Milan saw the opening of Italy’s first cannabis clone shop, the Hemp Embassy, on June 15. This concept, never before seen in Italy, offers the public a chance to buy live cannabis plants to take home—but according to Italian law, they may not allow the plants to produce flowers!
We went to check out the opening of the new store, and talked to owner Fabio Paniarello about the concept. He tells us: “I had been thinking of a concept along these lines since the early ‘90s, and over the last few years I visited Barcelona so many times to figure out the finer points of the law, and whether I could open a social club in Italy. Then, in 2013/2014, I met a german girl and had a daughter – they both live in Austria. So destiny brought me to the right country where a similar dream had already been brought to life.”
The Hemp Embassy Milan currently offers around fifty different indica, sativa and hybrid varieties, with most strains originating from award-winning seed banks including DNA, Cali Connection and Crockett Family Farms.
The store itself is beautifully presented, clean and bright, with several attentive, professional staff on hand to advise the steady stream of customers on their purchases.
As Paniarello explains, “It’s important to make a good impression in the community – after all, I’m the one that will be facing any legal action or fines. So we’ve made triple-sure that our paperwork is in order—but so far, we haven’t even seen a single police officer down here, so maybe it’s not such a big deal!”
So how does it all work? The clones are priced at €25 ($28) each, which seems a little high at first, but on closer examination, it’s actually not so unreasonable. For this price, customers are getting a well-rooted plant around 25cm high, from a selected pheno of a high-quality, proven genetic. A single feminized seed of the same genetic could easily cost €10–15 ($11–17)!
Customers can simply walk into the store and walk out with a live, growing plant—but according to shop guidelines, they must take steps to ensure that their plant does not flower. Otherwise, customers risk breaking Italian law.
In Italy, it is technically legal to grow cannabis, providing that the THC content does not exceed 0.6%. This law is intended for the hemp industry, but it’s all the same species, so the law applies to all types of cannabis.
A similar situation exists in Switzerland, and the sale of high-CBD, low-THC cannabis has become widespread as a result. There’s word that some Italian hemp producers may be going down that route, as well—but for the Hemp Embassy, the 0.6% rule offers an entirely different approach.
The strains that the Hemp Embassy offers are almost all extremely high in THC—at least, if they are flowered. But while they are in their young, immature vegetative stage, there is unlikely to even be a trace of THC in the plant tissues. It is therefore completely legal to buy and sell them at this stage.
It’s also worth noting that a precedent for cultivating a single cannabis plant (and allowing it to flower) has already been established in Italy, by a Supreme Court ruling back in 2011. It may not actually be illegal to cultivate one plant, but whether the customers of Hemp Embassy will abide by the no-flower rule or not remains to be seen!
Update: a previous version of this article wrongly attributed to quotes to Albert Valsecchi, a member of the Hemp Embassy team.