Weed activists in Italy announced on Saturday that they had gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on cannabis legalisation, paving the way for a statewide vote on the topic early next year.
The referendum plan wants to legalise marijuana cultivation for personal use and relax penalties for other cannabis-related offences, with offenders no longer facing prison time for selling tiny amounts of the drug.
The petition’s organisers obtained the requisite 500,000 signatures in seven days, much faster than normal thanks to a rule passed in July that permits signatures to be collected online.
Previously, only in-person signing was allowed.
“This is an extraordinary result but it’s not surprising,” said the referendum’s organising committee, which is made up of a raft of pro-weed advocacy groups.
“The speed of the support shows the desire for change on cannabis,” the committee added in a statement.
The signatures will now have to be officially verified, and the organisers called on people to keep adding their names before an end-September deadline to avoid any risk of the referendum being rejected if some of them are deemed invalid.
Antonella Soldo, from the “Better Legal” cannabis pressure group, said almost half of the signatories were aged under 25.
Organising referendums in Italy has been made much easier by the new law allowing online signatures.
A campaign for a popular vote to legalise euthanasia, launched before the pro-cannabis drive, has already gathered more than 900,000 signatures.
Italy’s main political parties in Mario Draghi’s national unity government are divided over cannabis.
The 5-Star Movement favours liberalisation, which is staunchly opposed by the right-wing League and Brothers of Italy. The centre-left Democratic Party generally takes a cautious, non-committal line.
Pro-weed groups received a boost in 2019 when Italy’s top appeals court ruled that growing cannabis for personal use was legal, but that verdict has not yet been reflected in new legislation, leaving the issue unclear.