Last Friday, Italian lawmakers officially decriminalized a number of minor crimes, the most important of which had to do with medical marijuana cultivation and marijuana research.
Previously, approved pot growers who violated the country’s strict regulations—even in minor ways—could receive hefty punishments including time in prison.
But now, Italian lawmakers have eased up on medical cannabis growers, “decriminalizing those who violate agreed terms on cultivating the plants for therapeutic purposes,” according to Italian news sources.
Instead of prison time, those who violate medical marijuana growing rules will now only receive a fine.
In addition to easing punishments on medical pot growers, the new rules also decriminalize cannabis researchers who violate growing regulations.
“Cannabis researchers in Italy will no longer risk jail time if they grow more marijuana than the state allows,” reports from Reuters said.
While the new rules don’t immediately change the country’s laws regarding recreational use, many are hopeful that Friday’s actions could be the first step toward the eventual legalization of marijuana.
In particular, many have framed last week’s changes as the first concrete outcome of groundbreaking legislation efforts in 2015 in which a proposal to radically reform the country’s marijuana laws drew widespread support from leaders across the political spectrum.
The terms of that proposal suggested that “people over the age of 18 could cultivate up to five plants at home and growers could set up social clubs involving a maximum of 50 people and 250 plants,” according to Italian news sources.
It also called for new possession laws that “would allow people to store 15 grams of marijuana at home and carry around up to five grams of the drug, figures which would be higher if the marijuana was being held for medical use.”
To date, the proposal has yet to be enacted, but Italian officials hope that last week’s smaller changes will be beneficial in several key ways.
“It will free up courts from issues of little relevance,” state officials said. This is important for a country that ranks 139th out of 140 for its efficiency in settling legal disputes.
Italian politicians also hope that taking steps to decriminalize marijuana will create positive economic changes, freeing up money from pointless marijuana prosecutions for more important and pressing uses.
An Italian research group also suggested that legalizing cannabis could boost Italy’s GDP by between 1.30 and 2.34 percent.
Although the country hasn’t yet achieved the vision proposed by lawmakers last year, Friday’s decriminalization of medical cannabis cultivation and cultivation intended for cannabis research is certainly a move in the right direction, both for Italy and for Europe as a whole.
Here’s where the continent currently stands when it comes to cannabis: