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Italian army growing medical marijuana

By News From Elsewhere.
This article originally appeared on the BBC, April 30th 2015.

The Italian army has unveiled its first cannabis farm, set up to try to lower the cost of medical marijuana in the country.

The army’s foray into cannabis production was first announced by the government in September, and its first crop is coming along nicely, the Corriere della Sera website reports. The plants are being grown in a secure room at a military-run pharmaceutical plant in Florence, and the army expects to churn out 100kg (220lb) of the drug annually. The site also houses drying and packing facilities. “The aim of this operation is to make available to a growing number of patients a medical product which isn’t always readily available on the market, at a much better price for the user,” Col Antonio Medica tells the website. Medical marijuana is considered beneficial to treat a variety of conditions, particularly for managing chronic pain.

While Italian doctors can legally prescribe the drug, the cost isn’t covered by the state. It is often prohibitively expensive for patients to buy it legally at pharmacies, something ministers want to change. At the moment medical marijuana is imported from abroad – primarily from the Netherlands – and costs up to 35 euros per gram. “We’re aiming to lower the price to under 15 euros, maybe even around 5 euros per gram,” says Col Medica. Private cannabis cultivation remains illegal in Italy, and selling the drug is also against the law.

The army laboratory was chosen for the project because it already had the necessary facilities and could guarantee security thanks to its surveillance system, Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said in September. While primarily tasked with providing medicines to the military, it has also been involved in helping during civil disasters – including the production of 500,000 potassium iodide tablets after the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe in 1986.