibre does not exclude the use of the flower.

In the end, the knot to be undone is the following: on the one hand industrial hemp is identified as a plant with low THC contents, but on the other hand, no lawmaker has ever defined which is the limit enabling us to distinguish the industrial plant from the plant as a source of drugs.

The solution to avoid this ambiguity would be extremely simple: just by saying “below 0,2% (or better 0,3%, 0, 5%, as preferred) Cannabis sativa L. is not included in the list of narcotic drugs, and hence it can be used in all of its parts, as long as they are not  intended for the concentration of THC”.

And if there is no willingness to make any modifications to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, it would be enough to put an Apostille to law 242 regarding industrial hemp, specifying, for example, that the support and the promotion of the hemp culture are aimed at the cultivation and transformation (art.1 comma a) “of each and every part of the plant”, including flowers, leaves, roots, resins, obviously, as long as we are talking about certified varieties with low THC, listed in the European Catalogue.

One of the next steps to be undertaken, should be a round-table with the representatives of the political world and the ministries in order to find a common intervention strategy. Are there any novelties regarding this aspect? Has a road map been defined?

The effort to convoke the table has been underlined by the undersecretary  L’Abbate during our meeting of 4 February, but afterwards we haven’t received any other communications about it and as far as I know no  road map exists.

After all, it is obvious that in this phase of emergency caused by the Corona virus, any other political initiative which isn’t urgent, has been frozen.

In Brussels the reform of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) is being discussed, Europe is requiring an increasing ‘Green’ approach from the companies; which could be the advantages of this reform for Hemp cultivators? And regarding which critical points, if there are any, would it be necessary to take action?

The advantages can be very important, due to the fact that Hemp has all the characteristics of a cultivation suitable for the mitigation of climate changes and for the improvement of the soils and hence could benefit from the complementary financial support related to the climate and the environment.

Regarding this there is a very interesting study done by the Uruguay Office of Presidency which demonstrates with abundant argumentation that hemp satisfies 15 of the 17 goals of the Agenda for Sustainable Development by 2030 of the United Nations.

The critical point is that complementary support to Climate and Environment is not mandatory,  but is left to the decision of the single Member States. However, I’m highly confident that Italy will shoulder this objective wholeheartedly.  

If we take an x-ray image of the Hemp industry in Italy, what would we see?

I will be perfectly franc: the Hemp industry in Italy isn’t visible yet. And the reason, as we said earlier, can mostly be linked to the incompleteness and the ambiguity of the current regulations. No serious businessman would invest without certainties. 

Regarding the industrial processing of the flower tops, in Italy we have at least a dozen of companies equipped with installations for the extraction of Cbd and other active principles – from Canapar in Sicily to the pharmaceutical group Indena, to the Inalco Group, having its facility in the Pistoia area, to new entries such as Canax in the Pavia area or Canapalife in Padova – but the major part is blocked by an absolutely hostile bureaucracy, seeking refuge behind the most restrictive interpretation of the international regulations on narcotics.

With regard to the seed for food use, only in January this year the Regulation on Thc in food was issued. It is very restrictive regarding the limits, but it is already a certainty, so much so that the Italian food industry finally started to move itself, as confirmed by  Assitol (and then all came to a halt due to the Coronavirus).

And we cannot say that we are in a better position when it comes to the stalks. As far as I know, there are three small facilities, all three currently non-operating (I hope that somebody is going to contradict me) – Southemp in the Taranto area, Tecnocanapa in Tuscany (a mobile installation) and Assocanapa in Piemonte – and further, some prototypes and some projects financed by the regional PSR (Rural Development Programmes).

We had a very nice industrial facility for the scutching and fraying of hemp at the beginning of 2000 in Emilia, in the Comacchio area, financed with national and regional funds, we left it to rot, to then sell it off to some East-European company. In this case what is lacking are the private investments.

A serious industrial facility costs a couple of million euros and requires a long running-in period before it can be fine-tuned, because no ‘turnkey’ plants exists, while the margins are obtained when the facility is able to operate at full capacity. Hence many contracts with farmers are needed. But here we start from scratch again: can an agricultural income based on the sales of just the hemp straws withstand? I don’t think so. For this reason it is essential that the production chain of the flower sets off. It could be the driving force for all the segments of the hemp market. Exactly as, in the past, high-quality long fibre was. 

The Hemp market is growing at a global level with positive figures, Italy, from the position of leader in the sector during the post-war years, today is risking to miss a very important train, what is the auspice of Federcanapa for 2020?

We would like to see what I expressed at the beginning: a provision by the Government (whether it is an Apostille to law 242 or to the SC on Narcotic Drugs, let them make the choice), that will finally safeguard the industrial investments in hemp in Italy, parting from the extraction of active principles for food products, cosmetics and pharmaceutics. I am certain that this will highly encourage investments.

This is without any doubt the main auspice. Furthermore we would like to see three other things happen: that the Ministry of Health authorises others, besides the Military Pharmaceutical Institute,  to produce medicinal Cannabis, in order to expand know-how as well as income opportunities in our Country. We also desire that, after three years of delay, the Ministry for Agricultural Policies would finally grant the funds provided for by Law 242 for research and development in the sector, possibly combining public and private research studies for the development of new national genetics (these are also lacking).

Lastly I would like to see an Italian mechanical company producing a machine for the harvesting of flower tops and stalks, which is also suitable for our small farming companies. This type of machinery does exist in Europe and in the United States, but these machines are not suitable for us due to costs and dimensions . Are we or aren’t we a leader in agricultural technology? After all, we are not talking about aerospace prototypes, a reaper-binder or a harvester-loader would do, adequately modified and repainted. If the virus will allow us to resume our usual lives again within a few months, I am sure that at least this latter objective can be achieved. The rest depends on politics.