Ex Drug Officer now Cannabis Advocate

Liz Filmer
29 Apr 2024

Alfredo Ossino used to work in the anti-drug police department until he was struck down by an illness that almost paralysed him. He was prescribed opiates for years to help with the pain, but unfortunately, the drugs caused many undesirable side effects. This eventually led Ossino to turn to cannabis, and as he says, the therapeutic plant saved him from a living hell. 

Alfredo's medical condition means that he requires 90 grams of cannabis per month via prescription. However, his medical cannabis delivery is always late so he often needs to rely on other routes to ensure he has an adequate supply of medicine.

Ossino spent most of his career in the Guardia di Finanza until he began suffering from a serious spine condition which at one point made even the most basic movements painful. His ordeal lasted for years until he uncovered the restorative benefits of cannabis. 

The days of Alfredo's time with the police are long gone, and he is now a cannabis activist who campaigns for other medical cannabis patients who are struggling to get and freely use cannabis.

“I have been reborn, our country must understand that it can save many lives like mine, I had reached the end of the line,” says Mr Ossino, whose book Cannabis, the True Story of an Anti-Drug Agent is due to go out in May.  

From Hell to Heaven with Medicinal Cannabis

Mr. Ossino, 59, lives in Catania, Italy. Whilst working as an officer on cases involving drugs, he is now an activist who currently travels the country promoting his revealing book. In his book, he recounts in fine detail the breaches of the law committed by the Italian state toward the medical cannabis community of Italy. 

“I had become a zombie, I could not move, I could not take the stairs, carry weights or even walk ten meters without being bent over with pain. I didn’t leave the house anymore because of the excruciating pain I felt,” Ossino explained in an interview with Soft Secrets Italia

“Today I am reborn, I walk 30 kilometres a day, I jump rope, I don’t stop for a moment. Cannabis has allowed me to return to life but the state continues to look past the endless testimonies of doctors and patients attesting to its therapeutic efficacy. The rights of patients must be defended, and the state’s discrimination toward the cannabis and hemp sector, which is affecting the Italian economy, must be denounced.”

Before his illness, struck Alfredo was committed to his work in the Guardia di Finanza.

 “It has always been a desire of mine since I was a child,” Alfredo said. “I joined the Fiamme Gialle [the sports section of the Italian police force] at 17 with my parent’s permission. At the age of 18 in the Financial Officer’s Training Unit in Rovigo and then, depending on the needs of service, in different operational departments, including the Anti Drug Operational Group in Rome, based at the Central Tax Police Unit in Rome and Naples where we fought drugs, weapons, cigarette smuggling and whatnot. An extreme and very dangerous reality that I will never forget.”

Because of the job he was in Ossino had a very punishing and taxing lifestyle that would later cause the onset of his disease. “We slept in the street, in the car. Living conditions were sometimes very bad. There was no private life. People ignore it, but there are more than 60 suicides a year among Guardia di Finanza, State Police, Carabinieri, Forestry and Penitentiary Police, and also in the Italian Army,” he said.

“Sixty suicides a year means more than four suicides a month, cleverly concealed from the public. In my case, an acquired cervical stenosis took over, causing a marked negative functional incidence to the cervical tract, basically hernias leaking out of their seat, compressing the bone marrow and nerve roots, causing very severe pain and numbness in the limbs. At first, in 2001, it didn’t seem like a serious condition, then, day after day, it destroyed my life,” Ossino said. 

In 2006, the Military Medical Commission put Mr Ossino on leave for three months for service-dependent conditions, however by then it was too late and his medical condition only continued to worsen. “After 18 months of leave, I was discharged because I even had difficulty safely handling my service weapon,” Ossino said. 

In 2012, he reached out to the Military Medical Commission for a reevaluation as he was slowly starting to lose motor functions. “I could not walk, I was ostracized, I fell into depression, loneliness, I did not sleep at night. It felt like my life was over,” he said. 

“I spent six years looking death in the face, because of the tremendous side effects of the opiate drugs that were prescribed and administered to me by the doctors, which in my case, did not give me any benefit, but quite the opposite. Not only did opiates fail to alleviate the pain, but they also led me to severe depression and drug intoxication. In my opinion, those drugs should be wiped off the face of the earth,” he said. 

With conventional treatment for the condition failing to be sufficient, Alfredo underwent surgery in 2013 with doctors deciding to graft two prostheses to his cervical spine.

Whilst his spinal stenosis and numbness in the limbs were successfully resolved, the chronic neuropathic pain that he was suffering with, remained. This is the point when he looked to medicinal cannabis as an opioid alternative.

“I was familiar with cannabis for reasons of service but I had never approached it from a therapeutic point of view,” Ossino explained in the interview. 

“After doing a little research, I found out that it might help me. I had no other options left and my will to survive prevailed over everything and everyone. So, I decided to try cannabis to see if it could help with the pain. It worked and since then, since I started treating myself with cannabis, my life immediately bounced back. Since then, that is, in the middle of the year 2013, I have not needed any more drugs. I am strong and without the neuropathic pain. At first, I was forced to turn to the black market, and my family was against it, but my will to live got even stronger.” 

The Stigma of Cannabis Use Continues in Italy

Ossino has openly criticised the way in which Italian authorities handle medical cannabis. As of Nov. 9, 2015, the Italian state authorised the 20 territories of the country to legally use medicinal cannabis, but there has little effort to notify general practitioners. Ossino’s view is that there’s a recurring problem that ultimately leaves patients in pain, and the stigma unfortunately does not stop there. 

“In just three or four months I had surprising results but because of the prohibitionist propaganda toward cannabis, people negatively viewed me, even those close to me. They thought I was a stoner, they wondered how I could use it after a service in the Guardia di Finanza. But I was seeing the results on my health, so I kept going,” Ossino said. 

Until 2020, Ossino was also forced to pay for therapy out of his pocket, bearing high costs of about 400 euros (US$427) or more per month

“Reimbursement with the public system in some places in Italy is an odyssey,” Ossino continued. “Doctors are uninformed, and those who use cannabis for therapy are seen as high. There are no spaces to use the therapy freely, and constitutional rights are being violated, including the right to dignity and freedom of movement.

“The state maintains the stigma toward THC and it does not evaluate, as it should, the therapeutic effects. But not only therapeutic, because the stigma is also aimed at the entire cannabis and hemp industry.”

There are no guidelines for law enforcement, he added. Even when you are prescribed herbal medicine, there are no safe spaces where you can consume it without having to fear a police patrol. 

“My prescription for the treatment plant issued by the public hospital is three grams per day of 22% THC flower, which allows me not to feel pain, and to live a dignified life. The fact remains that there are no public spaces where to take advantage of the therapy and therefore at a possible law enforcement check. I am forced to justify the possession of cannabis or being positive for THC, then to show the prescription, explain my private story,” Ossino said. 

In the case where a medical patient does not have the certificate on their person, a process may be triggered where the certificate is seized, as well as any cannabis held personally and additional local searches for more drugs. 

“Drug enforcement is a red herring, no results are achieved, and it has huge costs both in terms of human and economic resources,” Alfredo concluded. “A total failure. We need a state that understands, not one that punishes blindly. Cannabis is a natural product, a lifesaver that needs to go mainstream in society. That’s why I decided to tell my story in a book.” 

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Liz Filmer