A Visit to ‘Leaves of Grass’ Cannabis Lounge in Bologna, Italy

Published on September 19, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Cannabis is coming out of the shadows in Italy. In Rome, Carlo Monaco and Luigi Mantuano recently opened a patient-operated cannabis café run in the citadel of San Lorenzo, a few blocks south of the city’s central rail station. And in Bologna, Luca Maria Cauterucci and his partners at Foglie d’Erba, or Leaves of Grass, have launched an unusual new shop of their own.

Foglie d’Erba opened this past spring in Via della Grada, in Pratello, an area of Bologna known for its exciting nightlife. The space is a lot of things at the same time: a restaurant, bar, beer garden, video bar, bookshop, and deli. A wide range of products and materials relating to cannabis and cannabis culture is on display, and there’s a great selection of vaporizers, foods, and handcrafted cannabis beers. There’s even cozy garden area in the back.

Bologna has some rather strange local rules, such as one that forbids holding an alcoholic beverage while standing in line at a bar. And due to rules about smoking and cannabis consumption in Italy, visitors to Foglie d’Erba can’t light up or use a vaporizer in the shop—though they can sip a hemp beer. It’s a curious sight: The venue looks just like a Canadian vape lounge without anybody actually daring to consume. It’s nevertheless a wonderful place to sample hemp beers and tuck into some excellent food.

Bologna is a town of voracious appetites, a place where visitors and locals alike splurge on indulgences at quality restaurants and bars into the early-morning hours. It’s also legendary for the open-mindedness of locals when it comes to healthy pleasures like cannabis and sex. Every year toward the end of September, a festival called Cannabis Protectio is held in Bologna. It takes its name from a famous inscription on the roof of a portico in the city center: “Panis vita, canabis protectio, vinum laetitia,” which translates to “Bread is life, canabis protection, wine happiness.” It’s a clear sign of how important the plant was to Bologna in past times.

The event has inspired the Foglie d’Erba, said crewmember Francesco. “Our new shop is born with the idea of displaying all uses of hemp, a plant that has been very beneficial to the Italian economy in the past,” he said. “We wanted to have our furniture connected to both cannabis and the territory. Our sculptor and friend Pol Palli has been very beneficial to make this happen.”

The shop’s crew built nearly everything inside from scratch, using natural or recycled materials. Hemp was an obvious choice, and thick stalks of the plant have been incorporated into Foglie d’Erba’s counter. “We’ve selected  the best bio-hemp producers of Italy and Europe and offer high quality seeds,” Francesco said. But it doesn’t stop there. The shop also offers “noodles, bread, ice cream, teas, cakes, chocolate, sauces, beer, and many other products — all in hemp!” Most products are also available in vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free versions. And several CBD-based preparations, including oils and teas, are on sale for medicinal use.

To Francesco and the others, the future looks bright: “We believe and we wish that a new cannabis era could soon start.”

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Enrico Fletzer
Enrico Fletzer
Born in Venice, Enrico Fletzer began work as a journalist in the free radio movement and has gone on to write for newspapers and magazines in Europe and North America. He has translated books and films on cannabis and has participated in research in Bologna, Europe's former hemp capital, that led to the Italian Army's cannabis program. He is a member of the Steering Committee of Encod, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies.
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