On the third weekend of February we escaped the dreary Amsterdam winter blues, to go to sunny Rome and visit the fair Canapa Mundi. A few delayed departures, a sudden taxi strike and a few Google Map failures later, we finally made it on site at the periphery of the Italian capital. The event celebrates cannabis culture in all its forms, from hemp food to sativa seeds, from stoner art to vaporizers, from information to innovations in the industry. This fair is in its third year and marks an important step, in Italy and internationally, for the spreading of a legalist and conscious approach to the magical marijuana plant.
The fair was attended by more than 15.000 people over a three day period, and the visitors came in all shapes and sizes, from the passionate connoisseurs to the cannabis-curious. Everyone found their points of interest since the variety of the people was mirrored by the variety of the stands, from homemade hemp food to the heavyweights of the cannabis seed banks.
We took the occasion to talk to two active members of the cannabis community in Italy, who are trying to promote a healthy access to the plant through a professional yet principled approach to business and information.
J: Tell me a bit about the cannabis movement and the history of the plant in Italy:
E: We are living through a moment where people are re-discovering this plant, becoming aware of both its recreational and industrial use. This knowledge had skipped a generation, as the industrial use of the hemp plant was very wide-spread, especially in the south of Italy, 50-60 years ago. However, through the interest of different information channels, we are seeing a growth of sympathy by the general public.
M: However, this issue is still quite a sensitive topic, but our job is supported by the fact that this memory existed and is now handed down more openly. The hemp plant for who those who know it well, is a plant of a thousand resources, and many are beginning to recognize this.
J: So, in which direction is the industry going?
M: Even though we talk about some progress, some growth, we cannot compare Italy to what is happening in the United States, for instance. However, in America the change happened all at once, it was imposed very abruptly. Here we are seeing a slower, but steady progress, based on social progress and awareness. If it keeps going this way, it will have been a more solid and integrated step forward.
J: So what kind of importance do you give to these kind of events?
E: These are important points of reference, they have helped create a community, help in the spreading of the right information, give prominence and tangibility to the issue. These points of reference are fixed, stable and have piqued the interest also of national media which is treating it in a less hysterical way, but more based on fact, interviews with doctors, experts, etc. Since a few years the information is continuous, engaging, more serious and thus more convincing.
M: For example, you can see it here, with all these delicious food stands, the public becomes more diverse, and it puts people into contact who would not have access to this world through other channels. Here in Italy we have the blessing of good food, and now there are many companies that have started using hemp based products as ingredients, taking it seriously, and not as a gimmick, but respecting traditions and proposing innovations.
J: The road to a generalized acceptance and legislation still seems quite far. I mean, just as an example, prisons are filled with people serving sentences because of crimes related to light drugs...
M: Yes, repression confronts you with the fact that the road is still long. Just a few weeks ago, in a small town of Liguria a teenager jumped out of a window because the police was raiding his house. The mother had called them because she found 10 grams of hash. There are many lives wasted because of the bigotry and ignorance of people.
E: However, these more extreme cases mostly happen in small towns, where the social control is much higher, and the power relations between the police and the youth are more direct.
J: Let’s talk more about the future, what still needs to be done to pave the way for a healthy cannabis culture and industry?
M: As we were saying before, Italy has in its roots the knowledge and thankfully also the weather for very abundant possibilities for hemp cultivation. Before the last World War we were the second producers, after Russia, of the industrial hemp plant, using it for textiles, food, cosmetics… To imagine a future, we must dig up the past.
E: Legally, the situation has stalled. A favourable legislation is at the end of the priority list for most politicians, everything here is just very slow. And then there are always those in power who have moral or business interests against any kind of progress, we are talking the Church, mafia, big pharma lobbies...
J: Is it important for you here in Italy, to follow the developments happening in other parts of the world or do you think each context is unique and has to find their own path?
M: I think it is really important that those politically and legally engaged in the fight for legalization share their knowledge, let each other know how they did it, what arguments the lawyers used, what angles enticed a certain public acceptance. But of course, here in Italy it is our fight, and we must carry it. But it is nice to see so many international visitors and companies, it creates a sense of solidarity.
J: What do you think the relationship between activism and business is on this topic?
E: Ethics are always indispensable. This is still a struggle and it won’t just be handed over as a gift. All these business fairs, without campaigns and activism behind it, would not exist. On the other hand seeing it as a legitimate work opportunity also helps the cause being taken more seriously. With our magazine we try to contribute to spread factual information and support moments of honest debate.
J: It was a pleasure to speak with you and thank you for shining some light on the situation here. Keep up the good work. Any last words?
E: Read Dolce Vita!