Sanremo: Actress Ornella Muti sparks cannabis debate in Italy

News in Italy: Calls from Fratelli d'Italia for drug tests for Sanremo presenters and performers.

Italian actress Ornella Muti on Tuesday clarified her position in the debate over cannabis use after sparking a contoversy hours before she co-presented the first evening of the Sanremo Music Festival, Italy's top song contest.

At a pre-festival press conference Muti said she supports the therapeutic use of cannabis, saying she found it "sad" that some people thought she would be "handing out joints backstage" at Sanremo.

The controversy began earlier on Tuesday when the actress published a photograph on social media of herself with her daughter, Naike Rivelli, both wearing jewellery with marijuana leaf designs.

Muti also appeared in a video in which she receives a bouquet of flowers, including cannabis leaves, from Antonella Soldo of the pro-advocacy marijuana association Meglio Legale ('Better Legal'), in her dressing room before the festival.

The bouquet was sent by the committee promoting a cannabis referendum in Italy whose validity is currently being assessed by the country's constitutional court, after weed advocates amassed 630,000 signatures in a petition to boost their campaign.

Muti and her daughter Naike were among the first to sign the petition which they promoted actively.

The prolonged illness of Muti's mother, who died in 2020, prompted the actress to launch the Ornella Muti Hemp Club in Salento, an association that helps patients who need medical cannabis and offers information on the topic.

Predictably, the photo and video published by Muti before Sanremo sparked an immediate backlash from Italian right-wing and conservative politicians.

"We recognise Ornella Muti as a great icon of Italian cinema, but we believe that the support for the liberalisation of cannabis expressed in a post by the co-host of Sanremo is inappropriate", stated far-right Fratelli d'Italia (FdI) deputies Federico Mollicone and Maria Teresa Bellucci.

The politicians, whose party fiercely opposes the idea of a cannabis referendum, said they do not want Sanremo to be used as "a megaphone" for the campaign, particularly in light of the "recent events involving Ornella Muti's sister, Claudia", who was among 39 people arrested in October on suspicion of importing and distributing narcotics including the 'date rape' drug GHB.

Mollicone called for drug tests for "conductors and singers" at Sanremo, telling news agency Adnkronos that if the covid Green Pass is required then a toxicology test should also be carried out "to avoid deviant messages" from reaching "millions of viewers, including children."

There was also criticism from the conservative former senator Carlo Giovanardi who said: "It is a very sad thing, to see that space is given to those who promote this culture of death instead of those who fight it, to all those who are on the front line for this battle."

In November the FdI and the right-wing Lega failed to sink the progress of the cannabis referendum after their motion was rejected by the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD), the populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) and the liberal +Europa, while the centre-right Forza Italia - an ally of the Lega and FdI - abstained.

In 2019 the Italian supreme court ruled that the domestic cultivation of small amounts of cannabis for personal use was legal, however it remains illegal to sell and grow cannabis plants on a large scale.

Marijuana has been permitted for medical purposes in Italy since 2007.