Industrial hemp, the bad policy


It has just concluded the


notification process to Brussels of the Ministry of Health’s draft regulation

on the use of hemp in food

. (1) European Commission and Spain submitted comments, the Czech Republic a reasoned opinion highlighting the limitations of the Italian measure, which once again discriminates against its own agricultural and processing enterprises.

Cannabis Sativa

has meanwhile returned to the headlines because of a minister posing as ‘making all the grass a Beam.’ Without distinguishing between industrial hemp-which has been cultivated in Italy since the Middle Ages and is now experiencing a useful revival to boost farmers’ incomes-and hemp varieties with psychotropic effects. Like putting together chamomile tea with hemlock. In bad faith, as ‘hemp shops‘-Matthew Salvini’s enemies of the week-are subject to meticulous inspection and testing, in Italy. Criminal activities involve other substances and occur elsewhere, including at middle and high schools, and that is where the minister of the interior should, if anything, turn his attention.

Food hemp, Brussels notes on Italian decree

The Ministry of Health

, it will be recalled, notified Brussels on 30.10.18 of an outline of a regulation

devoted to the use of hemp in the production of foods and food supplements. The measure defines the ‘

hemp for food use

‘ and sets the limits of tetra hydro-cannabinol (THC) allowed on ‘

seeds, flour obtained from seeds, oil obtained from seeds’


The European Commission has asked Italy to introduce a mutual recognition clause for products made in other member countries. Such a clause may come to be included in special guidelines, for the specific purpose of preventing the adoption–by the supervisory authorities, in Italy–of measures that prejudice the free movement of goods in the Internal Market. The issue can be critical in relation to products, such as hemp oil, where Italy has defined particularly strict, if not impossible, THC thresholds (5 mg/kg, compared to the 20 mg/kg set in Ireland).

The Ministry of Health’s Solomonic response confirms the critical issue, assuming ‘case-by-case’ assessments (by which authority, according to which criteria?) that exposes practitioners to serious uncertainty about the legality of individual products sold in Italy and its individual regions. Indeed, the national administration stated that ‘mutual recognition is conditioned by the right of scrutiny that the Member State of destination may exercise on the equivalence between the degree of protection guaranteed by the product under consideration and that guaranteed by national rules.’ (2)

THC thresholds in foods, Italy-Spain-Czechia comparison

Spain commented on the Italian draft regulation objecting to the reference to ‘hemp for food use‘ in a broad sense, rather than to ‘seeds and derivatives of hemp seeds.’ Further reaffirming the need to clarify once and for all, at the European level, the legitimacy of use of every part of the plant-including the fibrous stems and inflorescences-in food production. Madrid then asked why the risk assessment by ISS considered only the sum of delta 9 THC and precursors instead of a single THC fraction, according to the approach taken by Efsa. (3)

The Czech government has affirmed the need for Europe-wide harmonization of THC thresholds to be allowed in various foods. Based on an unambiguous risk assessment, which the European Commission should have already entrusted Efsa after finding the dissimilarity of the assessments so far in different member countries. (4) But on hemp in Brussels, there is a great stench.

, as the writer has repeatedly denounced.


The Czech Republic

, in its reasoned opinion, also inferred the arbitrariness of the definition of ‘

hemp products’

, in the Italian measure. And the Ministry of Health, to justify the shortcomings of the measure, offered an off-topic response. Specifying that we refer to the ‘varieties of hemp that can be grown in the European Union, with a THC content of no more than 0.2 percent‘. But that is not the point. Instead, it is a question of explaining why Italy did not include in the list-as it should have done – hemp inflorescences. (5)

Hemp and flowers, agricultural incomes up in smoke


clarified at the time, in circular 22.5.18,

the methods of cultivation of

Cannabis Sativa L

. To facilitate the implementation of the law 242/16, aimed at promoting and enhancing this crop in Italy. Misinformation and misunderstandings have persisted, however, to this day, causing uncertainty about the opportunities to increase farm incomes from a plant with high yields and low claims. Whose crops provide valuable raw materials for food and cosmetics, as well as co-products for green building and bioplastics.

