The Italian Mafia and an Islamic terrorist group meet up at a hash-smuggling operation… It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but unfortunately, according to the anti-Mafia and antiterrorism prosecutor, Franco Roberti, it’s the grim reality in the country of Italy. The Italian prosecutor claims that hash is being purchased by the Italian Mafia from Libya, which is being smuggled in by the Islamic terrorist sect ISIS.
The North African hash is being used a major source of income for the Islamic State, and the Italian Mafia is apparently a loyal customer. It’s quite profitable for the Mafia as well, which earns about 32 billion euros ($36.10 billion) a year through their illegal drug trades, a sizable portion of which is made up of hash and cannabis. It’s seems reasonable for Roberti to assume that ISIS is heavily involved. According to Ahmad Moussalli, a political science professor at the American University in Beirut, territorial expansion by ISIS on the Syrian border has put them in control of a vast amount of cannabis fields.
Instead of trying to crack down even more viciously on Italy’s use of cannabis and hash, which the government already spends millions on combating, Roberti has come forth with a much more level-headed approach. Instead, the prosecutor believes that the time has come for Italy to rescind their harsh marijuana laws, citing that decriminalization would negatively affect both the Mafia and the Islamic State.
The decriminalization of marijuana in Italy could help land a potentially critical blow to the funding of ISIS, which according to a recently published IHS Conflict Monitor report, has already dropped from $80 million in monthly revenue to $56 million since the middle of 2015. According to Roberti, a major portion of the terrorist cell’s revenue comes from drug trafficking, and decriminalization of marijuana in Italy could help put a major dent in that.
To Roberti, it makes sense to persecute the Mafia and the Islamic State in a similar manner, seeing as that Italian Mafia families, particularly in the south, have been long proponents of terrorist activities. The Mafia and ISIS could be more intertwined than it would seem at first glance, as both are heavily dependent on drug trafficking as a revenue source. But does Roberti have a sound argument for decriminalization? I would have to argue that he does.
"We spend a lot of resources uselessly. We have not succeeded in reducing cannabinoid trafficking. On the contrary, it's increasing," said Roberti. "Is it worth using investigative energy to fight street sales of soft drugs?"
Not only does Roberti argue that the Mafia is a potential revenue source for ISIS, he also believes that Italy’s young Muslim community is in serious danger of becoming radicalized as well. This radicalization may be much more prevalent if the terrorist organization is receiving a vast amount of money from the Italian Mafia. According to the most recent data from the Italian government, approximately 3.5 million Italians between the ages of 15-64 used cannabis in 2014, and as long as it remains strictly illegal, the Italian Mafia network will certainly have a black market void to fill.
Recent reports in Italy have shown that the most prominent Sicilian Mafia family, called Cosa Nostra, has quite the operation setup already. The organization has figured out a way to import and distribute hashish without getting themselves heavily involved. State prosecutors from Palermo have stated that once the hashish is imported, it is then distributed by Nigerian criminal organizations that have immigrated to Italy. These African immigrants are reportedly operating under Cosa Nostra, doing all of the street work for the mob bosses.
As these long-established crime organizations like Cosa Nostra continue to operate under the shadows, it will continue to be a costly and steep challenge for the Italian government to overcome. But, if Italy considers the decriminalization of cannabis and hashish, they could effectively defeat the crime organization within their country, as well the possible terrorist threats that creep right outside their borders.