Italy is becoming one of the most progressive countries in Europe for cannabis cultivation, production and innovation. Or maybe it has always been.

Alongside olives, tomatoes and the world’s best lemons, Italy has been growing hemp and cannabis for hundreds of years as industrial crops. Cannabis was essential to Italy’s shipping industry, which it supplied with material to make ropes, rigging and sails.

In fact, Italy was one of the world’s top hemp producers during the first half of the 20th century, before growers and consumers were undercut by prohibition and synthetic materials.

Now, with the help of the government, Italy is moving back into its position as one the most important European countries in the cannabis industry.

Italy legalized medical marijuana in 2007 but was slow to roll out its program—because, like in so many other places, doctors were reluctant to consider it an option, citing uncertainty over dosage, how to administer it and what illnesses it would benefit.

Yet, the legal industry persisted, for example, in the fields of the southern state of Apulia, where farmers say they prefer to live off their land and grow cannabis rather than seek higher-paying jobs in cities, according to a report in National Geographic.

Then there is the Italian military’s Cannabis Project Team, which started churning out quality MMJ in preparation for doctors to get on board, which they have by the way.

The availability of an Italian-grown product has made everything a lot easier.

“We’ve had a lot of requests, particularly since people heard about it in the media,” said chemist Gianna Acciai. “Doctors are prescribing it—and we’ve sold almost all of the first batch that we got in early January. The patients also save money in comparison with the Dutch product—it’s 30 percent cheaper in comparison.”

Now, cannabis growers say they can barely keep up with demand from doctors and patients and are looking to expand.

“Our goal is to have a real answer to Italian needs,” Col. Antonio Medica, Italy’s state-approved drug czar, told the BBC, “and we have other areas in this plant in which we can expand cultivation.”

Not only is Italy delving into medical cannabis and encouraging several other layers of society to participate in the successful industry, people are coming up with their own discoveries.

Recently, farmers in the southern region of Tarantino, known for its ricotta cheeses and meat, started cultivating a type of cannabis they are using to decontaminate polluted soil that had resulted from the town’s huge steel mill.

Hemp growers in the area near the steel mill showed CBS News a new apartment building made from hemp fiber.

“We must innovate,” one of the farmers told CBS News, “and develop in a way that’s ecologically sound.”

Italy is definitely innovating.

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