Will The Italians Create A Coffee Shop Renaissance?
4 min

Will The Italians Create A Coffee Shop Renaissance?

4 min

Canapa Café in Rome becomes the first Italian "coffee shop" - but don't expect the same breed here as in Amsterdam.

While the “coffee shop” culture that defines Amsterdam’s cannabis scene has become an aspirational business model globally if not a sign of recreational tolerance, it is one that is proving surprisingly hard to duplicate elsewhere. Even in Holland. While 105 out of 443 Dutch municipalities have at least one coffee shop, this remains a surprisingly Dutch innovation. And even in Holland, it may be a relic of a time that is passing.

There are many who have wondered if the traditional idea of a coffee shop is in fact, dead. Dutch authorities, starting in Amsterdam, have started to crack down on such establishments, despite their enduring popularity. And despite the struggles such entities have faced in Holland, the Dutch still remain ahead of the pack just about everywhere.

The Spanish and English are experimenting with “smoke clubs” for private members. In the U.S., this is an idea that has been much tried and is still off the books because of the ban on consumption in public areas in every state. Oregon even explicitly banned coffee shops with the coming of recreational legalization last year. Even in Canada, with recreational reform tantalizing close (perhaps as soon as 2017), the closest the country has come to replicating the concept are a few “vapour lounges” where customers can sample the goods.

Yet just like zombies, it is a great idea that just won’t die, particularly with the onward march of legalization – even for medical purposes. Walking into a friendly establishment, sitting down with friends, and kicking back for a relaxing few hours of toking up is such an appealing concept, in fact, that it is being tried just about everywhere with highly creative interpretations of the same.


Italy is right on the cusp of real medical and potentially recreational reform. The country has been toying with legalization for the last nine years. In 2013, the country legalized pot for medical patients, while importing the drug from Holland. This summer, the national legislature also submitted a bill where recreational was clearly in the cards, although it has not passed yet. The bill would make small amounts of personal use at least decriminalized. More tantalizingly, however, the national cannabis drug reform legalization that is now being considered, also allows recreational users to carry up to 5 grams in public, would legalize cannabis clubs (up to 50 members) and would allow private, licensed growing by commercial entities. Even though the national legislation appears to be in a holding pattern, in September, the country’s military, which has been responsible for domestic cultivation, finally began distributing medical marijuana to hospitals and pharmacies.

This clear movement towards something that looks like real, federal national reform on two fronts, along with the apparent intent to create semi-legal public spaces for consumption, potentially could also open a space for “coffee shops” to operate – the first place outside in Holland in fact. It is also clear that such an idea is on the minds of the entrepreneurs behind Canapa Café – Italy’s first entrant into the market which just set up shop in Rome. While the website is not yet operational, the café opened for business on September 10. The establishment offers hemp products and apparently “tasting” opportunities for what are billed as “cannabis recipes”. There is also a special vape room where patients with legal prescriptions can relax and smoke cannabis in a social setting.

It is not like the idea of more or less public consumption is completely new here. Underground social clubs, targeting medical users in particular have started to sprout up across the country, similar to the model practiced in Spain. However Canapa Café is clearly trying to create a hybrid model that will cater to the kinds of people who don’t want to have to belong to a private club to smoke. Further, it is clear that once the legislative environment becomes a little more defined, cafes such as this could operate on the outer fringes of tolerance, much like in Holland – albeit with potentially a little more required operating creativity.


Cannabis “coffee shops” are, to most patrons of the same, a concept that is profoundly liberating. Their existence means that the consumption of cannabis is an accepted, social practice. That is also exactly why their presence is so threatening – to authorities in particular. Cannabis, despite the remarkable march of reform just about everywhere over the last few years, remains a stigmatized substance thanks to decades of a global drug war which likened it to harder drugs.


The chances of widespread recreational reform don’t guarantee that the coffee shop culture birthed by Holland will see a widespread resurgence either. The idea remains a wait-and-see kind of aspiration just about everywhere any kind of reform is in the offing or even moving forward. It may be that the developing industry in Canada will become a new global standard after next year, but how and where the next breed of coffee shops will develop is still an outstanding question for aficionados just about everywhere.

As a result, expect more new “business models” if not hybrids as appear to be launching in Italy right now.


The future of coffee shops in Europe and elsewhere really depends on the shape of medical reform now fully underway across the continent. It seems that the pattern of recreational reform following medical acceptance will be the norm just about everywhere.

18 countries in the EU have now legalized medical use. It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that “patient lounges” could become more widespread in a few years – even if customers cannot buy marijuana on-site. But how enticing such establishments could prove to be is still an unknown question. The smoke clubs that exist in many European cities have long operated in a grey space where they do not “sell” cannabis but rather “club memberships”. Hybrid “coffee shops/clubs” might gain more traction in an environment where medical cannabis is considered less dangerous (thus rendering prosecution for any kind of use essentially meaningless). However, “non-profit” smoke clubs do not make a cannabis café either.

It is also likely that the model used here will start to show up in other countries in Europe where reform inches forth – but how popular they will be and how frequented is still an unknown.


  Guest Writer  

Written by: Guest Writer
Occasionally we have guest writers contribute to our blog here at Zamnesia. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, making their knowledge invaluable.

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Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
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