The Italian military, which remains the only producer of medical cannabis in the country, has halted production at its Florence facility due to “chronic understaffing”.
The shutdown risks further disrupting access to medical cannabis for Italy’s estimated 50,000 patients and increasing pressure on an already severely under-resourced supply chain.
It comes just months after the military announced its ambition to achieve triple-digit growth in medical cannabis production this year, to reach 700kg, marking what it described as the first step towards self-sufficiency. in Italy.
On April 13, at a public event organized by the Association of Medical Cannabis Patients in Bologna, rumors that the production of medical cannabis could be threatened were confirmed.
The director of the military medical cannabis production plant in Florence, Colonel Gabriele Picchioni, told Italian publication Soft Secrets that production has been halted at the plant since April 5, 2023 and is expected to continue until in mid-June.
Mr Picchioni said the production of medical cannabis was indeed “currently suspended”, but that this was not due to a lack of staff, but rather “to work already planned” to build a new production line in the area. ‘facility.
In addition, he suggested that the establishment has “stocks that will compensate for temporary shortages” in its warehouse, and that “with imported cannabis, they should allow us not to have an impact on therapeutic continuity”.
Although he said production had “gone well” in the first quarter and similar production was expected to resume in June, he said “we’ll see if we’ll be able to to produce the 400kg required by the Ministry of Health”.
Fabrizio Dentini, who broke the news, disputed Mr Picchioni’s statement, telling Business of Cannabis: “The impact is a huge deception because not only is the state not supplying the full amount of medical cannabis required each year at national level (estimated at 1,500 kg), but it cannot even supply what has been requested by the Italian Ministry of Health (400 kg for 2023). »
“In this situation, we can expect that the Italian army will not even be able to produce 100 kg in 2023.”
Regarding the supply of medical cannabis grown in Italy, Mr Dentini suggested that it would likely remain in storage indefinitely anyway, as prescribing doctors prefer imported products such as Bediol from the Netherlands.
“Italian doctors prefer to prescribe Bediol instead of the Italian variety, so it will probably remain in the military depot until Bediol is no longer available on the Italian market. Why do Italian doctors prefer to prescribe Bediol? Simply because this strain is more often on the market and is therefore more reliable than the Italian strain”.
Maurizio Valliti, CEO of Italian medical cannabis dispensary Clinn, told Business of Cannabis that in his company’s experience there have been no problems with stock supply so far, and that the news would have “no negative impact on the supply and continuity of care”.
He added that only around 6% of the products currently prescribed by his clinic are domestically grown Italian medical cannabis.
Chronic staff shortage
Although Mr Picchioni claimed the production shutdown was planned, a union representative at the military factory painted a very different picture of the situation.
In late February, Umberto Fragassi told the Ministry of Health website that the “chronic lack of staff at various levels…and the absence of several key figures” threatened to lead to a “forced shutdown” of the supply of cannabis. medical.
He later told Soft Secrets that the facility would have to “double the number of people currently employed” to function properly.
“Indeed, in order to be able to produce on a large scale, you need adequate means, human resources and infrastructure which, to date, are insufficient. This is why we wonder how it is possible to continue to ensure, in this critical situation, a minimum production in accordance with the regulations of the sector”.
To remedy this “critical” situation, Mr. Fragassi called for a revision of the current framework, in order to streamline bureaucracy and thus improve the efficiency of the army.
To do this, he suggests transferring responsibility for the operation to the Presidency of the Council, instead of it coming under both the authority of Health and that of Defence.
“This hypothesis, which has always been opposed by politicians, would allow us to have the typical functioning and flexibility of a pharmaceutical factory, which is unthinkable today with the constraints of public administration. »