The question of legalizing cannabis came before Italy's parliament for the first time in the country's history Monday, with backers saying that, even though defeat looms, it would not be the last time the matter came up for debate.
Legalizing cannabis is a controversial topic that has polarized opinions among experts, politicians and law enforcement officials, with some taking a tough-on-drugs approach, while others say fighting cannabis takes too much effort for victories that are too modest.
The draft law would make it legal to: possess up to 15 grams of cannabis; cultivate it in small quantities, either individually or in groups of up to 50 people; and smoke it in private. It would also allow its sale in government licensed shops.
"We consider it historic and very important that, for the first time, and after years of failed attempts, parliament is formally tackling this issue," Roberto Giachetti, one of the 222 members of the Chamber of Deputies sponsoring the bill, said in a statement.
The lower chamber has 630 members. Even if passed, it would still have to go the Senate, where more opposition looms.
Reform backers argue that the law would weaken drug-dealing mafias and terrorist groups and free up police and judicial resources. Critics say it would encourage cannabis consumption, with dangerous consequences for society.
Critical lawmakers are expected to present about 2,000 amendments to the law, in an effort to obstruct its progress. After Monday's initial debate, the first votes are not expected to take place before September.
"Those who want to liberalize cannabis have canvassed a lot of support," Enrico Costa, a centrist minister for family affairs who opposes the bill, said to Il Mattino newspaper.
"But it is clear that neither the country is ready nor are there [enough] votes in parliament for such a proposal to advance," he added.