At the European level, the possibility of using any part of Cannabis Sativa L. in the production of food and supplements should be clarified definitively, after harmonizing the thresholds and ways of counting THC on the various products. Based on a risk assessment to be entrusted to Efsa(European Food Safety Authority), taking into account the contributions related to the consumption patterns of different foods. (6)

The current impasse, which the Ministry of Health unfortunately has not resolved, exposes Italian farmers to a serious and mocking injury:

– On the one hand, it hinders Italian operators who legitimately intend to package for herbal tea use

inflorescences from hemp varieties listed in the register of botanical species allowed in the Single European Catalogue (selected for reduced psychoactive substance content),

– on the other hand, it is recognized that it is impossible to hinder the marketing in Italy of identical products made in any other country in the world.

Italian operators suffer the hypocrisy of a policy that would rather be said to respond to the opposing interests of ‘corporations‘ in other sectors. Big Tobacco, on the one hand, wants to exclude competition from industrial hemp with its monopoly regime (although burning is an inappropriate form of inflorescence use). Big Pharma, on the other hand, wants to claim a monopoly on the use of every high-value substance (e.g., CBD).

The health administration could well have solved the problems described above, but is in all evidence constrained by stable orders. And the agricultural confederations, instead of raising their voices to protect their members, show ‘rabbit hearts’. As best suits those who hold their seats dear above all else.

Inflorescences, expected case law and controls to recommend

The Supreme Court has requested the intervention of the United Sections to resolve another case that adds uncertainty to the already haphazard scenario described above. (7) The sale of hemp inflorescences has indeed been the subject of several convictions, confirmed by the Supreme Court in more recent years. (8) But the same court, in other cases, has instead allowed the sale of hemp flowers as having no psychotropic effects. Also taking into account the objectives of Law 242/216, through which the legislature intended to establish an Italian hemp supply chain also for food use. (9) The ruling of the Joint Sections is expected on 5/30/19.

Rather, the issue that should be seriously addressed relates to controls on the traceability of seeds used by farms growing hemp, in Italy as in other EU countries. Where the higher yields of some cultivars may prompt rogue operators to use seeds other than those registered in the list of permitted species in order to obtain higher yields of the most valuable extracts (such as CBD). Practicing unfair competition against those who play by the rules instead.

Therefore, seed purchase certificates, especially imported ones, should be thoroughly checked. Not only documentary verification but also field analysis to verify the genomic match of plants with that of the seeds being certified. Onerous but indispensable work to ensure food safety and fair trade practices and free competition. Facts, not talk.

Dario Dongo


(1) Notification TRIS/(2018) 02979, standstill period (so-called.

standstill period

) extended to 30.4.19

(2) It then asked why the THC levels considered in the Italian measure do not represent the sum of THC – A and THC – B, as per the practice of other member states. The Ministry of Health has indicated how consideration of THC – A alone represents a ‘sufficiently precautionary’ measure, as it covers up to 90 percent of total THC

(3) See EFSA (2015). ‘Scientific Opinion on the risks for human health related to the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in milk and other food of animal origin‘. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4141

(4) It is imperative to overcome theimpasse of referring to legislation ‘of the last century’, from a historical and conceptual point of view. Reg. EEC 315/93, ‘laying down Community procedures for contaminants in foodstuffs‘, reserving wide scope for concurrent national legislation (Article 5)

(5) See reg. EU 1307/13, Art. 32.6. For the Common Catalogue of Varieties of Agricultural Plant Species, see dir. 2002/53/EC

(6) It is clear, for example, that daily consumption of hemp seed oil cannot reasonably exceed a few dozen grams. Also taking into account its organoleptic properties that are not compatible with its exclusive use as a food seasoning. Flour, conversely, lends itself to far greater input in pasta, baked goods, vegetarian and vegan foods

(7) See Cass. Pen. section IV, no. 8654 year 2019

(8) In this sense see for example Criminal Cassation, Section VI, Judgment no. 52003/2018

(9) In this direction, see Criminal Cassation, Section VI, Judgment no. 4920/2019

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.