Behind the numbers: 6 billion euros from legal cannabis

Article published on Aug. 5, 2015
Article published on Aug. 5, 2015

6 billion euros: That's how much Italy's government could collect each year in taxes if it legalised cannabis. The 220 members of parliament who backed a proposal to legalise cannabis could be onto something. An explanation.

Today in Italy, the cannabis business could be generating between 24 and 60 billion euros in revenue for organised crime. The legalisation of cannabis could increase the country's GDP by 1.5 to 3 percent. It may sound crazy, but it's the opinion of the very serious International Business Times, and evaluating the expansion of the mafia's underground economy is indeed very complex.

According to a cautious estimate by the University La Sapienza in Rome, an underground trade can be difficult to assess – the cannabis business, if it was legalised and taxed at a 75 percent rate (equal to that of tobacco or alcohol), would generate 6 billion euros in revenue for the State.

According to Benedetto Della Vedova, speaker of the parliamentary group in favour of legalisation, the number of cannabis consumers has been increasing for the past few years. Not only do these consumers replenish the mafia's treasury, they can also face criminal charges, leading to huge costs in trials and police expenses.

In addition, the “indirect benefits'” legalisation could bring should be considered: the employment opportunities, the unclogging of prisons, the impact on the mafia's funds, the possibility of controlling the quality – and therefore the health impact – of commercialised cannabis, the possibility of banning sales to minors. It would also be a way to undermine organised crime: up to 3000 tons of cannabis are sold illegally in Italy every year.

Paradoxically, a potential decrease in consumers is conceivable; indeed, Portugal's decriminalisation of drug consumption in 2001 was followed by an alleged 60 percent drop in the number of drug addicts.

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This article is part of our Behind the Numbers series, illustrating newsworthy stats with artistic design and a brief analysis.